The Greater Manchester Educational Recovery Strategy
Schools continue to face major challenges as they support their students in returning to full-time education. With this in mind, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has developed an educational recovery strategy to support efforts to address these challenges. The Education & Employment Board, which reports to the Children’s Board, is responsible for the coordination of the strategy. This introductory paper explains the strategy.
The Pathways to Success strategy is ambitious in that it seeks to involve all primary, special and secondary schools across the city region. At the same time, it is cautious in that it is designed in a way that will not add pressure on colleagues in schools during this difficult period.
The strategy seeks to ensure support for all children and young people, paying particular attention to those who are vulnerable to underachievement, marginalisation and exclusion. It is designed in relation to three intended outcomes:
- Presence – ensuring that all pupils return to school and attend regularly;
- Participation – creating a climate within schools where all pupils feel welcome and valued; and
- Progress – developing policies and practices that maximise the achievement of all pupils.
With these outcomes as the focus, the strategy involves the development of ‘pathways to success’. These should help to move knowledge around, crossing borders between local authorities, and involving maintained and voluntary aided schools, academies and free schools. This builds on and strengthens the many partnerships that already exist across Greater Manchester.
Drawing on lessons from previous experiences, particularly those that emerged from the success of the London and Greater Manchester Challenge programmes, the strategy is:
- Evidence-based. Quantitative and qualitative data are used to identify barriers that are limiting the presence, participation and progress of some of our children and young people. At the same time, this draws attention to effective practices that can be used to address these barriers.
- Driven by a common agenda. Since policies are made at all levels of the education system, not least at the school and classroom levels, effective change requires agreed goals that will bind stakeholders together around a common purpose.
- Led by experienced practitioners. This requires some senior school staff having a wider responsibility for system-level improvement across the city region, not just for their own schools.
- Collaborative. This takes account of research evidence showing that partnerships between schools can help to reduce the polarisation of schools, to the particular benefit of those learners who are marginalised on the edges of an education system.
- Supported by community resources. This involves the wider community in wrapping itself around the schools to ensure that all children receive effective support from their families and local communities.
- Coordinated by a local steering group. This is made up of experienced school leaders who, working with local authority representatives and university researchers, take specific responsibility for determining goals, and implementing and monitoring agreed actions with pace.
Together these six elements ensure that the strategy is designed in relation to challenges in particular contexts on the assumption that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be effective.
Pathways to Success involves the following actions:
- Action learning trios are formed, each made up of schools that serve broadly similar communities, from different local authorities and trusts;
- Each trio of schools shares experiences and ideas online about how to improve the presence, participation and progress of all of their pupils; and
- Summaries of promising practices that emerge from these discussions are shared across all schools, via virtual and face-to-face meetings, and written accounts on the website of the Greater Manchester Learning Partnership.
In addition, University of Manchester researchers are carrying out investigations in relation to what appear to be effective practices that emerge from the work of the action learning trios. In so doing, they are linking their findings to international research regarding ways of improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Evaluative accounts of these effective practices are being disseminated across the city region, once again using the Greater Manchester Learning Partnership website.
The overall purpose of this inquiry-based approach is to make available best practices to every learner in all schools across Greater Manchester. At the same time, it is creating new relationships between can be further developed in later stages of the strategy, at which point the action learning trios may be linked to form ‘families of schools’ of the sort that proved to be effective during the Greater Manchester Challenge.
An inclusive approach
The pandemic has thrown new light on the urgent need to revisit the challenge of inclusion in education. As we ‘build back better’, we must ensure that all children and young people are included and engaged in the success of their schools and communities.
It is also important to recognise that there is considerable expertise across Greater Manchester that can be used to make all schools more effective in terms of the presence, participation and progress of all of our children and young people. This strategy sets out to create pathways that will help in making this expertise available to all pupils.
At the same time, it will be critical to link the strategy with other relevant Greater Manchester initiatives, including the Young Person’s Guarantee, developments on mental health and schools, and wider efforts on early years (school readiness), early help in neighbourhoods and wrap around support for families.
Relevant to all of this, a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues that the pandemic threatens to make life worse for the most vulnerable groups in society and concludes that what is now needed is ‘an inclusive recovery’. The Pathways to Success strategy for educational recovery provides the basis of such an approach.
Given the urgency of the situation, it is crucial to move forward with pace, with the support of senior officers, elected members from the ten local authorities and government.
During the first two phases of the strategy (September 2020 to July 2021) more than 100 Greater Manchester schools have participated in the process. This has led to a rich resource of practical suggestions, which are summarised in a series of reports that underline the expertise and creativity that exists within Greater Manchester schools. In so doing, it confirms the importance of creating pathways that will enable this knowledge to be moved around.
In developing the third phase, starting in October 2021, we are conscious that schools are facing new challenges as they return to normal ways of working within a context of continuing uncertainties. With this in mind, the existing action learning trios are invited to hold another meeting prior to the Christmas break.
At the same time, we are inviting new schools to get involved. In some cases, these schools will be added to the existing trios to make quartets, whilst new trios may also be formed.
The agenda of the meetings will take account of the changing situation and the uncertainties regarding what will happen over the coming months. Once again, a prompt sheet will be provided to facilitate the discussions
Correspondence regarding this paper to: Professor Mel Ainscow CBE, Independent Chair, Greater Manchester Education & Employability Board, Mel_Ainscow@yahoo.co.uk