Schoolzone blog: Whom do teaching schools think they are?

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13 Nov 2014

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Teaching schools are meant to take a lead on local school support and CPD and to provide initial teacher training. The unstated intention is that teaching schools are to replace LAs in providing many of the school support services which they can no longer afford to offer. In return, the schools receive funding of £60,000 in first year, 50k in the second and 40k in the next two years. It's a lot of money for struggling schools and many have put it to good use in developing new CPD offerings and support structures.

In its Teaching Schools Evaluation published earlier this year, the DfE observed that teaching school alliances (TSAs) are offering "bespoke and practitioner led response to local need" rather than the generic offerings of LAs. Which sounds like a very good thing.

The DfE report also noted that "School Direct is a major motivator for almost all the teaching school alliances" - schools really appreciate being able to choose their own students, who get paid a salary while training, by the way, so they might be expected to take the training seriously. It also notes that secondary schools are having problems filling places in shortage subject areas - a dangerous effect, as the universities point out.

Universities offering ITT are struggling as a result of School Direct, as we reported previously, and the British Educational Research Association (Bera) published research (by the universities!) noting that universities are still the best place to train. In the absence of any formal evaluation of School Direct, we have to go by what the schools themselves say ("generally a good thing") and what the universities have reported on ("there are some problems"). So the jury's still out on whether School Direct is a success - perhaps it's too soon to say.

Research and development is another of the 'big six' teaching schools offerings - and it's great that schools are being encouraged to research pedagogy, assessment and so on, but the first combined output we've seen from this - life after levels research - was a complete dog's dinner with no conclusions, recommendations or anything terribly useful at all. Even soem of the contributing schools have compalined about the process. Given that the DfE has provided R&D funding of £4m over two years "to design and test classroom interventions in schools" this is a very unprepossessing start to the initiative.

School to school support via SLEs - teachers with a particular expertise, who have become SLEs in order to offer this kind of support - should also be an effective weapon for school improvement, but the trouble with them so far has been that many schools have found it difficult to recruit them (teachers already have enough on their plates) and, where they have, they are so busy doing their in-school jobs that they don't have the capacity to help other schools. Many teaching schools simply haven't taken on SLEs, or if they have, they keep quiet about them.

Maths hubs and Computing network schools are also closely related since they work in similar ways but with the obvious subject specialisms - again more money for schools: rarely a bad thing (though - possibly - see paragraph on research and development). Plus, the DfE is giving teaching schools further funding associated with development of the use of technology in teaching. As you can imagine, non-teaching schools can get quite upset about this channelling of cash to teaching schools, which since they are all very successful, are already well funded, relative to less well performing ones.

Now, this might all sound rather negative, but I should point out at this point that I'm chair of govs at a very successful teaching school and am its number one fan. Our school is outstanding and has better performance figures than most grammar schools and so is heavily oversubscribed year on year. Being a teaching school allows us to support other schools to support each other - and we do a lot of it - direct support with individual schools, CPD events and networking opportunities. This means that we can help other schools to improve and we're starting to see parents who aren't near enough for their children to come to us, feel much happier than those in previous years about going to neighbouring schools.

Teaching schools have many roles then - probably too many - and eventually they'll settle down to just one or two of them: whoever teaching schools eventually think they are - I think they're fabulous. At least I know one that is.

PF Collie




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