From competition to collaboration: the shift to collaborative professional learning in primary schools in South-east Wales

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    From competition to collaboration: the shift to collaborative professional learning (CPL) in primary schools in South-east Wales.
    Commitment to collaborative professional learning (CPL) is central to the Welsh Government reform agenda, aimed at achieving a self-improving system. At times of such whole-scale, fast-paced change in education it is important to gauge, reflect upon and evaluate the perceptions of teachers, only some of whom may have been involved in co-constructing the curriculum and policies. There is a very limited evidence base of teachers’ perceptions of how and how well they collaborate (Hargreaves and O’Connor, 2017). This small-scale study investigates primary school teachers’ perceptions of CPL in South-east Wales.
    The study focuses on four main areas of enquiry (AoEs):
    • AoE 1: Teachers’ perceptions of the key drivers towards CPL in Wales;
    • AoE 2: Teachers’ perceptions of CPL activity that is taking place within the South-east Wales region and its impact upon their professional practice;
    • AoE 3: Teachers’ perceptions of the facilitators and barriers to CPL;
    • AoE 4: Teachers’ perceptions of the most effective approaches for supporting and sustaining CPL.

    The main ethical consideration was preserving the anonymity of the participants. BERA Ethical Guidelines (2018) were consulted. Preservation of anonymity was achieved through interview transcripts only being identifiable by a unique code. Participants or their schools were not named in the study.
    Familiarity with some of the participants needed to be acknowledged as an ethical consideration as former and current colleagues were interviewed which could have posed a risk of bias when analysing and interpreting the data. The researcher maintained an awareness of verbal and non-verbal reactions to the interviewee’s responses to avoid risk of bias or influencing the interviewees’ responses. However, it could be argued that participants may have felt more at ease with a familiar interviewer, thus possibly limiting ‘scope for reliability while enhancing validity.’ (Bush, 2007, p.94). The inclusion of at least one participant who was unknown to the researcher, together with coding of data using Altheide’s framework (2004), mitigated this ethical risk.
    The process of inviting teachers to reflect on collegial relations or anything that may make them feel unsettled, uncomfortable or conflicted in talking about their experiences was also considered.
    Crotty’s work (1998) supported reflection upon the aims of this study and how to approach effectively scaffolding the process to achieve these aims.
    Six semi-structured interviews were conducted to elicit participant perceptions of how Welsh Government’s vision for CPL is progressing within the region. This research method was chosen for primary data collection as it provides both structure and freedom to explore individuals’ perceptions and to code qualitative data into emerging themes. Grounded theory methodology supported data analysis, identification and on-going revision of emerging themes throughout the data collection. Participants were selected from schools at each stage of Hargreaves’ four stages of development (2011): beginning, developing, embedding and leading.

    Analysis of semi-structured interviews and desk-based research resulted in identifying teachers’ perceptions of CPL. Themes were coded using Altheide’s (2004) ethnographic content analysis (ECA). This develops grounded theory “in which data are constantly revised to assist with conceptualisation, interpretation and development of narrative” (Fitzgerald, 2007, p.288). This inductive approach and on-going revision of themes maintained validity and authenticity of the outcomes of the study and ensured that emerging AoEs and recommendations were grounded in the data.

    The literature was related to the emerging themes from participant interviews to elicit some key findings:
    • Variable understanding of the drivers and vision for CPL in Wales;
    • CPL is taking place in all schools;
    • Unanimous focus on the Curriculum for Wales;
    • Enthusiasm and support for CPL is evident;
    • Trust and support are necessary to overcome barriers and maximise facilitators to establish and sustain a culture of CPL.
    The key findings provide some valuable themes for further exploration and research. They drove the development of four recommendations which will inform future strategic planning for CPL within the University of South Wales Initial Teacher Education Partnership and which are relevant to school leaders, regional school improvement consortia and Welsh Government:
    • Recommendation 1: Consider consistency in perceptions and understanding of the policy drivers for collaborative professional learning in Wales;
    • Recommendation 2: Consider consistency and coherence of opportunities for involvement in collaborative professional learning;
    • Recommendation 3: Consider consistency of quality of collaborative professional learning across schools, clusters, local authorities and regions;
    • Recommendation 4: Consider consistency of support across all schools.

    Altheide, D. (2004) Ethnographic Content and Analysis in Lewis-Beck, M., Bryman, A. and Liao, T. (eds) The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, California. Sage.
    BERA (2018) Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research, fourth edition
    Bush, T. (2007) in Briggs, A. R. J and Coleman, M (eds) Research Methods in Educational Leadership and Management. London. Sage.
    Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. Meaning and perspective in the research process. Australia. Allen and Unwin.
    Fitzgerald, T (2007) in Briggs, A. R. J and Coleman, M (eds) Research Methods in Educational Leadership and Management. London. Sage.(4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Publications Ltd.
    Hargreaves, A. and O’Connor, T. (2017) Cultures of professional collaboration: their origins and opponents. Journal of Professional Capital and Community. 2 (2), pp.74-85.
    Hargreaves, D. H. (2011) Leading a Self-improving School System. Nottingham. National College of Leadership of School and Children's Services.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2020
    EventIPDA 2020 Conference -
    Duration: 27 Nov 202028 Nov 2020


    ConferenceIPDA 2020 Conference


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