A 'powerful' weapon for reform loses its appeal

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
Applications are down for the second cohort of teaching schools

Ministers claimed that they would be a "powerful and positive" weapon in their quest to reform the education system - and heads seemed to agree. The introduction of teaching schools was greeted with apparent enthusiasm by the profession: primary, secondary, special and even independent school leaders appeared to be clamouring for the prestigious status.

The first 100 such schools - centres of teacher training, based on teaching hospitals - began their work last September. More than 300 schools applied to be in the first cohort and 1,000 expressed an early interest.

But it seems this week that the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Just 126 schools have applied for the 100 places available in the second cohort of teaching schools. Nearly half of the applicants had previously bid for the status.

Those that win the status will receive much-needed government funding, but they will also have to train the next generation of teachers and support underperforming schools.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has previously claimed that teaching schools "have the potential to generate higher standards than ever before" and will be "central" to his reforms.

"Each one of you is living proof that one person can make a difference to the lives of thousands. And by listening to you... by handing power to you, there's no limit to what we can achieve," he told heads of the first teaching schools last year. "You all have the capacity to help enhance the leadership, improve the teaching and fix the behaviour problems in our most challenging schools."

In the second round of applications, 55 primary schools, 51 secondary schools and 20 special schools applied for teaching-school status. Half of these are in areas where there are currently no teaching schools. Successful applicants will be notified at the end of March and ministers claim that 500 teaching schools will be up and running by 2014.

A prerequisite for the status is an outstanding headteacher with at least three years' experience. But heads' leaders said the lack of applicants in the second round suggests that enthusiasm for the scheme may already be drying up.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers might be too preoccupied with other reforms to want the extra burdens that come with the status. "There are so many changes going on and schools need to think carefully about how they will cope with the major responsibilities which come with this status," he said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said there may be a "finite market" of schools wanting to convert to teaching-school status. "The concept remains popular, but there are so many initiatives coming the way of schools. Headteachers want to keep their heads down for a bit," he said. "I'm sure the most enthusiastic people went for teaching-school status in the first round. It's not right for every school and each area needs only a certain number."

The teaching-school policy is managed by the National College, which is, unsurprisingly, defensive about the project.

"We have been impressed with the high standard of applications and are confident that a further 100 teaching schools will be designated," said deputy chief executive Toby Salt. "We expected fewer applications in the second round as the profession becomes more aware of the criteria that sets a high bar."

The criteria

To win teaching-school status, a school must:

- have a clear track record of long-standing collaborative relationships with a significant number of partner schools;

- have an "outstanding" Ofsted rating;

- show consistently high levels of pupil performance or continued improvement over three years, and have results that are above current "floor standards";

- make a significant and "high quality" contribution to the training of teachers;

- have provided support to at least one underperforming school in the past.

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