September 2014


  • Changing Outlook
    Reforms coming in for September represent a shift in political thinking about special educational needs (SEN), and while many of the changes are welcome, there could be unforeseen, negative consequences for young people, schools and colleges. Anna Cole sets out what leaders need to know. More
  • Learning for life
    Young people need employability skills as well as academic qualifications but defining what that means and how to teach it is not straightforward. Laura Gibbon looks at schemes that can help. More
  • All systems go
    Vicky Beer CBE, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, talks to Julie Nightingale about women in leadership, working with Ofsted and why a school-led system has to be the future for education. More
  • Election call
    Standing for ASCL Council is an opportunity to contribute to policy making, improve the profession and widen your network, and it is one that more deputies and assistant heads should embrace, says Ben Bond. More
  • Flawed, but fairer
    Duncan Baldwin explores the moral issues raised by the new performance measure, Progress 8. More
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Vicky Beer CBE, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, talks to Julie Nightingale about women in leadership, working with Ofsted and why a school-led system has to be the future for education.

All systems go

The promotion of Nicky Morgan to Secretary of State for Education in July generated masses of media coverage and not only because she was replacing the focus-group unfriendly Michael Gove. Ms Morgan was one of several women elevated to Cabinet and other ministerial roles by the Prime Minister, a move widely seen as aimed at making his front benches more appealing to voters and especially to women, among whom the Conservatives are polling poorly.

Vicky Beer is one of those women for whom the notion of being singled out for her sex – let alone her dress sense – is meaningless. She is executive principal at Ashton-on-Mersey School in Sale, part of the multi-academy Dean Trust, director of its teaching school, and now chair of the Teaching Schools Council (TSC). The school, which became an academy in 2012, has had five successive outstanding Ofsted reports and in June 2013, Vicky, 47, was made CBE for services to education in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

When we spoke about her TSC role, the day after Nicky Morgan’s appointment, she was very plain that the minister’s gender is not the point, her policies are.

“I think it’s great if it’s a woman but it’s got to be about the best person for the job, whoever it is. If they are going to support moving the system towards more joint accountability and where there is more space for the voice of system leaders, then I welcome whoever it is, male or female.” System leadership and school-led improvement are her themes as chair of the TSC, the body established after the designation of the fi rst wave of 100 teaching schools in September 2011.

The council’s initial purpose was to act as a sounding board for government but as the number has grown its role has moved on. Members now sit on every National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) panel to designate or de-designate a teaching school and the council works more closely with ministers and civil servants to shape policy.

But it is the expansion of a school-led system and the infrastructure to support it that Vicky sees as the council’s key priority now. She believes very clearly that empowering schools themselves to identify and enact improvement is the way forward for education and that the answers to its many challenges lie within the profession and with teachers and leaders. And she sees teaching schools as an ideal – if not the only – s system for unlocking and sharing that expertise. It’s a view shared by the government, though not necessarily the whole profession.

Local solutions

There are now 545 teaching schools representing every stage and sector and covering 95 per cent of the country (though the spread is uneven). Each one has around 20 partners of various kinds, creating a network of just under 11,000 schools. It is a powerful vehicle for sharing good practice around school-led improvement but doing so by drawing on local knowledge of what works, not imposing centrally designed solutions, she emphasises.

“Teaching schools are not a network that will operate doing everything identically but they do have common themes and approaches that can be shared,” she says.

The now 16-member council has been reconfigured to split responsibilities with six focusing on shaping some national priorities while others help to develop networks regionally.

It has had some success in tackling one of the long-standing challenges for the teaching schools initiative presented by the sparse coverage in coastal and rural parts, using strategies such as mentoring to encourage aspiring schools to come on board. As a result, some 50 per cent of schools that are about to be designated in cohort 5 are from these ‘priority’ areas.

The council has also been trialling new ways of working with National Leaders of Education (NLEs). Sixty per cent of NLEs are already formally linked to a teaching school but there is a need for more coherence in the system, says Vicky. Ideas include whether the teaching school locally could assume responsibility for the designation or de-designation of NLEs, rather than the National College. They will be reporting the results of pilot schemes in autumn.

Vicky herself would like to see a move towards system leaders taking over responsibility for NLEs.

“I think that will help to move us further along towards joint accountability for the profession but there are issues, such as whether the teaching school alliance locally has the capacity to take on that role.”

ASCL is working on its own blueprint for what system leadership would look like with the role of the government and the profession clearly delineated, work which embraces all forms of system leadership, not just the teaching schools model. She says the council is “very sensitive” to the point that not all systems are linked to teaching schools and not all outstanding leaders are teaching school heads.

“What we’re trying to develop is a model that’s fully inclusive, that supports a school-led model, which is facilitated by teaching schools but isn’t making an assumption that everybody has to be a teaching school. So it could be that, as a leader, I have my teaching school partners but I would be looking to develop a network that embraces the opportunity for other system leaders to work alongside us, because we do need the additional capacity.”

Driving behaviour

The council is also working with the National College to devise some new performance measures for teaching schools, aiming, she says, to ensure how teaching schools are judged and that the value they add to the system can be quantified in a way that doesn’t rely on just a numerical measure.

“But we’re also looking at enhancing the key performance indicators so that they drive behaviour. For example, encouraging teaching schools to take on a proportion of schools that are in certain types of categories or to have a proportion of their partners whose heads are also serving as additional inspectors for Ofsted.”

Non-numerical outcomes that system leaders support is one thing but they will have to align with Ofsted’s criteria for performance. Otherwise, if inspectors continue to pay no heed to the number of partnerships, teacher exchanges, cross-school professional development initiatives or other system leadership evidence when they tot up their judgements, what’s the point?

The council has discussed its ideas for a more nuanced approach to inspections with Ofsted, she says, and she points to one suggestion by Ofsted which shows that it is recognising that system leadership needs to be factored into the overall judgement of a school’s performance.

“I believe that Ofsted is looking at, for example, whether there should be a grade beyond ‘outstanding’ that recognises the contribution that a school is making to the larger community. I’m not sure we need a grade beyond outstanding but we have certainly been cheered by the recognition from Ofsted that it understands there is a system leader role now and that it should be recognising the impact a system leader is having not only on their own school but on the other schools they and their school are supporting.”

Losing momentum?

Teaching schools were not universally welcomed when they were announced by Michael Gove in 2010, though they have gathered support since. But now Mr Gove has gone – and with a General Election looming – does she fear that the programme and with it the drive to create a school-led system will dissipate, just as it is becoming embedded?

“No,” she says, adding that she is confident the target of 600 teaching schools by next March will be met. “We have spoken to a variety of different stakeholders and there appears to be broad party support for a system-led model that avoids fragmentation, that creates greater alignment and fl uency and recognises the signifi cant voice and expertise of the profession. And that’s everything that teaching schools represent.

“We’ve worked hard as a council to develop an infrastructure that means we are not dependent on the government of the day and that has its own way of generating momentum. It’s what the system wants and what the system needs.”

Julie Nightingale is a freelance writer specialising in education.

For further information on the National Teaching Schools Council, see