Commentary

My predictions: best bets for Teaching School Hub leaders

Matt Davis

As we look ahead to the new Teaching School programme announced in England, Matt Davis, Regional Director, UK, reflects on what Education Development Trust’s experience can tell us about the potential impact of this initiative.

The year is 2025. Thanks to a triumphant first term, President Harris comfortably beat Tiffany Trump in last year’s election. More of us are driving electric cars and 20% of the population are employed in the wind turbine industry, but we haven’t yet figured out how to make vegan cheese tolerable enough to change dietary habits. Jeans are neither skinny nor baggy. More importantly, academics are reviewing the second phase of England’s Teaching School programme and evaluating the impact of teaching school hubs, announced in 2021.

Most educational research looks backwards, trying to pin some causation on to known effects. Boldly or recklessly (you decide), I’ll be making some predictions about an initiative which is just starting: the substantial restructuring of the teaching schools programme, announced in February 2021. Without the benefit of a crystal ball – but drawing on EdDevTrust’s experience over several years working with Teaching Schools on national programmes, research in this area and dozens of conversations with schools all over the country in the last six months – it feels like there are some good bets which leaders of the new teaching school hubs might make.

The hubs have one clear advantage over their predecessors: a much clearer brief. They will be judged on their success in providing ‘high-quality professional development for teachers at all stages of their careers’, in the main focussed around ITT and the suite of DfE-endorsed professional development programmes. They must serve all schools in their area.

And – for the time being – that’s it. It’s not (directly) about school improvement or even school-to-school support. And there is significant funding in place to make this happen, through both the core grant and potential work as Delivery Partners on the Early Career Framework and reformed NPQs.

In order to give future researchers a positive story to tell, what have we learned so far that might be helpful to hub leaders? And what does the change in specification suggest will need to be different? Risking egg on my face, my prediction is that the most successful hubs will:

  1. Have a relentless focus on the core task of teacher and leader development

It’s rare in education that policy (Recruitment and Retention Strategy, ECF, and now teaching school hubs) aligns so clearly with what educators value. Some hubs will seize this and use the focus to drive everything they do, shaping their structures and capacity to deliver on this purpose. Those that are less successful will find it difficult to let go of the things they used to do, or the things people like to do…

  1. Partner wisely

The task list for hubs makes it very clear that at least one relationship with an outside organisation will be crucial to delivering their objectives. How do you ensure you get this right? Decide on your criteria: a good initial list would be ethos and vision, programme content (what and how), financial package and ways of working/customer service and support. Consult widely: speak to schools who have worked with any of the Lead Providers you are considering to understand the realities of partnership. Conversely, less successful hubs will rush into this decision – there’s a lot to do, very quickly – and they perhaps be led by existing relationships or slick marketing.

  1. Make the national local

If the Early Career Framework is anything to go by, the new suite of national professional qualifications will be fantastic at articulating the aspects of teaching and leadership which research tells us are likely to improve learning. To a certain extent, it is the job of Lead Providers to illustrate these features and exemplify what theory looks like in action. At EdDevTrust, we know from long experience that national programmes succeed or fail on how well they are adapted locally. Really effective hubs will be adept at providing context and adapting content; understanding needs and supporting participants based on this understanding. Less successful hubs will adapt either too little, meaning that training feels shipped in, or too much, leading to a loss of coherence and perhaps quality.

  1. Get the dull stuff right

In lots of places, the work of the teaching school hub will be a continuation rather than a fresh start, and the temptation to wade straight into curriculum or the education vision is almost irresistible. This makes it tempting to rush through the less exciting bits of setting up a new initiative. That would be unwise. Excellent communications and project management will be crucial, and partnership governance has the potential to both help and hinder. More effective hubs will start by getting some brilliant back office staff in post, planning from the basis of activity and thinking very carefully about the balance between buy-in and pace in their governance. A lot of less effective hubs will opt for the well-worn Director + Administrator set up without really working out what is needed from first principles.

  1. Retain the ‘system leadership’ mindset

Teaching Schools succeeded by making what some perceived as their weakness – a lack of leverage and the direct managerial accountability MATs can employ – into a strength. Investing heavily in building relationships, drawing on shared purpose and demonstrating trust in action meant that colleagues came with them when they had the choice not to. The big challenge facing hubs – new and old – is the shift to a universal local offer: it can’t just be preaching to the converted or hyper-local. We will be exploring this in more detail, but suffice to say we think more focus on collaboration is the key, not less. Those hubs who think that their new status grants them automatic allegiance from every school in the local area are not likely to hold this misconception for long.

While I would love to be proven right on these predictions, I am not sure that they really qualify me as Nostradamus. Many brilliant Teaching Schools and MATs have already shown that this approach – clear purpose, focussed management and thoughtful collaboration – is the way to ensure that every teacher and child benefits from this type of initiative, not just the well-connected and easy to engage. Of course, every school has faced enormous challenges over the last 12 months, but the only meaningful measure of success for these reforms is that the impact on teaching and leadership is felt everywhere.