A familiar phenomenon in education is that those who need the most support are usually the furthest away from receiving it. Whether this is the parents of the students most in need but least likely to be seen at a parents evening, or the schools on the edge, schools who may be the hardest to engage in a cluster. With a good deal of instability around the future role of Local Authorities or Childrens Services and the prospect of more stand alone academies and parent run schools, one might ask who is going to keep an eye on this free for all.
It is perhaps to the US we could look for a model that could be adapted here – the concept of the School Superintendent. We may even have had such a role ourselves in a previous age. The Superintendent has the power (through a Board or elected Committee) to intervene to support local groups of schools. They might broker arrangements to ensure that all schools are supported through clusters and help prevent situations where different types of schools go it alone. They might also relieve some of the pressure of Head Teachers by representing the cause for the strategic local interests and support the move to integrated agency approaches at a local level. You obviously need the right person in the job but then that’s true of all posts in education.
The proposal in the 21st Century Schools White Paper that all teachers should have their licence to teach renewed every 5 years is controversial. Setting aside the issues around how it might be done and by whom, the other key issue is the linked entitlement; that every teacher should have easy access to the support and training that is required for skills to be sustained. The other professions (e.g.medical, legal) presumeably (hopefully!) have established and resourced systems for a continuous ‘topping up’ of professional skills and standards. What of teachers? It is safe to say that each school and each context will be different (key problem: consistency and equality of entitlement). It is also safe to say that the opportunities for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers vary hugely depending on the ethos of the school, pressures, budgets etc. The answer to all of this seems to centre on developing clusters for CPD. This appears to be a sound idea, particularly as CPD from outside the school is becoming more difficult to access and more expensive. However, cluster development is often akin to marriage; often troubled my a mismatch of expectations and under constant pressure from scarce resources.
Once schools have begun to collaborate, the first realisable benefit is the opportunity to make use of a strength in numbers and in economies of scale. Clusters can commission services from a variety of sources. The obvious partners are the different agencies represented within the local Childrens Trust and who are charged with and funded for the realisation of the requirements of the local Childrens Plan. Schools need to know what they need and to express this clearly. Other potential partners can include Universities (for Masters and Foundation Degrees), Providers of Initial Teacher Training (for specific subjects and year expertise). Some clusters have successfully commissioned ICT solutions. Charities and other representatives of the Third Sector are also potential partners. Bartering with neighbouring clusters is another possibility. The opportunities are there.
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.