Spreading the talent

Since becoming chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of teaching schools up and down the country. It has been great to get out and see some of the fantastic work they are doing and how they are stepping up to take on a greater role within the education sector, becoming the hub of the school-led system.
It is now three years since the Schools White Paper was published. In it, the government set out their ambition to create an education system led by the sector itself; a school-led system in which the experts – teachers and school leaders, not government or ministers – take the lead in improving the education of our children.

Tasked with developing leaders
At the forefront of this school-led system has been the creation of a national network of teaching schools: outstanding schools with responsibility for developing leaders and teachers and a significant role in the drive to raise standards.
Modelled on the concept of teaching hospitals, teaching schools have been tasked with six key areas. Firstly, leading the development of a school-led initial teacher training system. Secondly, leading peer-to-peer professional and leadership development. The third area is identifying and developing leadership potential, then it’s providing support for other schools. Following on is designating and brokering specialist leaders of education (SLEs), and the final key area is engaging in research and development.
The aim is to have 500 teaching schools operating right across the country by 2015. And we are on target to reach this, with over 360 now in place and another application round opening in September.

Making a difference
Achieving this target is important, but what is also important is to see teaching schools making a difference, grasping the reform agenda and making it their own.
Earlier this year we published ‘How teaching schools are making a difference’ – which highlights some of the collaborative approaches being developed as teaching schools start to lead on these six areas.
The publication includes lots of examples of the excellent activity emerging within teaching school alliances. There are too many to mention here, but examples include free twilight CPD programmes to all staff within an alliance; placement schemes for senior leaders to gain experience of working in other schools and contexts; a mentoring programme for newly-employed heads; developing innovative programmes for School Direct trainees; SLEs offering one-day diagnostics as well as longer deployments focused on increasing attainment and progress in specific subjects; and the establishment of cross-alliance research groups meeting regularly to develop action research.

These are just a few examples and it is still very much early days. But I believe these activities demonstrate that teaching schools are recognising and embracing a collaborative approach to school improvement. They acknowledge that collaboration needs to extend beyond their own schools, working in partnership with other schools to find and share best practice so that all schools can benefit.

Reaching all schools
However, there is more to do. In terms of reach, we know the number of schools involved in teaching school alliances is growing but that this varies quite significantly between local authorities, especially between rural and urban areas, and also by phase, with more than twice as many secondary schools involved as primary schools.

As more teaching school alliances are created, more schools will be reached. However, we cannot ignore the fact that not all schools will join teaching school alliances or participate in other school partnerships.

My concern is that we are in danger of creating a two-tier system, with teaching school alliances and other collaborations such as chains forging ahead, leaving other schools behind.

But to build a truly school-led system, we need all schools to be on board, with the confidence to work with others in effective partnerships – whatever form these partnerships take, supporting and challenging each other to improve.

Teaching schools need to ensure absolute collaboration and inclusion in their approach. They need to go that extra mile to make sure that colleagues in their own schools and across the alliance of schools feel empowered, while at the same time making no compromises on the quality of provision.

To those reluctant to get involved, I cannot stress enough how powerful collaboration can be, offering the best platform upon which to achieve improvement and raise standards, both in your own school as well as in schools receiving support. Collaboration provides an opportunity for even the most accomplished leaders and schools to learn how to do elements of what they do even better and gain new ideas, by supporting and learning from other schools.

Teaching schools: get involved
We will be looking for more schools to join the programme when the next application round opens on 13 September. Designation is open to any phase or type or schools and schools can share the role of leading an alliance.
You will need to be an outstanding school with a clear track record of successful collaboration with other schools as well as consistently high levels of pupil performance. You will need to be led by an outstanding headteacher with at least three years’ experience and outstanding senior and middle leaders with capacity to support others.
Designation lasts for four years and you receive core funding to cover the management and co-ordination of your activities, alongside additional funding to deliver activities such as initial teacher training, CPD and so on.

You can also get involved in the programme by becoming part of a teaching school alliance. Teaching school alliances are groups of schools and other partners such as universities supported by the leadership of a teaching school. They include those schools that benefit from the alliance by receiving support, as well as the teaching school and strategic partners that offer and deliver support.
Alliances can be cross-phase and cross‑sector, working across local authorities and including different types of organisations.
You can find out more about teaching schools – including how to apply and details of those in your local area – on our website: www.education.gov.uk/nationalcollege/teachingschools
These are times of unprecedented change. But by working together, there is a real opportunity to create an education system that all our children and young people deserve.

Further information