Improving Coastal and Rural Schools

29th January 2015

I haven’t had time to write a proper blog but here are my notes. They include some genuinely promising ideas which could grow into serious policy ideas with a little TLC.

The thing that stood out for me was that every area has a USP for teacher recruitment which it should tap into. Teach First found one around (predominantly) urban disadvantage and social justice, but many other things could act as draws to an area or school and be used to attract a cohort of high potential teachers. That might be about a desirable location, an unusual role – or any number of other factors. Since good teachers (to a large extent) make good schools, rural and coastal improvement will hinge on tapping into teachers’ motivators and linking them to an areas’ unique selling point

Robert Hill
– Coastal and rural areas are different but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from practice in urban areas
– Moving a whole area forward is different to moving forward a single school
– Ask ‘what is the educational offer’: communities may have limited opportunities so providing a broader offer is important
– Importance of building a coalition for change across parents, governors, schools, employers etc
– In Wales we found a gap in skills of middle leaders- e.g understanding what it meant to be a middle leader and data
– Focus on classroom practice- don’t get lost in broad-brush stuff – tackle the teaching
– Even where there are systemic weaknesses there will be strengths- we should grab on to those
– Equally, take on failure and don’t shy away from tackling governing bodies that fail to deliver
– Geographical clusters are crucial and we need more of them, particularly at primary level eg small rural heads who teach and do day-to-day management don’t have time for strategic leadership so pool together – even softly eg shared senco then maybe move to harder federation. – As Natasha Porter of Policy Exchange pointed out, heads in small schools can end up spending their time on the day to day running of their school, building projects or becoming experts on internet service providers. MATs can deal with that (though perhaps some would say that with the exception of the first, Local Authorities could too)
– Clusters and partnerships should break across existing geographical and political boundaries
– Schools can belong to more than one type of cluster in order to draw in different expertise
– Partnering needs steering, nudging along and support. Leadership of partnerships is needed, either by regional commissioners, LAs or executive leaders (which also generates savings)
– Building up a broad suite of sponsors, not just mega chains, nationally matters
– Recruitment is a crucial challenge: Area-wide approaches to teacher training are a good idea and provide an identity, aspiration and hope.
– There is an opportunity to work with HEIs and SCITTs in a local/regional way and to use high performing/high profile schools as front of house in order to draw in teachers.
– Clusters can act as recruitment tools eg MAT-wide contracts (so you can pool teachers across the MAT)
– Competition for pupils is not going to go away so need counterbalancing pressure towards collaboration eg start up funding for partnerships – as the government is doing for primary MATs and federations.
– Make partnering a mainstream strategy by funnelling funding through clusters not just individual schools- make pots of money conditional on using across schools
– Force hard clusters and create exec headships in response to vacancies, shortages and failure
– Effective partnerships reduce costs through economies of scale – eg  joint procurement and executive headship. The likely cuts after election will push people into this further.
– Different MATs have different sources of moral purpose eg ARK = pedagogical, Oasis = community, Harris = anger at long term failure of LAs, Aldridge = enterprise and community regeneration

Tim Brighouse
We need to start talking about rural opportunities not just rural problems eg the advantages of rural teaching (cost of housing, arts, sports, countryside)
– Partnership should be incentivised
– Without families of schools data you can’t hand-on-heart say- ‘let’s look at school x’ – the EEF’s schools like you tool is therefore crucial
– Partnerships need to be structured
– You need someone who’s getting the language and comms right- leadership in this area matters
– We’re reaching the end of a period of fear and absence of hope- we’re on the edge of moving on from that to something different with greater trust and autonomy
– In school improvement you need to consider all four quadrants on the two axes of effort and impact – low effort & high impact is what is energising.
– Talk about how to “Improve on previous best”

Scott Garritty, Associate Headteacher, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Derbyshire
– The judgment of RI can be a big incentive to improvement
– Had previously got lost in tech status, diplomas and other distractions
– Competition from JCB UTC incentivised improvement
– “Peak 11” collaborative group (11 schools in the Peak District), with common inset etc has been invaluable- school in this grouping have more in common with each-other than if based purely on local authority. Should collaborate in logical groupings rather than just rigid structures of LA
– Biggest challenge is finding high performing teachers – eg advertising for English teachers: a few years ago 12-20 applicants for a job, now only about four. Supply of teachers is what would help – particularly given that new teachers often want to live in cities
– Have suffered in past from not being a teaching school- people want to work in teaching schools but ‘Peak 11’ group has helped with this
– Applicants look at social media, PR etc and these make a difference to recruitment
– Teaching schools help as a way of getting schools collaborating but there are only two in the whole of Derbyshire
– What divides us? Competition- we’ve got to get over that
– Support, training and trust are what teachers are looking for

Matt Hood – Achievement for All
– If you added up all the funding that goes to organisations that support schools (Teach First/Teaching Leaders/Future Leaders/AfA etc) and see the extent to which they are skewed towards big cities, you start to realise how financial odds are stacked against rural areas.
– Lots of opportunities for career progression in London due to high turnover. This acts as an incentive for high flying/ambitious teachers. Therefore should work with other schools to organise secondments etc

Honor Wilson Fletcher – Aldridge Federation

  • Experienced difficulties recruiting middle leaders in Maths therefore created a post paid over the odds with service level agreement to deploy across schools- this made it an exciting role for someone with a certain level of experience, ambition and moral purpose.

Thank you to the IPPR for organising such a great event!

(Apologies to those involved if I’ve inadvertently misrepresented anything – they’re just a load of notes taken on my phone. Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes and I’ll correct immediately!)