December 2012


  • New schools of thought
    They are a key plank of the government’s strategy to create a ‘self-improving system’, so 18 months from their launch, how are teaching schools shaping up? Nick Bannister reports. More
  • High Hopes
    A programme providing bespoke support for the most vulnerable pupils with special needs and their families has had remarkable results, including reducing the number of children designated SEN. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Knock on effect
    Changes to government rules on how many students and of what calibre universities can recruit present a fresh challenge for school and college career departments, says Steve McArdle. More
  • Global Gains
    Working with a school overseas does more than help to create global citizens. Growing evidence shows that it can contribute to pupils’ academic motivation and attainment, say James Love and Claire Kennedy. More
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They are a key plank of the government’s strategy to create a ‘self-improving system’, so 18 months from their launch, how are teaching schools shaping up? Nick Bannister reports.


When teaching schools were first proposed in 2010, the policy seemed to offer England’s best performing schools an opportunity to take control themselves of training, development and school improvement.

It is too early to assess whether teaching schools have fulfilled these lofty predictions. The first 100 were designated in July 2011, and 217 are now up and running, with the programme on schedule to meet its target of 500 teaching school alliances by 2015.

There are three ways in which an alliance can be set up: as a single teaching school alliance led by one teaching school; as a ‘job-share’, in which two teaching schools jointly lead; and as a multiple alliance, where two or more schools are at the helm.

The National College, which is coordinating the programme, has identified the ‘big six’ key responsibility areas: teacher training, staff development, building leadership potential, designating and brokering Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs), research and development (R&D), and support for other schools.

‘Extraordinary pace’

George Abbot School in Surrey is the lead in an alliance that includes themselves, three other secondary schools, one primary school and one special school.

“We had been a training school since 2000 so we had some sort of idea of how things might move forward,” says Jane Sherlock, assistant head, who leads on the teaching school programme. “But I do not think anything could have prepared us for the pace. It was extraordinary. In the beginning, we were making it up on our own. We had to work on research and development, SLEs and leadership succession – as well as the practical challenges of building an alliance of schools.”

A key point was ensuring that the right people were in place in the alliance leadership to convince schools to buy into the new approach. There is an executive group made up of the confederation managers, who mainly act on behalf of primaries, the 11-19 partnership manager who acts on behalf of secondary, special, and pupil referral units (PRUs), and the accredited provider director.

“These people have a long history of working with their schools, identifying what is needed and who are trusted by schools and their staff,” Jane says. “As a result most of what we offer has good ‘buy in’.”

Responsibility for different elements of work is shared across the alliance, based on an audit of all of the partners’ needs and strengths. So School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) work, for example, is being done by a partner school, although the admin side is handled by George Abbot’s Initial Teacher Training admin team and George Abbot has brought in extra staff to support all the alliance work. All advertising and recruitment to events is also routed through George Abbot’s admin team.

Some initiatives are also developed jointly with teaching schools across the county.
Jane says, “It means that one or sometimes a pair of teaching schools work on the detail for development which is then used by the others. Protocols, fee structure, policy, paperwork and CPD [continuing professional development] for our SLEs, for example, was worked on by one teaching school, reviewed and finalised by the group. It means we work in co-operation rather than competition and all teaching schools in Surrey now use this model.

“The same is happening for the NQTS assessment. In this case we are leading the development phase researching, drafting policy and procedures, outlining possible paperwork.”

It’s a similar story of co-operation at The Hertfordshire & Essex High School and Science College, which was designated a teaching school in September 2011 jointly with The Bishop’s Stortford High School. Together the schools lead an alliance made up of themselves, four other secondaries and 26 feeder primaries.

“Each school had strengths that complemented the other,” says Jane Bennett, assistant head at Hertfordshire & Essex High and teaching school lead. “Several of the primaries in the alliance are leading on elements of teaching school work and all have shown a real enthusiasm for partnership working.”

But Jane and her colleagues were aware of the potential for criticism in the early days, she says.

“From talking to other teaching school alliances there was a level of distrust about what teaching schools were about – that they were about a particular school holding itself up as being experts in everything, so we were sensitive to that . We made sure that we were not putting ourselves across as ‘the experts’ but that what we were trying to do was help coordinate the experts and expertise in lots of schools in the area.”

The research and development strand of the alliance’s work is one example of that ambition to identify and share good practice. For example, action research – closely observing and analysing what works in the classroom and using that knowledge to improve teaching and learning – is a key part of R&D and is coordinated by Simon MacNeill, a professional tutor at The Bishop’s Stortford High School.

He and primary school colleagues have set up research networks to look at areas such as boys’ writing and independent learning with support from Cambridge University’s faculty of education and the Institute of Education (IOE). Findings from the research will be shared across the alliance through seminars, workshops and bulletins.

If it can be sustained the hope is that it will make cross-phase collaboration a natural strategy for improving pupil learning across the alliance.

Funding criticism

The funding available has come in for criticism. ASCL, among others, expressed concern that the three-year funding package for each teaching school – £60,000 in year one, £50,000 in the second year and £40,000 in the final year – would leave schools out of pocket in year four.

Jane Sherlock at George Abbot says that although her school’s budget can support teaching school work she has concerns that the National College’s ambition that they should be self-supporting after the third year of funding might be over-ambitious. “We are moving away from the training school model where we gave away our services for free to a teaching school approach where we are asking schools to pay for our services,” Jane says. “We’re charging for our SLEs when our ASTs would go out for free.”

The College says that the money was never intended to fund core teaching school activities.

“We’ve always been clear that the annual grant is about helping teaching schools to build the necessary leadership and administrative capacity to undertake the work of leading a teaching school alliance,” says John Stephens, director of school improvement at the College.

The deployment of SLEs into schools or local authorities is one area expected to generate some of that income. How this work will pay its way is down to local agreement.

“In some alliances with SLEs there is a charge to receiving schools. Others might have a subscription model which schools pay into and receive services free at the point of access. It is about working out business models according to local context,” John says.

Jane Bennett says that, because the programme is so new, there has been some reluctance from schools to pay a teaching school to deliver something that used to be delivered by ‘experts’.

“But now there is this shift to people on the inside of schools being the experts,” Jane says. “It will be a gradual change. But local authorities and CPD providers are coming to teaching schools and looking to see what we can offer.”

  • Nick Bannister is an education writer and communications consultant.

For more on teaching schools go to

The National College has published case studies of teaching
school innovation available to College members at