It was a great honour to once again be a judge for the TES Schools Awards. It was hard work. But it was worth every moment to come across so many examples of exciting and innovative educational practice, and to realise that, whatever the challenges they face, teachers are among the most dedicated and committed professionals. They are always seeking to do more, and to do better, for their pupils.
I taught English in schools and universities, so I always approach the judging of English teacher or team of the year with particular interest. This year, the award went to the Tameside English Team – all 15 English departments in Tameside’s secondary schools – which did something really rather remarkable. Two years ago, these teachers came to the conclusion that they would be able to do more in collaboration than in competition, and decided to work much more closely together as one connected team.
Leaders for English, literacy, key stages 3 and 4, and librarians have meetings every half-term. These leaders offer training and moderation across all schools and share schemes of work. Every English teacher has access to a dropbox of resources that helps to reduce their planning workload. Underperforming schools are benefiting from coaching, and all teachers have networks to call on for advice and support.
The results are impressive. One example, in particular, stood out as a testimony to the power of collaboration: “I joined Tameside as a newly qualified English teacher last year and I am now second in the department in my academy. My head of English is absent long-term.
“I have to say that the support I have been given from my peers in our network has been invaluable. I obviously have very little experience in comparison with the rest of our team, and I am due a speaking and listening moderation visit this term.
“Two other heads of department helped me to moderate the judgements of the team and gave me invaluable help to prepare for this visit – help that was not available from the exam board or within my school. The other heads of department have really rallied round to support me, knowing that I and my team are inexperienced.”
This is just one of a number of examples of collaboration. Others include cross-school assessment standardisation meetings and collaborative marking. According to one teacher, this has “been invaluable to me [and] particularly important in my pursuit of accurate and effective feedback for GCSE students, as I have never taught these new specifications.”
The teachers’ testimonies are powerful enough, but they are also supported by the praise of Ofsted. In a report on KS3 English in Tameside, inspectors conclude: “Pupils are better prepared for GCSE and benefit from teachers in all schools who are working to a clear and consistent model, who are well trained and who have designed and taken ownership of the scheme themselves.”
All this just goes to show just how much can be achieved through cooperation rather than competition.
Mary Bousted is general secretary of the ATL teaching union @MaryBoustedATL