Collaborative Learning Communities – get your own house in order first (pt 8 in a series)

When it comes to improvement, you might be surprised that the pool of knowledge and wisdom that will help you on this journey can be found right on your doorstep.

While clear differences will always be apparent between international educational systems, there are nonetheless a number of constants that will apply to all. 

Perhaps the most important of these is the effective sharing of knowledge – an area that forms a cornerstone of London Challenge, Challenge Partners and Olevi. In any educational organisation, all benefit from this sharing of knowledge.

I found myself relating this to my peers in the Swedish and Icelandic educational systems recently at BETT, and asking them as school leaders, if they felt that all the teachers below them would benefit from a collective wisdom, or shared knowledge.

If there is a range of performance between and within schools, how much of this is attributable to the performance of the staff in those schools and how much to other factors? If your staff had the attitude and capacity to learn from the best staff, how much better would they all be? 

You can extrapolate this down from here towards the pupils, and up through the education system itself. Whichever direction you choose to go, it becomes immediately apparent that the system of shared knowledge is better for all. It is the definition of two heads being better than one – no single person or institution can possess more knowledge than the collective. 

Consider this for a moment and you begin to realise how much capacity you have within your grasp for improvement.  My experience is that many schools rarely access more than 70 per cent of the knowledge they can tap into within their school that will allow them to improve. In the overall system, it is even less.  This gives a huge margin for self improvement before you need to seek help from elsewhere. It is merely a case of transferring this knowledge that underpins this variation in performance.

My experience is that many schools rarely access more than 70 per cent of the knowledge they can tap into within their school

To illustrate points such as this I tend to think in metaphors and the Russian doll immediately springs to mind. As you open each doll, you check that the design, or collaborative learning, characteristics remain consistent. Think of the national system being the biggest doll, and the class or even the pupil, being the smallest.  

As an individual, in whatever country or system you happen to operate, you will only be in a position to alter that which you are responsible for so it is up to you to  make sure your doll is correctly designed first before you worry about any others. 

In other words, you first need to make sure your own house is in order.


I was inspired to write this blog by conversations on the peripheries of BETT earlier this year. 

I was the guest of Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of BravoLessons and Successful Schools Sweden and we used the conference as an opportunity to catch up on developments in the Swedish and Icelandic education systems.  In previous years during BETT I have met with a group of educationalists from Sweden. Their study visits were organised by Peter Becker and his team at DIU Sweden and supported by Challenge Partners and Olevi.  As well as attending BETT, the contingent also visited a number of our outstanding schools, such as Lilian Bayliss Technology School led by Gary Phillips and Mulberry School led by Vanessa Ogden and Professor Louise Stoll and I would give a presentation about our work.  It was through her intervention that I first became involved in this study visit.   

Peter would ask me to talk about my work with London Challenge, Challenge Partners and Olevi and the possible learning that would be of value to the Swedish education system.  I was often asked how relevant our approach was to the Swedish system. In responding to this I was acutely aware that I was talking to educationalists from a totally different context and so in order to make it relevant I tried to strip our work down to its essentials.  The resulting conversation formed the basis of the above post.