(Photograph taken at our Schools Conference event on October 2012 at the British Library. Credit: Simon Way)
We asked the communications and research agency EdComs to help us do this at the Southbank Centre, home to a myriad of fantastic cultural events and also one of the best views of London's skyline.
The prospect of being in a room full of teachers filled me with the same anxiety as when I took my first test in seven times tables, so I made sure I did my swatting up (and not just sneakily write the answers on the back of a ruler, the cause of my first detention). From my work at A New Direction I already knew that a teaching school works closely with a group of schools and other partners (e.g. universities or local authorities), known as its alliance. Each teaching school alliance then receives funding from the Department for Education to support other schools, provide professional development for existing teachers and train new ones, and undertake research and development.
In the first of the group discussions, I heard delegates talk about their priorities and plans for the future. Many emphasized their commitment to teacher training and professional development, with the view to ensure more high quality, newly qualified teachers were working in their schools. Others were pursuing Specialist Leaders of Education (SLE) designation, showing they had outstanding middle/senior leaders that could support the development of leadership in other schools. Having consolidated and promoted their new positions as teaching schools, many were also looking forward to undertaking more extensive research and development in the sector.
Teaching schools have got a lot to be proud of, and quite rightfully so – you can find great case studies in the Department for Education's "Green Shoots" document online here.
Delegates at our consultation talked about how they had been able to address specific areas across their alliances through targeted professional development, such as in maths and in artistic subjects. One delegate detailed how through their alliance they had been able to encourage better provision for children with special educational needs, supporting both parents and children.
In relation to arts and culture, other delegates said they were able to access subject specialists that provided a 'breath of fresh air' to their classrooms, especially in light of current changes to the curriculum.
Like many areas of the education sector at the minute, teaching schools are also facing challenges. The most apparent of these was the difficulty of keeping up with the myriad forms of communication, deadlines and targets that are involved with becoming a teaching school. This made tasks such as mapping knowledge and areas that need support across their alliances difficult; as one delegate conveyed, research and development often 'took a back seat'.
At A New Direction, we've been working with EdComs in gathering information to support the work of teaching schools. In particular, we've been trying to map alliances and their specialisms across London (watch this space!), but this, along with the conference, is only the start.
In conversation, it was clear that many teaching schools could benefit from A New Direction's position as London's lead Bridge organisation. In particular, delegates said they needed help in organising high quality visits for pupils to cultural organisations such as theatres, museums and places of worship. Others said that A New Direction could help by facilitating contact with the cultural sector to not only create opportunities for children, but also develop the skills of their staff. As one delegate pointed out, you also need to inspire the teachers to inspire the kids.
It was clear from these initial conversations that those who work in teaching schools are incredibly committed to their profession and the children they work for. In the current shifting sands of the education sector, both I and my colleagues at A New Direction hope to keep access to culture secure for all children and young people, and it was apparent from these initial conversations that teaching schools share this passion too. We're looking forward to working together very soon.