Inside an aspiring Virtuous Collaborative Learning Community

The best way to illustrate a Virtuous Collaborative Learning Community is to examine the work of school collaboratives which aspire to this.  For the first in a three-part series, we will explore the London West, Challenge Partners hub in 2015.

The hub was founded in 2011 and led by Dame Sue John, the headteacher of Lampton School.  She had developed a team at the school to support the process which included Esther Arnott, David Bartram, Dr Lynne Isham, Rachel Lawrence, Stephanie Shedon and Jackie Smith. We have chosen to describe the hub at a fixed point in time because Collaborative Learning Communities are always in a state of flux as they search for new partnerships, continue with old ones or disregard others.  This constant reconfiguration is driven by their relentless and vigorous search for that new piece of knowledge which will ensure they provide for all of their students an education which represents the wisdom of the global education community. 

Our description of this Collaborative Learning Community is made using the self audit tool we introduced in our blog on 13 December 2019. This emerged from the previous blogs describing the nature and the development journey of CLCs.  We identified two dimensions of the self audit: areas and sources of knowledge, which produced nine different categories.  Each category was to be rated on a four point scale – isolation, initiation, engagement and integration.  In our working definition, a Collaborative Learning Community would be judged Virtuous if it was rated ‘integrated’ in all nine categories. 



To commence the evaluation of the hub we need to judge if the outcome of Lampton School’s wide-ranging engagement with other schools and educational organisations did contribute to providing an education for all its students which represented the wisdom of the education community.  

It can be seen from the school’s presentation (left) that throughout the period from 2005 to 2015, the school was rated outstanding by OFSTED.  In 2009 it appeared in OFSTED’s publication of 12 Outstanding Schools: excelling against the odds.  In addition, its students performed in the top 25 per cent for relative student outcomes in national examinations and in a significant number of years they were in the top 10 per cent.   Performance was not static – year on year, student performance increased regardless of what new measures or standards were introduced by the DFE. This evidence allows us to establish a relationship between the school’s collaborative learning activity and its outstanding performance.  We do not have the evidence to suggest causality. We will have to leave that judgement up to you. 

Similar to most schools, Lampton was involved in local meetings of teachers and leaders. The majority of the teacher meetings were subject based and a degree of collaborative learning took place. The local leadership meeting focused mainly upon admissions and funding issues. 

What distinguishes Lampton from so many of its peers is the number of other collaborative learning activities the school was involved in. These were: 

  1.     Initial Teacher Training – school based teacher training with other local schools and a university partner.
  2.     Future Leaders – accelerated learning programme for potential school leaders. An initiative started in London and then rolled out nationally. 
  3.     Teach First  – encouraging and training high quality graduates to become teachers in schools serving disadvantaged students. This was an antecedent to Future Leaders. 
  4.     Researchers in Schools – encouraging post graduates to join the profession. This programme initiated at Lampton working with The Brilliant Club.
  5.     The Brilliant Club – a mentoring programme which links post graduates with students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  6.     Specialist Schools Trust 
  7.     The Sports Trust
  8.     Olevi Doc – A regional centre for the training of teachers using the Olevi Syllabus. 
  9.     Teaching School Alliance.  Lampton was one of the original four Teaching Schools established as part of The London Challenge. 
  10.     National Support School and National Leader in Education. The school was in the first cohort of schools to be accredited and helped define the approach. 
  11.     Advanced skills teacher and later Special Leaders in Education.
  12.     Challenge Partners hub. The school was a founder member and a hub. 

All of these initiatives had been created in the past twenty years, with many of them emerging from The London Challenge. They configured locally around the London West hub and nationally.  Most of them, in our classification, are identified as ‘emerging effective innovation.’ However, in selecting them Sue and her team ensured that they drew on relevant research for their development and they allowed Lampton to link nationwide to other schools demonstrating best practice. 

Evaluating the CLC – The nine dimensions

We are using the self audit form we published in our blog of 13 December to frame our evaluation of The London West Hub. 

The areas of knowledge

Teaching and learning – For the existing staff there was a clear focus upon improving the quality of their teaching and learning, subject knowledge and their capacity to effectively support  students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, a considerable effort was made to ensure any new teachers were of the highest quality.

Leadership – Programmes and interventions were run to improve the quality of leadership at all levels from students, staff, middle leaders, senior leaders and the headteacher. Critical in this was improving the capacity of middle leaders and senior leaders to manage and develop teaching and learning and the support for disadvantaged students. 

Collaborative learning – Staff learnt from a series of collaboratives that linked them with staff working in other outstanding schools. In the process they discovered how to share and grow their knowledge.  

The sources of knowledge

Relevant research – The school had close connections to a number of London Universities and where available used evidence to make decisions. However, this was in the early days of the Education Endowment Fund and therefore before access to relevant research was readily accessible as it is today. 

Emerging effective innovation – As previously stated, this was a major strength of the school. 

Best practice – Through their involvement in the Challenge Partners hub of schools,  Teaching Schools Alliances and the Olevi Docs, they were in continuous contact with other schools which also demonstrated best practice.  

In the next two blogs we will describe the journey the school had embarked upon to reach this point and the type of leadership it demonstrated to achieve it. The blogs will conclude with the completion of the audit and the identification of the key characteristics which have emerged.