Teaching schools face cash shortage if funding halted

Teaching schools would be “severely vulnerable” if government funding were to stop, despite an expectation that many of the schools would be self-sufficient by now, writes John Dickens.

The first cohort of schools was set up in 2011 and funded for four years with the expectation they would all be able to operate sustainably after 2015.

However, the Department for Education (DfE) had to stump up a fifth year of funding to get the schools through this year, after many admitted to struggling financially.

Financial returns seen by Schools Week show that these schools are still heavily reliant on their grant, which leaves the government facing yet more cash pay-outs to keep them running.

Andrew Warren, vice-chair of the Teaching Schools Council, said: “Many teaching schools would be severely vulnerable or may have to stop if it wasn’t for the £40,000 [annual government grant].

“That £40,000 is the injection, it starts us off on creating that capacity.”

Warren, also director of the Britannia Teaching School Alliance in Stoke-on-Trent, said the schools had not become self-sufficient as many had failed to become “more business-minded”.

“Teaching schools have to be aware of what our customers want – we have to find out what’s needed and fill the gaps. We haven’t been doing that.”

The schools are a vital part of the government’s plan for school improvement, with the white paper promising an extra 300.

Sir Andrew Carter, chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust, called for teaching schools to “get smarter” about income opportunities.

At the Optimus Teaching Schools summit in London on Tuesday, he said schools could “plug the gap” left by local authorities. “We should go into that vacuum – if not, then higher education institutions or private companies will.”

He also urged schools to become more entrepreneurial, citing as an example his Surrey South Farnham School Centred Initial Teacher Training which was opening a hub more than 100 miles away in Worcestershire.

Teaching schools are normally Ofsted outstanding schools that work with others to provide high-quality training and development for staff. They were introduced in 2010 to establish a national network to lead a “self-improving system” and had reached 598 by January last year.

The education white paper also outlined a widened remit, stating that they would be expected to give away research and training materials free, a move that will be unwelcome at a time when many alliances are still relying on government cash.

Financial returns of almost 70 per cent of teaching schools last year, obtained by Schools Week under freedom of information laws, show 341 of the 479 either overspent or used all their grant.

A teaching schools evaluation report by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, published in March, also found their sustainability to be “a continuing challenge”.

It concluded teaching schools were building collaboration with promising impact, but urged the government to continue its funding so the partnerships could embed.

A DfE spokesperson said it has already committed core funding for a fifth year alongside advice on sustainability.

“Our vision is for a world-class, school-led education system where teacher and leadership training, continuing professional development and school-to-school support are delivered locally by the best schools.”

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