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Creating clusters: How to build a school network to save money & time

We often spend a good deal of time talking to children about the value of teamwork. Collaboration and working as partners makes us collectively stronger- and that’s just as true for school communities. Not only within the classroom but as clusters of schools working together.

According to a report from the Department for Education on the efficacy of clusters, 68% of departmental heads agreed or strongly agreed that collaboration increased teachers’ engagement with their work. Studies have also shown that inter-school collaboration can improve staff professional development, alleviate teacher burnout, and improve organisational and financial efficiency[1].

But how can you best build relationships with other schools, especially when you’re not currently part of a school cluster? Here are some ideas…

  1.     Digital collaboration

Sustainable collaboration is about finding a way of staying connected with other educators without it feeling like a chore or yet another admin task to try and squeeze into your day. The use of social media platforms such as WhatsApp or a closed Facebook group can be a great way of staying connected with other schools and teachers in a light-touch way. If you’re not sure how to get started, begin with an email. Gather the email addresses of local schools and other educators you’d like involved, and send an email explaining what you’d like to do with a link to the WhatsApp/Facebook group. As the person setting it up, you’ll likely need to take a proactive role in stimulating engagement and setting boundaries for how the group should be used in order to get things started, but once the ball is rolling the group should become self-sustaining.

It’s useful to enlist a couple of other people you can rely on as ‘admins’ for the group so that the maintenance of the group can be shared between you. They can also use their networks to help stimulate engagement. You can use these spaces to discuss ideas, issues, and arrange meetups without clogging up people’s inboxes.

Twitter is also a well-known hub for teachers across the world to come together, connect, and share best practice. There are also regular slots where under specific hashtags, real-time conversations happen on different education-themed topics.

  1.     Host a meet-up

Getting started can be the trickiest part when it comes to establishing a network of schools. Often a stumbling block is that people are unsure what the expectations are, and how much time/energy/resources they’re going to have to allocate to the project. Establish this right at the beginning when reaching out to teachers and school leaders, so everyone is clear on the expectations. A good way of doing this is to host an informal meetup so that people can discuss what they’d each like to gain from collaborating, and see if there are any common goals or objectives that could be worked on together.

While doing this in a face-to-face environment (preferably with plenty of coffee and biscuits supplied…and possibly some wine!) this might not always be feasible, especially if you’re in a more rural community. A Zoom meeting can do just as well, and you might even find you get a higher takeup as it’ll require less time out of people’s day.

This is all about starting to build that initial relationship and find some common ground so the group can move forward. It’s okay if this starts small with just a few school leaders in attendance, there’s always room for growth- and it can sometimes be an advantage as you can get things moving quicker!

  1.     Unite under a common cause

There are often some common themes between schools regarding where they may need additional support, or advice – whether that’s attainment, budgets, procurement or addressing wellbeing concerns. Even if you’re not sure what other schools’ challenges are, simply by reaching out and asking for help and support, you might find you’re not alone in finding a particular obstacle tough to surmount. A 2006 study found that support for problem-solving and trouble-shooting were amongst the key impacts of inter-school collaboration[2]. It’s also a strange quirk of the human brain that we’re more likely to trust someone we don’t know if they ask us for help, first. So openly addressing an issue you’re facing and asking for help might actually help foster greater goodwill and support within your new school group.

  1.     Money matters

I’ve never come across a school that couldn’t use some additional funds. Being part of a group of schools can offer some substantial cost savings when it comes to procurement of resources and suppliers, as with most things, when ordering in bulk you see a reduction in costs. There are other financial perks to being part of a group; at our NeXworking events, we offer a £1000 donation to school groups that attend our matchmaking supplier events, regardless of whether or not a purchase is made. This is because we pass on part of the provider’s fee onto the schools who attend (because without schools to speak with, the events won’t really work!) ensuring the events are valuable for everyone. We also speak to the schools ahead of the event to address their particular pain points, in order to select providers offering solutions tailored to the schools’ needs. In order to make the events work, we need a minimum of 10 schools to attend – so reaching out to schools you know (they don’t have to be local as they’re online events) to create a group means you can find providers to support your needs and get a share of £1000. A profitable way to spend an hour and a half!

Our NeXworking events can be a great catalyst to inter-school collaboration, and provide a unique opportunity to bring schools together to save time and money.

To find out more about our NeXworking events, and to get information and support in joining with other schools to attend our virtual provider events to get your share of £1000, book a call with us to register your interest!BOOK A CALL



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