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What's the big idea?

The first 100 teaching schools start work this month. Kerra Maddern talks to eight headteachers about their hopes, ambitions and what inspired them to apply for the elite status

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The first 100 teaching schools start work this month. Kerra Maddern talks to eight headteachers about their hopes, ambitions and what inspired them to apply for the elite status

This month the first 100 teaching schools will begin their work. Designed to be the educational equivalent of teaching hospitals, schools with the elite status will host teacher training, develop the next generation of heads and help other schools improve.

The 36 primaries, 57 secondaries and seven special schools from all across the country have outstanding Ofsted ratings. They will be responsible for leading a group of schools and working with other partners including at least one university. So, how are the headteachers of these schools approaching the role?

King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham

King Edward VI is the only independent school to be given teaching-school status. But teachers already have close links with colleagues in 15 state schools, and together they run a graduate teacher-training scheme.

Headteacher Sarah Evans now wants to work with academics at Cambridge University who lead classics PGCE courses. They will run taster sessions for students to encourage them to train to teach the subject, as well as professional development courses for existing teachers.

King Edward VI teachers will provide training for colleagues at other schools in educating gifted and talented pupils, and particularly in how to prepare students for university and how to run enrichment activities.

One of King Edward VI's teaching-school partners is Elmhurst School for Dance, a Birmingham ballet school. Staff there will provide training for teachers in how to be more creative.

"We want to help schools provide a rich academic experience for children at the top end. With more funding we can develop our work and do more," Ms Evans says.

"We already run after-school maths classes for all sixth-formers in the area. My teachers will now be going out to other schools to help them learn on the job."

Rushey Mead School, Leicester

Headteacher Carolyn Robson has recruited 28 teaching-school partners, including 22 primary, secondary, special and independent schools and two local universities, Loughborough and Leicester.

Teachers at Rushey Mead currently run training programmes in leadership and science for colleagues from other schools. Now this work can expand, with its partner schools also providing courses.

Ms Robson will use her new relationship with academics at the universities to provide more training placements at Rushey Mead and other partner schools.

"We really want these placements to be a top-notch experience, and for students not to be stuck in one school. So we are working very closely with the universities to design a new way of operating," she says.

"This could include lectures at university delivered by our teachers. Mostly we want to make sure the courses are rooted in the experience of working in really good schools."

Ms Robson says she will not "rush into spending" her teaching-school funding until she has firm plans for the courses she wants to run.

"Money is tight and we've got to make careful choices. But what we can provide will be cheaper than commercial courses; we can run it at the school itself," she says.

John Cabot Academy, Bristol

The school is already part of a federation with three other academies in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, growing to four from this month, and teachers work closely with colleagues from local primaries. Federation executive principal David Carter wants John Cabot to form links with other teaching schools.

The University of the West of England, a sponsor of the federation, is also a close partner in providing teacher training. Mr Carter wants to run the NPQH, the official Government training course for aspiring heads, from his schools - an initiative not seen before in England.

"We now see ourselves as the equivalent of a teaching hospital because of this accolade. We've always wanted this status," Mr Carter says.

"We do a huge amount of outreach work in challenging schools. We've helped four come out of special measures or notice to improve. We also applied for this status because we thought it was very important for Bristol to have a teaching school.

"Our five academies are within three local authorities; we are already very good at building cross-council relationships. We have a very clear idea of where we want to be in three years' time, because we are very aware that if we don't deliver we will lose our teaching-school status. But we accept the challenge.

"Michael Gove has given us the freedom we asked for. Now we must step up and prove we can do it, otherwise future governments will say they can't trust us."

Hodgson Academy and Blackpool Sixth Form College (job-share agreement), Lancashire

For Hodgson Academy, teaching-school status has meant an immediate alliance with five other schools and Edge Hill University. Headteacher Tony Nicholson says his list of partners is extending constantly because of interest from other school leaders.

Hodgson and Blackpool Sixth Form College will now train more students through the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and offer more courses for existing teachers.

"It's important to stay cutting edge in the educational landscape, and we hope teaching-school status will yield benefits for us. We constantly share ideas already, and have an outward focus, so we feel we know what works in the classroom." Mr Nicholson says.

"It's important all teaching schools now talk to each other about their ideas during this development year."

Teachers from the school and the sixth-form will work with academics from Edge Hill on their new Future Teachers scheme. The programme, designed to bring more "high-quality graduates" to the profession, will target career changers, who will get an income if they sign up to teaching. It starts in 2012.

The Orchard School, Sandwell

Teachers at the Orchard School, a special school in the West Midlands, already work with other schools to provide training in special educational needs (SEN). They have become expert in showing members of the profession how to be creative and how to manage children's needs.

Their partners include mainstream schools, Wolverhampton University and the children's therapy department at the NHS Sandwell Primary Care Trust.

"In the long term we want to take a greater role in providing initial teacher training, and we will work with the university to provide placements," says headteacher Helen Atkins.

"We can run the GTP because students can have placements in mainstream schools - something we need to provide because we are a special school and they can't only train by working with children with SEN. But we will still be able to share our expertise with people while they are training.

