Collaboration: The ubiquitous panacea for challenges in education

Campbell, Paul (2021) Collaboration: The ubiquitous panacea for challenges in education. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Collaboration has long featured as a policy mechanism, an organisational structure, a tool to support professional practice, and a dominant discursive concept in the field of education. In the Scottish context, collaboration has been presented as the means through which persistent challenges like the poverty related attainment gap are tackled, and how what it means to be a professional has been re-characterised, particularly since the turn of the new century. As such, there is a lot at stake when it comes to how collaboration is understood and mobilised. With much emphasis across the domains of practice, policy, and research highlighting the forms collaboration takes and the purposes of it, this study examines the complex reality of collaboration and how understanding this could lead to better outcomes, particularly in relation to improvement agendas. Using Scotland as a context of study, the questions driving this study are:

• How is collaboration defined conceptually and practically in education?
• How is collaboration presented in the literature, and in policy?
• How is collaboration understood in practice?
• What role do policy actors and school leaders believe collaboration has in tackling challenges in education?
• What role could collaboration play in tackling challenges in education?

Deriving from an interpretivist paradigm and articulated within the frame of pragmatic social constructivism, a novel theoretical framework was created, emphasising the contextual influences centred around leadership and governance that enable collaboration to happen. This was utilised in order to analyse collaboration as understood within the literature. Following from this was a critical policy analysis focusing on six key policy texts from the Scottish education context with significance between the period of 2015 to 2020. This analysis drew upon both the novel theoretical framework and an original analytical framework emphasising policy drivers, mechanisms, and consequences. Through these frameworks, this study offers critical insight into dimensions of collaboration that are rarely examined. This went on to include insight into and analysis of the lived reality of collaboration in the Scottish context through semi-structured interviews with five primary school headteachers from two Scottish local authorities, and an exploration of the commonalities and contradictions, with the insights derived through critical policy analysis.

Through this analysis, the application of a postmodern lens, and in answering the research questions, a number of key findings were identified. It was clear that collaboration is frequently presented as the lynchpin to improvement and change, as well as being seen as characteristic of the contemporary professional, and of modern professional practice. There is a consistent emphasis on collaboration across policy and practice in the Scottish context, but its manifestation and utilisation are either left to chance, or reliant on specific governance arrangements initiated at various levels of the system. As such, collaboration frequently does not meet its intended aims, given that it does not reflect the complex realities within which it is frequently being imposed upon rather than emerging from. Collaborative mechanisms initiated at national and regional levels, complimented, or enabled by alternative forms of governance, were seen to result in the power to initiate or drive collaboration lying with fewer people. When collaboration was designed and utilised without the input of those required to be involved, there was seen to be more limited success in achieving the often-laudable goals of collaboration. Finally, it was clear that the Scottish policy context and its surrounding discourse enjoy a shared vocabulary when it comes to collaboration, but without a shared operational definition, or understanding of its inherent complexity, what results is varied outcomes from it.

What this study has begun to demonstrate is the limited advancement of thinking in recent years on the meaning and conceptualisation of collaboration. To achieve its intended impact, collaboration requires consideration of the need for shared conceptual clarity and the unique contextual influences and drivers of collaboration in its varied forms. Through the articulation of an alternative framework for understanding collaboration within the domains of practice, policy, and research, this research extends current thinking and presents a new means of planning for and understanding the mobilisation of collaboration. The framework for collaboration presented emphasises the complex consideration of the interrelated domains of the forms, drivers, and influences of collaboration. In doing so, the study demonstrates the need for further critical examination of where power is situated within systems in order to enable more responsive approaches to collaboration to emerge from within the communities they are intended to impact, and in doing so, more successfully strive towards broader systemic goals.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by a Research Bursary awarded by the the British Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration Society (BELMAS).
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: McMahon, Professor Margery and Hedge, Professor Nicki
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82883
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 16 May 2022 15:07
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2022 17:15
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82883

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