Many primary schools see the teacher training landscape as “fragmented or incoherent”, with academisation and training reforms leaving “cold spots”.
A University of Nottingham report published on Thursday said government efforts to tackle such issues – through its teaching school hubs, opportunity areas and now education investment areas – had not yet been “comprehensively evaluated”.
The authors found some areas see schools collaborate locally over continuing professional development and learning (CPDL), and hubs are widely used – but other areas are “balkanised”.
The report, titled “Local learning landscapes: exploring coherence, equity and quality in teacher professional development in England”, is based on 82 interviews with primary leaders, maths leads and teachers about use of maths hubs in three areas.
Researchers argued countries like Singapore show “coherent” local CDPL systems covering all schools are key.
But they said the “roll-back” of council-led CPD offers since academisation left England’s system “fragmented”.
“Previously strong local clusters have commonly splintered, as schools join different MATs,” the report read.
The report also questions whether “greater coherence within MATs will lead to greater incoherence between them”, even if it benefits individual MATs.
While some MATs collaborate or sell courses externally, the system risks “encouraging a model of ‘winners and losers’”.
Changes lead to a ‘weakly-coupled system’
The authors analysed primaries’ engagement with a Maths Hub in a post-industrial town, a “shire” and a city. They found the CPDL landscape was seen as “fragmented or incoherent” in all three, but how much so varied.
The town’s landscape was “balkanised”.
“The roll-back of a previously dominant LA, the ending of central government funding for local CPDL offers, the closure of an influential Teaching School and the absence of any strong locality-wide partnership arrangement has led to a weakly-coupled system”.
Schools in non-local MATs were reportedly “required to sever existing links with the Maths Hub.”
Yet in the city, researchers found a strategic “city-wide approach” to professional development, with local trust and council leaders, the Maths Hub and Teaching School Hub working together.
The rural area also showed “a level of cohesion” due to the council’s “continuing presence” local heads creating a subscription network, connecting schools to CPDL providers. But they noted its reliance on the credibility and skills of ex-head chairing the network.
The report notes the expansion of teaching schools since 2010 was once criticised over “cold spots”.
‘No clear mechanism’ for local co-ordination
Government responded through new teaching school hubs from 2021, covering defined areas. But other hubs addressing “ministerial priorities” have appeared too, with differing footprints and criteria and “no clear mechanism” for local co-ordination.
Researchers say many schools, including deprived and remote ones, engage with free hub provision and are “overwhelmingly positive”. But others lacked awareness of hubs or capacity to engage.
Heads must also “navigate a bewildering mixture of remits and footprints” for different hubs, with no “local one-stop shop”.
The report backs replicating dozens of existing “locality partnerships” of schools nationwide, and a “clear expectation” MATs engage with local hubs and trusts on CPD. They could alternatively be excluded, if MATs are deemed “self-sufficient” – but this would “not address” balkanisation.
It also floats Ofsted conducting local area CPDL inspections, or central and local government publishing local data dashboards.
Co-author Toby Greany added: “We’ve shown coldspots still exist – and that a national approach is problematic if it assumes everywhere’s the same.”
But Steve Rollett, deputy CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, recently argued the pre-academy system was “more atomised..than some choose to remember”, with strong networks not universally available or used, and down to “chance rather than system design”.
Only trusts’ structure means they can align plans and timetables to facilitate large-scale conferences, he argued.
The DfE was approached for comment.