Three secondary schools are proving that three heads are better than one when it comes to inducting trainee teachers. A panel of headteachers from Varndean, Dorothy Stringer and Patcham schools, in Brighton, recently staged their own version of Question Time in which they fielded questions from 31 eager trainee teachers.
The session was part of a new induction programme offered by the three-school partnership.
Trainee teachers begin their placements with a series of workshops held across the three schools. It is cost-effective because they share resources.
Helen Horsley, an assistant head and professional tutor at Varndean, says:
"Working with so many trainees has huge implications for the rest of their placement. We have so much expertise with staff from our three schools, and we have very high expectations."
Varndean is a successful school in a Brighton suburb, and has 1,240 pupils.
The proportion of students eligible for free school meals is about average.
It was ranked among the "best of the best" in the Office for Standards in Education's roll of outstanding schools which highlighted those that have been mentioned twice in annual reports during the past decade. Its students perform above the national average at GCSE. Last summer, 62 per cent of pupils gained five or more GCSEs at grade C or above.
Varndean began the induction scheme in March 2003, initially teaming up with nearby Dorothy Stringer school. The scheme was expanded when Dorothy Stringer and Patcham high won joint training-school status.
The aim was to share resources and design programmes of induction for trainees on PGCEs and the graduate teacher programme when they come on work placements from Sussex and Brighton universities.
Three tutors, one from each school, run and develop the programmes.
"The idea was to build on our resources and pool them using the three schools, with three tutors working on it to deliver a quality programme," says Ms Horsley.
They run two programmes to meet the needs of the two placements in September and February. The first, for those at the start of their training, covers the basics - workshops in voice projection, observation skills and behaviour management.
Students are introduced to the key stage 3 strategy. They role-play teaching situations and learn about various types of learner.
The second programme goes much deeper and covers school values and ethos through a range of activities. February's four-day programme included workshops in classroom craft, followed by circle time with students. Then trainees returned to their own schools to observe lessons.
Trainees also did group work to reflect on observation, a session on English as an additional language and a Question Time session with the three heads.
Helen Horsley says the benefits feed back into the school. Many staff are involved in the induction programme - either as mentors or helping to deliver workshops. It also provides the schools with a supply of good, home-grown staff.
"It's very cost-effective," says Ms Horsley. "Between the three schools, it has cost a few hundred pounds to deliver real quality training. It's easy and it's fun. My own professional development has been extended by the work with colleagues in other schools, and the trainees like it because they get to see other schools."
Kerry McCormick, a PGCE trainee in art and design, went to another school for her first work placement, but found it a very different experience.
"At my last school it was literally sink or swim," she says. "But here we have lots of things that really help. I wish I'd had this in September.
After a lot of the sessions, I felt really positive - really motivated and enthusiastic. You think, 'I really want to impress here. I really want to do the best I can.'
"At my last school I mixed with lots of people who were negative about teaching. It's nice to think, 'Yes, I'm doing the right thing,' instead of hearing, 'Ooh, what have you let yourself in for?'"
Annette Beard is an advanced skills teacher for initial teacher training and continuing professional development at partner school Patcham High. The school had already had a very intensive induction programme, but she says the pooling of resources has added a whole new dimension to trainees'
teaching practice, given them valuable experience of each school and prevented them from becoming too insular.
"It's not insular or one-school focused," she says. "And the buzz is terrific. My head's passed comment about the effect of having all the trainees here on the same day. 'Gosh, isn't it lovely?' she says. 'The buzz that's coming from all these trainees wandering around the school.'"
After the initial induction, the trainees keep moving between the schools and can network with colleagues on their placement.
"They don't just stay static at the one school they're placed with," says Ms Beard. "They get to meet various professional tutors, and we're able to offer a lot more activities because we're joined together.
"We also get feedback on what benefit the induction was on trainees'
placements. They have been quite critical of some parts, so that's led us to adapt it. It's dynamic - and I think that's because all three of us tutors really enjoy doing it."