The received wisdom that inter-school collaboration improves outcomes is not backed by evidence, claims a new report by the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education.
Collaboration doesn’t actually raise pupil outcomes, CMRE argues. Allowing more competition between schools and increasing school ‘choice’ would be better strategies:
‘There is also much scope for further progress towards more competitive provision in respect of liberalising school supply, better information provision, and reforms to the way schools are funded. The international evidence for the effectiveness of such reforms is persuasive and growing.'
But the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found successful school systems 'Recognise that the quality of education does not automatically respond to market mechanisms' (page 192 here) and that 'Among OECD countries, systems with more competition among schools tend to show a stronger impact of students’ socio-economic status on their performance in mathematics [the focus of PISA 2012]' (page 54 here).
Although advising caution, OECD said 'this finding is consistent with research showing that school choice – and, by extension, school competition – is related to greater levels of segregation in the school system, which may have adverse consequences for equity in learning opportunities and outcomes.'
CMRE dismisses such OECD conclusions. They mistake correlation with causation, CMRE argues.
Collaboration can co-exist with competition, CMRE claims, because corporate structures (ie academy trusts) in competition with each other can collaborate among themselves. But such 'collaboration' often comes at the price of individual academy autonomy. Heads in academy chains are already complaining about policies imposed from central office.
The CMRE report cites copious amount of literature, but the National Audit Office Academies and Schools Oversight report is missing. This found informal interventions such as local support (ie collaboration) were more effective in improving struggling schools than formal interventions such as academy conversion.
But the biggest flaw in this report is the assumption that school quality is only related to ‘outcomes’. The CMRE argues for more cost/benefit analysis linking results with the cost of implementing collaboration. Measuring education quality using test-based accountability is a feature of the Great Education Reform Movement (GERM) which promotes competition between schools and choice just as CMRE does.
Education is more than exam results. Judging schools by such outcomes reduces education to easily measurable data. It ignores the wider benefits of schooling. As Aristotle said, ‘Education of the head without education of the heart, is no education at all.’
EXTRA: 25 October 09.06. This is a companion piece to 'When market forces are introduced into education, equity is at risk'.
UPDATE: 25 October 09.09. The original headline was 'Collaboration ‘probably isn’t key to the next phase of school reform’, says market reform think tank'. This has been changed.