A collaborative future

Ahead of his address to the National Professional Development Forum in Birmingham this month Teacher Development Trust Chief Executive David Weston chats to Yvonne Gandy about collaboration for school improvement and the tensions - and opportunities - it can create.

The way schools work together for improvement, professional development and teacher training has made big strides in recent years.

When the ‘school-led’ system was ramped up in 2010 by the coalition government the shift from government led and administered professional develop and school support was dramatic.

Across the country efforts to deliver that school-led system – led chiefly by teaching schools and their alliances – has matured somewhat since that time.

But it’s still not quite there as an efficient, effective system. Competition between teaching school alliances means that there’s still overlap and duplication. Now the government has made significant policy announcements to rectify that. It wants teaching schools and other groups of schools involved in the improvement and support agenda to work together in larger, more strategically focused groups. This is seen as one way of tackling one of the top priorities for schools - the recruitment and retention of teachers and leaders.

OLP’s National Professional Development Forum in Birmingham on 20 June will help to capture that debate around this new era of collaboration. OLP already has substantial experience in supporting the school-led system to deliver improvement, support, training and CPD and we want to hear from leaders about how we can support them as the school-led system enters this new chapter.

David Weston, the head of the Teacher Development Trust, will join us at the event, to talk about the future of CPD in this new era. I asked him to share his thoughts about collaboration and professional development.

How is the system performing at the moment and how should it change to meet the challenges of the future? 

Compared to much of the last decade, the last couple of years have seen relative stability in terms of system structures which has given leaders just a little bit more breathing room to consider leadership, governance and academisation more carefully. There is a sense that, in some areas, relationships between schools, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching schools are beginning to mature. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by increasing pressure on funding - not only in school funding but continued cuts in support and public services elsewhere. We're also seeing a surge of pressure for leaders to think hard about staffing and curriculum and this is compounded by changes - some minor tweaks and some much more significant - in school accountability.

Against this mixed picture of both stability and change, there is the significant question of whether the system is developing the effective leadership of teaching and learning it needs. Most MATs are now too small and LAs too under-resourced to create truly specialist teams of subject experts and, nationally, subject and specialist associations need to be stronger. Connections between schools, subject/professional associations and universities are not strong enough and the NPQs need strengthening in leadership of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. All of these factors contribute to significant weaknesses in the support structures that should be there to support the welcome push for better curriculum thinking and this makes the provision of effective CPD even more challenging.

All of that notwithstanding, I see a system full of leaders who are increasingly willing to think systematically. If we can foster a period of policy, financial and accountability stability then the future holds a lot of promise, I believe.

 

What’s your view on the creation of teaching school hubs and the early careers framework?

On the one hand, fewer, larger-scale hubs make a lot of sense. If each hub had more resource and could specialise more then we could see a much stronger system. However, this will be easier in some areas where teaching schools have long defied the imperative to compete and have formed natural collaborations. In other areas, TSAs are in full competition mode and it will be very much harder to form well-functioning hubs. 

The Early Career Framework has the potential to be a hugely important document, if schools get access to sufficient expertise and resource to make it work. As before, the area that I'm still concerned about is the lack of subject and specialist professional bodies that can take each aspect of the ECF and translate it for specific subjects and topics, as well as others who can interpret and support it for different types of pupils and special educational needs.

 

Teaching school alliances and MATs that deliver NPQs on the behalf of Outstanding Leaders Partnership/BPN are developing larger scale collaborations to avoid competition and duplication, pool resources and expertise and plan professional development, school improvement and teacher training in a more strategic way. Is this a good way forward?

It's great to see organic collaboration springing up and these can be very powerful. I'm a little concerned about a ‘Matthew Effect’ where areas that are already doing quite well with effective collaboration are able to take advantage of such opportunities more effectively than areas that are struggling more. I think we need a mix of central intervention with space for organic models - a challenging tension.

 

Looking at the national picture, is the system moving away from competition towards genuine collaboration on professional development/school improvement?

I've certainly seen more collaboration taking place both within and across MATs but I'm not sure that the increased collaboration is necessarily leading to better quality CPD, even if it's using financial resources more effectively. I'm seeing schools increasingly writing and delivering their own courses instead of buying in expertise and I'm yet to be convinced that these are always equal or better quality than what was being used before. I sometimes wonder if some MATs are falling prey to two issues when evaluating quality here - we tend to over-value what we create and we also tend to over-value things that are 'created here'.

 

 David Weston is the founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust, and the Chair of the Department for Education’s Teacher Development Expert Group. He is an author and former secondary maths and physics teacher. David is a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and sits on the College’s Council. For more information about the Teacher Development Trust visit www.tdtrust.org

Yvonne Gandy is programme director of the National Professional Qualifications at Best Practice Network, which supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders.  Information on the free National Professional Development Forum event is available here