In the recent white paper, the Department for Education pushed the expansion of teaching schools as its preferred method of school improvement.
In fact, teaching schools – which are Ofsted outstanding schools that collaborate with others to provide high-quality training and development – were mentioned 33 times in the 128-page document.
Yet, the Teaching Schools Council (TSC) was namechecked only once, something that underplays its role as a provider of management and support for the 730 teaching schools across the country.
Schools Week decided it was time to find out more.
WHAT IS THE TEACHING SCHOOLS COUNCIL?
In 2011 the government approved its first cohort of teaching schools and established the Teaching Schools Council (TSC), a “middle-tier” body set up to co-ordinate teaching schools and their alliances. Its existence, however, is not as widely recognised as other middle-tier bodies such as the regional schools commissioners.
The nine-member board has a mix of elected and co-opted members.
Vicky Beer, its former chair, has now moved on to become a regional commissioner, and has been succeeded by Dr Gary Holden.
Speaking to Schools Week, he said the purpose of the TSC was to “support coherence” across the schools system.
Carolyn Robson, one of his vice-chairs, said “collaboration” was the key theme of the council’s work. “We are passionate about collaboration and on the potential to transform education in a networked way. No school is an island.”
In the white paper, the DfE raised its concerns about the geographical spread of teaching schools, highlighting areas of the country without any of the centres and promising a further 300.
Speaking with representatives from the TSC, its stated aims include:
acting as a national voice for teaching school alliances (TSAs) – of which there are more than 500 working with Ofsted leads and the RSCS to “enable more collaborative and focused interventions” in weaker regions
translating government policy “into coherent practice at school level”, as well as help to shape future policy (each council member has a specialist area) making sure teaching school alliances impact areas of greatest need, such as those with greater deprivation (for example coastal areas) helping choose future system leaders and TSAs
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), an arm of the DfE, supports the existence of the Teaching Schools Council (TSC).
Council members are not paid, but their schools are given a grant by the NCTL to “backfill” their time.
This means each school is compensated by the NCTL for allowing the council member to travel across the country to speak at events and meetings. The money does not go directly to council members.
Carolyn Robson said the level of funding “varies depending on the role undertaken by each representative”.
The regional leads, as outlined in the map above, were appointed in June 2014, so are fairly new on the TSC scene. The hope is that they will extend the role of the TSC and make it more collaborative and coherent.
Every region has its own action plan, which Robson said is shared with “other key players”, such as local authorities and regional schools commissioners.
The regional leads are tasked with creating new networks, or building upon existing work, to make sure there is a “clearly understood” sub-regional strategy. As an example, in the north west, boards oversee school improvement strategies in various sub-regions, whereas in the north east there is just one board for school improvement.
In the white paper, the DfE said it planned to work with the TSC to expand the school-led system by “partnering schools with the potential to become strong system leaders with existing teaching schools” and national leaders of education.
WHERE ARE THE TSC REGIONS?
Alongside the national members, there are 10 regional representatives (see map).
A parliamentary committee has already raised concerns that school commissioner regions do not match Ofsted areas. To add to the confusion, the TSC regions are different again – making it difficult to organise support after a poor Ofsted or commissioner warning.
Carolyn Robson told Schools Week the regions “represent local groupings, rather than fixed boundaries”, but that they were under review with an aim to “align more coherently” with RSCs.
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