"We will provide non-assessed placements, maybe even for one day, to those on PGCE courses if they have a particular interest in SEN."

Ms Atkins adds that her school does not only want to locate courses in Sandwell, but also wants to share knowledge with those further afield. Her hope is that teaching-school status will lead to more special and mainstream schools working alongside each other.

"We have a diverse range of partners and we will sit down with them to find out exactly what our strengths are, so between us we can run very good-quality programmes," she says.

Notre Dame High School, Sheffield

School leaders at Notre Dame will use their experience of running a church secondary to train future heads of other Church of England and Catholic schools, working with the Diocese of Wakefield. They will also work with academics from three universities - Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Trinity - to provide more training placements for PGCE students.

Notre Dame's strong track record in assisting less successful schools helped it secure teaching-school status. Barnsley Council employed the school to help underperforming secondaries in the town.

"We are not going to spread ourselves too thinly; we have not got enough funding to do that," says headteacher Jane Willis. "We will continue to have the ethos that our work is for the common good, and that we should look after those who are not so well off.

"The next stage for us is to assess where we feel we can have the most impact. In the past we have worked with other schools on staff development, data tracking and how to have better contact with parents," Ms Willis adds.

Saltford Church of England Primary School, near Bristol

Saltford's teaching-school partners include a local nursery school, an independent school and Bath Spa University. Headteacher Barry Rennie also hopes to work with his feeder secondaries and non-educational partners such as Bath and North East Somerset's music service and the Bath Festival Trust.

"We want to be a centre of excellence, and broker support between schools," says Mr Rennie.

"We are in a small local authority and we all know each other well. There is already a `learning exchange' scheme where we can share ideas run on the internet, and we hope to encourage more of that kind of working."

Mr Rennie adds: "We are leaving the running of initial teacher training to academics at Bath Spa, but we wish to increase the amount of professional development we offer. Teaching-school status came at the ideal time for us as we were crystallising thoughts we were having about our work, so we felt this status was a natural progression for us. We already provide support for subject leaders."

Mr Rennie believes teaching-school status can also solve problems that might be inadvertently caused by the growth of academies and free schools.

"We need to find a new way of communicating with other schools as local authorities change. This will encourage altruistic collaboration, which will be so beneficial," he says.

Montacute School, Poole (job share with Broadstone First School)

Headteacher Andrew Mears feels the special-school sector has been "neglected" by Government and other teachers for too long. He hopes teaching-school status will mean a much closer relationship between different types of school.

His partners include a primary and Poole Grammar School. He eventually hopes all schools in the small local authority will be part of his teaching-school network.

Academics from Exeter, Bournemouth and Winchester universities will also be involved.

"We've been looking at how the school can develop for a while, and now we have academy status we want to be at the forefront of educational practice," Mr Mears says.

Teachers already run parenting courses and take teacher-training students from Winchester for placements. Mr Mears wants to "enhance" this offer of work experience, and wants more newly qualified teachers to be able to come and train at Montacute.

Staff at Montacute also provide training in autism for local teachers as part of a contract with the local authority.

"We will have four schools in our partnership and we hope our sphere of influence will grow much wider so we become a regional resource," Mr Mears says.

Teaching schools - the numbers

  • The first 100 start work this autumn.
  • More than 1,100 applied for the new status.
  • A further 100 will be announced in April next year.
  • The Government wants 500 by 2015.
  • Independents, academies and maintained schools are all eligible to apply.
  • They will work in partnership with dozens of other schools in their local area.
  • Government funding will be pound;60,000 in the first year, pound;50,000 in the second and pound;40,000 a year after that.
    • The responsibilities

      • Initial teacher training.
      • Professional and leadership development of teachers and school leaders.
      • Supporting schools in difficult circumstances.
      • Contribution to local schools through the development of a network.
        • What makes a successful teaching-school applicant

          • Schools must be rated outstanding.
          • They must have a track record of collaboration with other schools.
          • High pupil performance and improvement over three years.
          • Outstanding senior and middle leaders.
          • An outstanding head with a minimum of three years' experience who will remain for two years after the designation.
          • Governing body support.
          • Schools that are not graded outstanding can ask to be inspected again. If they are then graded outstanding they can apply for the second phase.
          • Because some parts of the country have more outstanding schools than others, funding will go to schools in these areas that do not meet these criteria.
            • The debate

          The National College for School Leadership, which carried out a consultation exercise, says there is "considerable support for teaching schools in principle". Many schools are already working in partnership with others and research carried out by the Association of School and College Leaders shows the benefits of collaboration.

          However, some heads question the use of Ofsted judgments as the key criterion. They point out that it is much harder for inner-city schools to secure an outstanding grading and there is a danger that teaching schools could become the preserve of more affluent areas.

          Heads' leaders have also questioned whether there will be enough money to enable them to shoulder the huge new range of responsibilities. The National College says the initial funding will help them to make changes, such as the employment of a school business manager across the partnership, and that it expects teaching schools to generate additional income from their activities.

          More information can be found at

          Illustrations by Paul Bateman

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