This chapter draws on findings from an evaluation of two regional networks developed by the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership to support senior leaders in small rural schools in England. The networks were launched in September 2019 with a focus on two areas - school improvement and social action by students. In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all schools in England were closed except for the children of ‘key workers’, with most children supported to learn at home until schools partially reopened in June 2020. The evaluation tracked the networks before and during the pandemic, enabling us to gather insights into how networking supported leaders in this challenging period. The chapter starts by reviewing existing literature on small rural school networks, setting out five evidence-informed core features for networks. It then summarises the findings from the evaluation. This shows that while they were initially intended to enable the sharing of resources, ideas and practice and the building of relationships with other school leaders, a new core function evolved in response to the demands of lockdown - to enable theologically informed strategic reflection on leadership. This new core function helped participating leaders to sustain themselves and to refill their ‘reservoirs of hope’ (Flintham, 2003, 2009) during the crisis. We conclude by setting out some implications for future network designers, including a proposal that network facilitators must be skilled in three areas - convening, catalysing and coaching. We argue that there is an important role for networks alongside formal professional development programmes in England’s fragmented school system.
Greany, T., & Wolfe, A. (2022). Networking Small Rural Schools in the Pandemic. In The Power of Professional Learning Networks - traversing the present; transforming the future (11). London: John Catt Educational Ltd