Teaching Schools

Teaching Schools are the centre piece of the recent White Paper. There may be up to 100 created this year and 500 by 2015. Their daunting role is to provide and quality assure ITT, CPD and Leadership Programmes to a cluster of schools. The status is also open to Primary, Special and Independent Schools. The budget is said to be £72million – the proposal might provide an avearge of approximately £60,000 per school.

There are a number of critical questions surrounding Teaching Schools:

1. Establishing a functioning (and eventually income generating) cluster is not easy and schools which have been working at this for the past 10 years or so (Training Schools and others, who currently cover much of the ground) are not going to relinquish their own clusters and partnerships without very good cause. There are few areas that do not have access to some form of cluster support should schools seek to participate.

2. Any system of ‘application’ is fraught with dangers unless the criteria are clear and unequivocal. We have a number of ‘entry’ requirements published by National College but there is likely to be some form of final judgement about an application – who will make this judgement and how will it be done? Surely schools will have to submit a credible plan of operation? There are, we are told, already over 800 interested schools for between 50 and 100 places this year. Given the competition, this looks like a recipe for frustration.

3. The criteria suggest that a very narrow band of ‘outstanding’ schools will be eligible. Such schools may have both capacity  and the right OFSTED credentials but without the involvement of a broader, more ‘accessible’ range of  schools in the role, or without some flexibility with the criteria, Teaching Schools are unlikely to make much of an impact.

4. Where have Teaching Schools come from?  They do not appear to be a solution to the problems and needs of the majority of schools, rather, they appear to be yet another example of the ‘strong’ schools getting ‘stronger’.  All schools  surely need to be supported to continue the process of linking up with local partners and to develop long term, mutually advantageous strategies for training, recruitment and development. This process is likely to involve a degree of federation and specialisation. The ‘colonial models’ of the super school operations are surely both unsustainable and anachronistic.  The outstandingly successful Training School programme, which had made much progress in sensitively supporting local partnerships and responding to local need, appears to have been brushed aside.  The critics of Training Schools claimed that  not all of the appropriate schools in the right places had been appointed – this will surely be the same and inevitable problem for Teaching Schools, made worse by the attempt to introduce another system on top of an existing and successful one. If the aim of Teaching Schools is to support the identified needs and contexts of  Local Authorities  and to develop the capacity for greater school based Initial Teacher Education, then this surely needs to be a local and not another  nationally driven initiative.

5. One way to salvage this situation would be for the exisiting network of Training Schools (those that had a successful TDA Annual Review this year) to become the first wave of pilot Teaching Schools, thus assuring continuity and uninterrupted development. 200 such schools receiving £60,000 would only cost around £12 million for the first year. Schools could then subsequently apply for Teaching School status in the areas without Training School coverage and in the areas where Training Schools had not met the requirements of the pilot. This solution would also save the substantial costs and risks associated with the proposed application process.

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Watershed moments and The Waggon Model

A new government, so change there must be and eyecatching at that. Little chance of a careful review (the advantage of a new administration) – the chance to build on what has worked well and move on from that which has not. What can be done to resist the indiscrimminate broom and spin of big government? It used to cross my mind in the classroom occasionally, that if the school population decided to walk out, there was little or nothing we could as teachers to restrain them. Perhaps we have reached a similar ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ moment. Never before has it seemed so important for schools to unite and to determine their own agenda. The long winded and commonly manipulated (politically) accountability route up to London and back down again, can’t really compete with a school relating directly to the wishes and needs of its own school community  – now that is surely a more powerful democratic model. This is our school, our partnership. Let us begin from here and build, in partnership with other schools, our own future – surely this is the honest definition of localism. In these chaotic, market driven, budget cutting, divisive times, it is the only way. The Waggon Model – draw the assets into a protective circle and look to the schools, large and small, strong and struggling, in our own areas.

Musings on school clusters

I went for a wintry walk with my daughter Emily this afternoon. She works for the NSPCC and we were talking about how our working lives may overlap in the future. Linking the NSPCC to individual schools and establishing a firm relationship based on awareness of ChildLine should be part of the new move to put clusters of schools in direct contact with the voluntary sector. This of course also applies to a wide range of stakeholders. With the current review of the role of Training Schools by TDA, I’ve been thinking about how all this will fit with the development of Childrens’ Trusts and I shall be continuining with this theme over the next few weeks.