In Praise of Teaching Schools: Opportunities, Dangers and Solutions

9th February 2011

As Laura McInerney has noted in several of her blogs, whilst the White Paper recognises the importance of teacher quality, it says little about how this will be addressed. In this blog, (and I apologise in advance for its length), I want to set out what the potential benefits of Teaching Schools are, identify some of the dangers of this approach and see how they can be overcome. I will argue that the National College’s current consultation on teaching schools gives some hints that it is on the right track to overcoming these potential stumbling blocks.


  1. By training in schools teachers can hone their skills by seeing good practice and finding out for themselves what does and doesn’t work. We frequently use the “tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I’ll remember, involve me and I understand” adage. School based training is about this. The evidence suggests that employment based routes into teaching can be outstanding. Canterbury Christ Church’s Graduate and Registered Teacher Program is graded outstanding in every category, Teach First’s 2008 OFSTED graded training in 20 out of 27 Teach First schools good or outstanding and a recent evaluation by Manchester university claimed that “where significant, partnering with Teach First explains between 20% and 40% of the between-school variance in pupil performance at GCSE.” (Teach First 2010) – though I can’t say I’m completely convinced by the proof of causality in this evaluation.
  2. CPD needs improving. Too many schools are happy to send staff off on the occasional (frequently expensive) course and leave it at that. Dylan William’s work on Professional Learning Communities leads the way in showing that quality, reflective professional development in schools can build teacher quality. Teaching schools can be centres of good practice that will innovate in teacher development and spread good practice. A senior member of the DfE recently argued that Teaching Schools would be “driving force” for “a new way of thinking about CPD”. This is to be welcomed. Teaching schools therefore have the potential not just house good practice but drive it in partner schools.
  3. Teaching Schools are being encouraged to initiate new programs of leadership development. Whilst I had a great time staying in lovely hotels and benefitting from some excellent training during my time on the NCSL/CfBT’s FastTrack program, this was hardly cost effective. More effective was St. George’s R.C School’s home-grown “Associate Senior Leadership” scheme supported by LA and National Strategy consultants and focused on action learning. I’ve recently developed a new program called “Step Up To Leadership.” It’s a program that will give trainee teachers, NQTs and RQTs who show early potential, the skills and desire to move towards leadership. Schemes like this could be championed by training schools.


Of course, next come the “BUTs”.

  • Do we really want teachers to train exclusively in “Outstanding” Schools? This comment was quite rightly made as soon as I tweeted about this last month.
  • How do we ensure that this isn’t just another way of schools that are already doing well creaming off more teacher talent and getting extra money- who is really going to benefit?
  • Can we be sure of the quality of training? Numerous existing training schools are extremely poor, who’s to say this won’t just be a way of getting cheap teachers into schools without the training they need so that pupils are taught by un/poorly qualified teachers? Even with Teach First, OFSTED argued that there werewide variations between and within schools in the quality of subject training. Not all the subject mentors had the understanding or skills to fulfil their training role to a high standard; others lacked the time they needed to carry out their role effectively. This meant that some trainees did not reach the levels of competence of which they were capable.” (OFSTED 2008)
  • Quality teacher training should involve comparing different practice in different settings and critically reflecting on this to gain an understanding of what is effective. If training is just based in one school, has the teacher really trained to teach in all schools or just to teach in that school?
  • OFSTED inspections have shown that the best employment based training routes are linked to universities (e.g. Manchester and Canterbury.) Will this policy take us in exactly the opposite direction?
  • What will happen about teacher training and professional development in areas where there are no training schools? (I tried raising this concern at a DfE focus group in Dec 2010 to no avail)

Being an optimist, I suspect these “buts” can be overcome through:

Partnership and Collaboration between schools
The most important thing is that Teaching Schools must work in partnership. It would be ridiculous for all trainees to gain their experience exclusively in Outstanding schools and for these to get first dibs on all the best  NQTs. However, it does make sense for Outstanding schools to lead partnerships that involve a range of schools. For example, Canterbury divides its schools into areas and brings together primary, special, outstanding and … ‘challenging’ schools. This means that secondary trainees can carry out a weekly primary placement of a decent duration (and vis versa) and spend three weeks in a contrasting school, observing and eventually teaching. The contrasting school is selected so that it provides for identified needs complements the trainee’s main school experience. Trainees then work to reflect on the experience and draw out learning.

Teaching schools have the potential to provide excellent training if they take responsibility for co-ordinating training in a group of schools rather than seeking to be the exclusive host of training. Partnerships should be substantive and involve trainees spending at least four or five weeks in a contrasting school to ensure that trainees gain experience in a sufficient range of schools.

