World-class learning starts with a superhub
Formation of new hubs is intended to give every school in the country the same opportunities for teacher learning.
The concept of teaching schools has evolved greatly since their inception back at the turn of the century when we successfully used it to improve learning across London. In the intervening period this initiative has grown to the point that today, 700 teaching school alliances exist nationally. Not for much longer. On February 11 the Department of Education led by The Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP announced that it was designating 81 Teaching School Hubs run by 77 schools. These ‘superhubs’ would be added to the six ‘test and learn’ hubs already established. By creating these hubs they intend to ensure that the staff in all schools in England would have access to high-quality professional development throughout their career. The objective being that “this will further level up the quality of teaching, allowing every child to receive a world-class start in life no matter where they are born.”
All the hubs would be fully up and running by September 2021. As a result of this, the existing 700 Teaching School Alliances would be de-designated at the end of August.
The statement went on to say that each hub: “Will have its own defined geographical patch and will be expected to be accessible to all schools within that area, serving on average around 250 schools each”. The package comes with a £65m fund and will run initially for three years.
The statement concluded with an endorsement from the chair of the Teaching School Council, Richard Gill. He is currently Chief Executive of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership and was head teacher of one of the hundred Teaching Schools designated by the coalition government in 2011.
It is rewarding to see that his school is not the only one from this cohort. In fact the list includes Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, Bowden, Greater Manchester which was in the 44 schools we recommended for designation as National Teaching Schools to the Labourgovernment in 2010.
It also includes a number who played a key role in the formation of Challenge Partners. These are:
Mulberry School for Girls, Shadwell, London,
Denbigh High School, Luton and
Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester.
Kingsbridge Community College, Kingsbridge, Devon, another initial member of CP and in the first 100 Teaching schools, was part of the ‘test and learn’ group of schools.
The list also includes a number of Olevi Docs. They are:
Colchester County High School for Girls
Altrincham Girls’ Grammar School
Denbigh High School
The full list of schools can be found on the DFE website.
This initiative demonstrates that while the number of Teaching Schools has been reduced radically, they are still at the centre of what the government refers to as its self-improving, school-led system.
By stating that each teaching school hub should contain 250 schools, it does imply to us that they have resolved one of the issues that has beset the development of Teaching Schools since their conception. That is, how many schools make up a teaching school hub? (The bureaucrats tend to like to know the answer to these types of questions so they can take a concept to scale). From our work in developing the teaching school concept, we were unsure that this question could be answered with a precise figure though a range of sizes based on longevity was beginning to emerge.
The reason for this is that the growth of hubs depends on the quality of the relationships between schools and this depends on moral capital. Without it, staff are unwilling to learn collaboratively. We know from our work that this capital takes time to develop. As a result, and collaborated from our experience in developing teaching schools in the early days and then working with Challenge Partner’s hubs, we concluded that there was not a standard size to hubs . It will be interesting to see how this works out in practice.
With such a radical reduction in numbers there are bound to be disappointed Teaching Schools. Especially as, from our experience, it takes a long time to build the capacity to run an effective teaching school. Some aspects that need to be considered include:
- Balancing the twin tasks of looking inward to your own needs and outwards to others,
- Retaining your credibility amongst your peers as a school with perceived outstanding practice
- Finding, training and retaining key staff to do the work
- Building the ability to lead systemically
- Continually convincing those in your community to question the validity of collaboration as a way of ensuring excellence
It can be an onerous yet worthy, stimulating task. So those schools which have been chosen will be relieved that their hard work has been rewarded.
We are sure there are more changes to come before the initial ambition of the programme is realised. This dates back to the turn of the millenium.. One of the real privileges in my career was to meet in early 2000 with Professor Sir Tim Brighouse and the then leaders of London Challenge. In those meetings we would review the progress of my team’s work in designing a system for sharing best practice across the Capital. As part of our design we had already come to realise that we would need a special type of school to facilitate the work. As a working title we had called these Teaching Schools. ¹In one such meeting, Sir Tim asked me: “How long do you think we would need this type of school for?” I replied that I thought it would be when every school manages the learning of its staff as effectively as its pupils.
So we hope that this latest initiative brings us closer to that goal. It is still a journey which is essential if we achieve our aim, which is to provide our students with an education which represents the wisdom of the education community. We pass on our congratulations to all the newly-designated schools and the best of learning in the future.
Take care and stay safe
¹: Berwick G. T., Proposal for a National Network of Teaching Schools – Unpublished paper submitted to the Cabinet Office, 2004