Teaching School Hubs ensure the recovery will be school-led

23 Mar 2021, 5:00

It’s a change that has garnered little attention, but the new Teaching School Hubs could transform the way we improve teaching and schools, writes Matt Davis

Lateral flow tests and the removal of the mute function from their classrooms might be dominating teachers’ attention this week, but schools are reopening to a potentially transformative change that has gathered few headlines.

A fortnight ago, as the drum beats of reopening were pounding, the Department for Education announced 87 designated Teaching School Hubs (TSHs) and several organisations, including mine, who would work with them on professional development programmes. Far from bureaucratic fiddling, these changes may come to be seen as a really important step towards the realisation of the long-trailed school-led system.

The most recent announcement is founded on two fundamental assumptions. First, that the best people to affect change locally are excellent current practitioners. Second, that the delivery infrastructure for that change should be schools themselves. This is the school-led system in action.

They will be a key resource to help close the equity gaps

Some will ask whether the job wasn’t already being done by teaching schools. The answer is that individual teaching schools have done some incredible work, but that uneven distribution has meant their impact has been patchy. A model with fewer organisations, more or less equally distributed, with an obligation written in to serve all schools within their defined areas, promises to make the model more sensible and fairer.

The other big change is focus. Arguably the biggest challenge facing teaching schools has been the lack of precisely defined objectives. The next phase makes these clearer. TSHs will “provide high-quality professional development for teachers at all stages of their careers”.  In the main, these will be focused on ITT and the suite of EEF-endorsed professional development programmes. This refocussing has the potential to do an enormous amount of good in support of teaching quality.

Convinced of the idea, many will still be concerned about the timing. Isn’t now the worst time in living memory to embark on a change like this? But this September, new teachers will once again be entering the classroom following a heavily disrupted training experience. The jury is out on what the impact will be overall on teacher numbers, but the challenges presented by Covid are likely to heighten existing inequalities and regional disparities.

So now is the time to work out how we support every member of the teaching workforce to improve and to stay in the profession.

Not all teaching schools have succeeded, but this is a massive vote of confidence in those that remain. Their brief was vague to begin with, but in spite of that, these organisations forged a role for themselves. The best have been building trust and trying to prevent the need for school improvement rather than use it to treat underperformance. This is sophisticated and complex work. Its impact is difficult to measure but is key to building capacity in a decentralised system.

Done right, the new approach will devolve more funding and activity to the level where it is most likely to make an impact. Locally invested and connected organisations are the ones with the capacity and experience to make these initiatives really fly. TSHs will be a key resource to help close the equity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

The concept of the school-led system is one with widespread buy-in. More than any other policy I can think of, it is regarded as inarguably sensible by the sector itself. A whole generation of leaders regard this truth as self-evident and their expertise continues to evolve with the policy.

The commitment to working collaboratively and locally has only strengthened throughout the pandemic. TSHs create a vehicle for schools to band together regionally – to reinforce, reset or create new partnerships – to maximise their impact on teaching quality, recruitment and retention.

We’ve explored the strengths and limits of autonomy for a decade. The conclusion is surely that a diverse, decentralised system needs a systemic infrastructure to support it. The teaching schools reform promises to deliver just that.

Through it, the Covid recovery promises to be coordinated, collaborative and, above all, school-led.

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