Encouragingly, the National College’s consultation explores a range of evidence for schools’ ability to work in partnership. It discusses the school’s role as a hub, a history of making joint bids and considers the possibility that local head teachers could be surveyed on the applicants bid.


Partnership and Collaboration with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as a means of quality assuring mentoring and accreditation and ensuring access to a full range of CPD opportunities

Quality Assurance, mentor development and Accreditation:
We can’t expect training schools to quality assure training, develop their mentors on their own and accredit QTS. Teachers are trained to teach children, they are not trained to train teachers. I have already noted that quality of mentoring was a key issue in Teach First’s OFSTED. I have seen this problem all too often: mentors frequently suffer from “unconscious competence” – whilst they are able to teach, they do not always know what makes them successful and therefore struggle to pass on their skills. It is for this reason that I recently developed a set of resources on this topic for Teachers TV (available soon). Some mentors set targets like ‘build stronger relationships with pupils’ but can’t work out what is involved in developing these relationships. As a result they leave trainees with vague and unhelpful advice. Schools and teachers don’t magically become outstanding training providers just because they are given a budget and trainees. External expertise is frequently needed to build capacity and train mentors. Canterbury tutors on the GTP course therefore observe mentor meetings, carry out joint observations and feed back to trainees with subject mentors. We also work with schools’ employment based training co-ordinators to ensure that trainees are getting a fair deal and are getting the support they need to achieve the highest possible grading in their QTS. Teaching Schools must make sure they have the partnerships needed to call on this expertise.

The big society agenda may mean that the government seeks to farm this role out to social-enterprises and private groups. If this is the case, their selection will need to be extremely rigorous given that so many of them have performed so badly in the past. There is also talk of the successor to the TDA taking on the role of quality assurance but this seems an absurdly centralising move and it is hard to see how they could deliver professional development for mentors. Given that the country’s best employment based training programs are led by HEIs it seems sensible to suggest that these roles would be best left to them.

If training schools want to offer a full menu of professional development opportunities they should surely offer Masters such as the MTL (even if these have fallen out of favour) and this makes an HEI partner essential too.

Encouragingly, the National College’s consultation makes frequent references to HEI partnerships. For example, it mentions “Testimonies from local and regional partners, including higher education institutions” and “engagement in practitioner-led research with strong links to higher education.”


Teaching schools will need to be created extremely quickly if we are to develop consistent provision around the country. It is unrealistic to imagine a training school making a significant regular contribution to CPD and ITT at a school 100 miles away (just imagine trainees’ journeys during their placements). The National College is clearly concerned about this and asks questions about how to strike a balance between geography and quality. Should it favour a slightly less good provider over another if it improves the geographic distribution and is better placed to act as a hub?  I would argue that the answer is yes. If the National College co-ordinates expansion cleverly, a post-code lottery of teacher quality will hopefully be minimised given that the number of teaching schools is expected to double every year. However, the government should consider whether schools further away from their hub might need some form of extra funding so that they can access support.



Ultimately, teaching schools offer us an opportunity to move teacher training and teacher development to a new level. Whether they live up to this promise depends on how well they are chosen and structured and on our willingness to engage with them as leaders and propagators of good practice. If effectively implemented according to the recommendations in this blog they could precipitate a cultural change, encouraging teachers to see themselves on a trajectory of continuous development. By situating learning within schools right from the start, the aim should be for teachers to see development as something that happens continuously within schools, rather than outside of them during ITT and in the little enclaves provided by outside training days. If this happens, schools will become more innovative in the way they develop their staff, will build links between each other and build a culture of continuous reflection and development.

LKM Consulting is ideally placed to help schools make the jump to becoming a teaching school. Loic has experience of training and mentoring teachers on GTP, TeachFirst and PGCE courses and is a visiting university tutor for one of the country’s “Outstanding” training providers . He has already worked with one school to write a Teaching School bid and last year worked on a collaborative training project working with schools and Canterbury Christ Church University. He will be presenting at the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) conference in Manchester on the 20th of May on the subject of “The Importance of Schools and HE in Teacher Education”. 

DfE, (2010), The Importance of Teaching,
National College, (2010), Consultation on Teaching Schools,
OFSTED, (2008), Rising to the challenge: a review of the Teach First initial teacher training programme
OFSTED, (2010), The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2009/10 Initial teacher education summary
Teach First, (2010), Teach First Maximum Impact Evaluation carried out by the University of Manchester,