The creation of Teaching Schools

The creation of Teaching Schools ushered in a new era of cooperation between schools in England that resulted in enormous benefit to the education system as a whole. In the next series of blogs we examine the concept of Collaborative Learning Communities and the impact they have had.

In the next three blogs I intend to use the development of Teaching Schools in England and the formation of Challenge Partners to provide practical illustrations of the concept of Collaborative Learning Communities. We will begin with a background to the creation of Teaching Schools from 2003 to 2011.  The next blog will describe how twelve of these Teaching Schools and their hub schools joined together to form a central organisation called Challenge Partners. Finally, we will explore the activity undertaken by one of these Teaching Schools, The London West hub, as configured in 2015. In future blogs I will present other CLCs from across the globe. 

The starting point

In England in the 1990s there had been a number of initiatives designed to encourage schools to collaborate, including Action Zones and Beacon Schools. A common theme in these programmes was to share best practice between high performing schools and urban situated underperforming schools. Integral to these programmes was the first attempt to nationally accredit teachers who had the capacity to share their best practice with others by designating them Advanced Skills Teachers.  All of this work was underpinned by a growing confidence in the use of public examination results and OFSTED’s grading of schools to identify areas of best and poor practice in the system. 

In the creation of the concept of a Teaching School we built on our experience of this burgeoning school-to-school work.  From my first hand experience of this work and my research into school improvement, Rita Bugler, Richard Lockyer and George Gyte along with myself, devised an approach to school improvement based upon effective knowledge management.  After the first year, this group was widened to include the headteachers of three potential Teaching Schools which included Dame Sue John and Professor David Woods CBE who, like George Gyte, was a Challenge Adviser.  

To develop this, we created a theory of action – an evidential framework with a clear audit trail which would ensure we adjusted our approach as we learnt from our actions.  We used this approach to create an outstanding school that could:

These schools would provide a central resource for the London Challenge in its drive to eradicate underperforming schools in the City by harnessing the best practice that already existed in the City.  The work of these Teaching Schools would be commissioned by the London Challenge Advisers. They, along with the leader of these schools, a serving headteacher in the City known as the Director of the London Leadership Strategy, would match the Teaching Schools with the appropriate underperforming school.  The Teaching School would then be allocated a budget used to provide an agreed range of interventions designed to improve student performance within a given timeframe.  

The role model for the overall approach would be Ravens Wood School, which had for the previous four years under my leadership sustained a high level of pupil performance whilst supporting a range of other schools.  Many of these schools drew their students from challenging catchments. Before deployment, the headteacher and the staff involved in the Teaching Schools would be trained to share their knowledge using programmes devised by Richard Lockyer and his team at Olevi

To build the capacity in the system, a developmental progression was devised for outstanding schools to become Teaching Schools.  This project was managed by Rita Bugler. To start the process, experienced head teachers of outstanding schools in the City were invited to be trained and become a coach/mentor to new headteachers appointed in the City. If they completed this work successfully they could then opt into supporting an under-performing school.  They would then be trained by Olevi and matched with a school requiring support by the Director and the Challenge Adviser. If their intervention was successful they could apply for their school to be designated a National Support School and for them to become a National Leader in Education. In addition those staff who worked specifically with staff from the other schools could become designated Specialist Leaders in Education. The headteacher would then be invited to take a strategic role in the Leadership Strategy such as running one of its programmes and the school encouraged to develop an area of expertise that could be shared across the city. Successful completion of these tasks would allow them to apply for accreditation as a Teaching School.

The concept was presented to the Cabinet Office 2003. Then as part of The London Challenge (2003-2008) we honed the idea with three other London schools. During City Challenge (2008-2011), building on this we devised the designation process and implemented it so that by the end of this period 44 schools in London, Manchester and the West Midlands had been designated.  In 2011, the coalition government’s, Education White Paper determined that Teaching Schools would be designated and charged to spread best practice throughout the system. Initially one hundred schools were to receive the designation from the DFE. These schools had to have an ‘outstanding’ rating by OFSTED, have demonstrated their capacity to support failing schools, taken a systemic leadership role and the headteacher had to be in post for at least three years.  It is from a group of these initial one hundred Teaching Schools that in 2011 Challenge Partners emerged.