Recently I had a very interesting meeting with the heads of three of our ‘local’ teaching school networks, Rhonda Moore from Poole, Pauline Price from Huish and Andrew Penman from Westfield. The aim was simply to share ideas, talk about how things were going and generally discuss some of the highs and lows of running a Teaching School alliance. Predictably we found ourselves with very similar concerns and very similar difficulties to overcome. We discussed aspects of the Big Six, exploring School Direct, Closing the gap, OTP, etc. but the most interesting aspect of the conversation was around the difficulty of creating an effective and genuinely cooperative alliance of schools. Even though each of us is running a fairly successful operation, we keep coming back to the question of how to secure the buy in.
There are so many constraints upon collaboration that it is indeed a wonder that we manage to get things done at all. From the perspective of schools asked to join the alliance, the key question is ‘What’s in it for me?’, and of course this shapes their response to the whole set up. They participate actively when it is to their advantage (particularly if money is involved!) and then drop back if they don’t see anything in it for them. And, quite honestly, what school leader wouldn’t do the same? If you are running an alliance, however, you need to ensure that your alliance partners are involved at every step – and involved actively.
Other issues often intervene: schools worried about an Ofsted visit, tend unfortunately to look inwards and retreat from the world. Others worried about finance, refuse to allow staff out to participate in activities. In some places, conflicts of interest abound, so that the exciting school improvement day your alliance has planned is blown off course by a county initiative, or a national event. Primary schools often do not have the staff to send out, or to commit to the time needed to allow real collaboration.
In the light of the ‘leadership of great pedagogy’ research question, this raises some interesting issues. Leadership of great pedagogy is much easier within your own school because you are able to exercise significant control over what goes on there. It is much harder over a wider system. I have mused on this before (see below) but what I haven’t done is considered the wider aspects of system leadership.
The DfE and NCTL are, of course, part of the leadership conundrum too. It is too easy to focus the question of great leadership on the head of the teaching alliance downwards. Much of the rhetoric around leadership explores the role of the head, senior leaders and, more recently, middle leadership. This, however, ignores the leadership roles of the architects of the system, from the secretary of state downwards.
In a system where education is being managed increasingly centrally, it is therefore wrong to cut off the leadership discussion half way down the system.
So, how does the Secretary of State influence great pedagogy? That is a question I daren’t answer but if we look a few steps below there are some interesting discussions to be had and some interesting questions to be asked. Has the introduction of the Teaching School movement been led and managed sufficiently well to ensure the development of great pedagogy in the classroom?
There are lots of areas where we could say yes. The target of 500 teaching schools is not far off, there is a reasonable geographical spread, they are responsible for appropriate areas of educational development, and funding is available. There is also a growing sense of community across TS alliances and some examples of outstanding practice.
On the other hand, there are definitely areas which could have been done better and which are undoubtedly hindering the development of great pedagogy:
- How have Teaching Schools been promoted and has a proper relationship been defined with Local Authorities, Academy chains etc.?
- How effective is the new NPQH licensing system? Are these courses really valued now that the NPQH is no longer required?
- Why are so many heads unclear about the role of SLEs? Why wasn’t this new role promoted nationally?
- What power have Teaching Schools been given to intervene?
- How can a Teaching School make long term plans when the funding is both low and time limited.
I could go on. The point is clear, however: Leadership of Great Pedagogy does not start from the headteacher down, it starts with the Secretary of State – and there is probably a research project in that!
Meanwhile, I suppose here in the JCTSA alliance, we have been turning the idea on its head by focusing on what happens in the classroom where the leadership of learning is the key to the whole thing. Leadership at the higher levels plays a significant part in the process, creating the culture and climate for great learning to develop, but it is in the classroom where the difference is made.
Great leadership should therefore be directly connected to the classroom – or linked as closely as possible – something Mr Gove might want to think about.