Can teaching schools create a universal model for teacher preparation and development?

I must confess that the National College’s initial evaluation of Teaching Schools had passed me by. I don’t know whether it was because it appeared around Easter time or because it was inserted into the government’s publication list other than at the top where new publications usually appear. Nevertheless, it merits consideration by anyone interested in both ITT and CPD in schools as a means of raising standards. The full document can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/302659/RR332_-_Teaching_schools_Evaluation.pdf

The authors included a former general secretary of ASCL, and a well-known thinker on education policy, have published this report as part of a longer government backed study that commenced in 2013, and continues to 2015. There is much to ponder in their interim conclusions. In this piece I will concentrate on their discussion about initial teacher education and School Direct. The authors accept that, as is well known, last year there was little difficulty filing the primary places on offer but that there were challenges recruiting to the priority secondary subjects.

It will be interesting to see whether the same pattern will be repeated in 2014, since using School Direct to provide a local trained teaching force was cited as a reason for participating in at least one case. The report noted that:

“In some case study TSAs Teaching School Alliances), there are examples of strategic planning work that addresses the needs of local schools when allocating School Direct trainees. For the Hallam TSA, School Direct has enabled them to build leadership capacity in local Catholic schools from ‘the start of the supply chain’ (strategic partner). It has also given them the autonomy to improve the supply of high quality teachers in Religious Education (RE). It is noted that recruitment and succession planning of RE teachers are ‘a crisis in church schools’. It is, however, too early to report successes yet”

As the Report also notes, the relationship between teaching schools and higher education is evolving at present. Some TSA have strong links that pre-date the present drive to employer-led training for teachers – a return to the pre-Robbins Report position – that have survived the change in circumstances. Indeed, for some universities, it is possible to dump the bits of training they don’t want to do as well as the administrative tasks and still be paid for the teaching they do better than schools with the bonus of the university charging the faculty a lower overhead. Much no doubt depends upon whether the TSA sees training merely as ‘coaching’ or recognises that anyone entering the profession needs far more than just some lesson plans and a few tips on how to manage behaviour. No doubt the new review Gove has ordered will have something to say about this topic.

The Report notes some challenges for the future, including what the authors see as the biggest challenge – one that is strategic in character – namely how sustainable is the whole teaching school concept in the medium term. As they note, there are concerns about how easily public policy can change.  Even more worryingly, they note that Teaching Schools appear to have been doing the softer working around support and development but not been able to hold to each other to account (or other schools in the alliance) if performance and progress starts to slip in a school. This is a vital issue that must be addressed if quality in training and development is not to be compromised. Ofsted will have to pay particular attention to this aspect of School Direct and the other programmes operated by teaching schools.

There is much else of interest in the report, and I would urge anyone interested in this field to download and read the whole report.

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