Teaching Schools (from Dr Sykes)
We are very pleased to be able to report that Thornden has just been designated a Teaching School. Teaching Schools are a completely new initiative launched by the Coalition Government. The background here is that the Government’s White Paper on Education, “The Importance of Teaching”, published in 2010, set out a number of proposals which have since become law and been implemented. One major initiative was encouraging schools to become Academies directly funded by Central Government and with a number key extra freedoms compared to local authority maintained schools. As parents are aware, almost exactly a year ago Thornden became an Academy. We made the conversion relatively early and there were some quite significant benefits to the school from doing so. According to the Department for Education by the summer an outright majority of secondary schools nationally will have converted to Academy status. However, the Academy initiative was only one part of a general policy thrust to delegate much more power to school level.
Indeed, the White Paper was quite emphatic,
“Across the world the case for the benefits of school autonomy has been established beyond doubt.”
It then continues,
“Our aim should be to support the school system to become more effectively self-improving. The primary responsibility for improvement rests with schools and the wider system should be designed so that our best schools and leaders can take on greater responsibility leading improvement work across the system.”
The White Paper then proposed the creation of a new national network of Teaching Schools. The idea is modelled on the example of teaching hospitals and builds upon pilot work initiated by the previous Government in improvement strategies developed in London and Greater Manchester. The aim is to establish approximately 500 Teaching Schools. This is out of just over 23,000 schools (primary and secondary) nationally.
The initiative was launched very promptly and schools were invited to apply at Easter 2011. The first cohort of 100 Teaching Schools then began operation in September 2011. In addition, another 15 schools were informed that they had met all the criteria and were given a protected place in the second round of 100 Teaching Schools starting in April 2012. Thornden was one of those 15 schools. It was a requirement that we should not seek publicity about this matter so we have delayed informing parents until the formal designation has been confirmed, which has now happened.
The aim is that Teaching Schools will take increasing responsibility for the following areas:-
- Initial Teacher Training
- The professional development of Qualified Teachers
- An important role in coordinating support for schools where there is under-performance
- Supporting the development of School Leaders
- Playing a major part in research and development
As can be seen these are important areas where previously bodies such as local authorities, Universities and, indeed, the Department for Education would have had a greater role.
There is significant but limited funding for Teaching Schools - £60,000 in Year One, £50,000 in Year Two and £40,000 in Years Three and Four. Subsequently, the designation would be reviewed and no plans for future funding have been announced. Primarily therefore the Teaching School will be acting as the lead school in an alliance of other schools.
We are delighted to have achieved the status because we can see major benefits both to the system of schools in general but also to Thornden. For many years it has been clear that most of the expertise in terms of improving schools lay within schools themselves. The previous Government had recognised this and in reality the policy trend towards devolving this work to schools was already well entrenched. So, for example, as a Leading Edge School we were already acting to support other schools. Secondly, as a Hub School for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust programme, we had already been putting on professional development courses for a group of schools. Largely because of central Government cutbacks, the SSAT (now The Schools Network) has had to cut this initiative.
We can see there may be a number of areas of potential concern to parents. One obvious concern would be that the school would be taking on a much larger number of trainee teachers and this might dilute the quality of what we offer our own pupils. In practice, however, the greater role of the Teaching School will be in recruiting and training trainee teachers over a wide range of schools. We do not envisage there being any significant increase in the number of student teachers in Thornden itself. Secondly, there may be a concern about the attention of leading teachers and schools leaders at Thornden being distracted away from the school. We will be using the funding in order to ensure this does not happen by increasing the capacity within the school, in particular by certain internal promotions to cover the work.
Such issues were discussed by the Governing Body prior to application. We believe achieving this status will bring significant benefits to the school. For example, we think it will enhance our ability to recruit the best staff. We also believe that we can learn from the research and development and also from input from the other schools in our Teaching Schools Alliance. Finally, it continues to mean that we will be part of a group of the very best schools nationally.
As with Academy conversion, we do not envisage it will mean significant obvious changes in the day to day experience of pupils at the school. However, we do believe it will be a critical matter in ensuring that Thornden continues to be a successful school and avoids the obvious dangers of complacency. If parents have any questions, please email them in. We do remain convinced that this is a very promising initiative and it is very positive news indeed that Thornden should be playing a leading role.