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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 December 2007, 05:18 GMT
Failing schools 'need teamwork'
children's feet
Failing schools need shock therapy the book says
Failing schools improve fastest when they are "twinned" with successful ones, according to head teachers.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says collaboration works better than other approaches - but may first involve removing weak teachers.

Old approaches such as appointing "super heads" or closing and re-opening schools have been discredited, it says.

It is calling on the government to publish research it has had done on how school collaborations can work best.

The research on successful twinning of failing schools has been carried out for the government and the ASCL is drawing on that in a book being published in January.

The twinning method initially involves the good school bringing in senior teachers to "saturate" the other and impose order.

Behaviour, discipline and uniform are among the first areas to be tackled, alongside lesson planning and homework in what author Robert Hill describes as this saturation phase.

He says that provides "shock therapy" for the failing school.

Then, the focus switches to improving the quality of teaching and learning by boosting curriculum leadership in the weaker school.

"The lead school will conduct a short analysis and confront the partner school with the realities of the situation and the underlying problems that have been ducked," he says.

"They will identify staff who are in effect hardened blockers of progress and deal with them.

"In some cases individuals in the underperforming school will recognise that the increased expectations and pace are too much for them and leave without the need for formal procedures.

"But others may have to be persuaded or required to go - though the number of 'casualties' in terms of staff (and students) is often relatively small."

As time goes on, the twinning becomes more of a collaboration, according to Mr Hill, who looked at the experiences of two schools, in Birmingham and in south east London.

Strong leadership

ASCL general secretary John Dunford said: "We know that school-to-school support is one of the most effective ways of helping schools that are struggling or underperforming.

"It produces faster improvement and is much more cost effective than discredited approaches such as Fresh Start (which involved closing a school and starting over) or appointing a 'super-head' to turn things around."

Ministers have been advocating school federations as a way of helping schools placed in special measures by Ofsted and collaborations are taking place.

High performing schools that agree to work with or merge with a less successful school are given extra funding.

Up to 300,000 funding will be given to high performing schools which merge with a less successful school, Education Secretary Ed Balls announced in September.

At the time he said: "Strong leadership is essential if we are to get good discipline, drive up standards and end failure in our schools.

"But rather than schools set against schools, we need to increase collaboration because the evidence is that spreading brilliant leadership to more schools gets results.

"Heads have seen that they can do better by working with other schools with more expertise in certain areas."

At the end of the summer term 2007, 246 schools in England were in "special measures" - 1.1% of the total.

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