Download article (.pdf) | By Anne Sliwka | Published in Networks of Innovation, OECD/CERI, 2003
Over the past three decades, there has been a growing conviction that greater autonomy and empowerment of individual schools is needed to stimulate sustainable high-quality school development. This paradigm shift towards autonomy, combined with the demand for public accountability, is consistent with the proliferation of school networks. Networks bring together individuals or institutions in a horizontal partnership, where the rationales are democratic exchange, and mutual stimulation and motivation, rather than top-down reforms.
This article examines the rise and relevance of networking in the field of education at the regional, national, and in some cases cross-national levels. Sliwka begins by describing the general trend and context of networking as a form of social interaction of growing interest, and analyses the broader social and educational forces behind the formation of educational networks. She then analyses the role of networks in education innovation, with a review of some of their broad aims. There follows a more systemic look at education networks and their role within a complex system of cross-institutional collaboration, through structures, initiators of networking, leadership and organisational factors. Incentives and preconditions likely to make successful networking are then examined, and the last section draws some conclusions on the role and future of networking in education and its potential for policy.
Networks can provide an effective approach to support clusters of schools rather than single schools. Networks can thus represent vibrant motors of change in education. They give otherwise isolated schools and innovative individuals new ways of connecting with like-minded institutions and individuals, as well as a vehicle through which to speak to the broader public. Compared with traditional styles of educational governance, networks can offer a number of structural advantages such as increased opportunities for peer exchange and cooperation, teacher professional development, and the greater political force that comes through collaboration. It can thus safely be assumed that networks will play an important role for future educational policy-making.