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Partnership of School Direct (Second Meeting)

In England, there is a government drive to increase the role of schools in teacher training, hence, from September 2013 School Direct, a new training programme is available in primary and secondary schools across England and programmes generally last for one year. The government recognises the important role that HEIs and accredited providers contribute to teacher training and each School Direct project must have a school and a HEI / accredited provider working together. It is up to the partnership to decide on the level of input from the schools and HEIs. Among the aims of School Direct, it is suggested that this system will give schools the ability to influence the way in which ITT is delivered and improve the system, and also that it will enable schools and their chosen provider to work together in partnership.

On June 26 2013 TEAN presented the second of its two events on School Direct for 2012-13 at the City Campus of Sheffield Hallam University. (The first event can be accessed from the list to the left of this report.) Colleagues from providers and schools came together to explore the challenges and opportunities that School Direct offers to benefit student teachers, teachers, and, most importantly, children and young people. The meeting was deliberately entitled The Partnership of School Direct as it was intended that we should seek ways to foster this new form of partnership, looking at the challenges posed, but particularly finding ways forward and positive solutions.

To give the keynote for the day, we welcomed Pete Grady from the National College for Teaching and Leadership. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is a new government agency created to enable and support the development of a self-improving, school-led system. The agency was formed from the merger, on 1 April 2013, of the National College for School Leadership and the Teaching Agency. Pete Grady is Team Leader, Recruitment at the NCTL. He explained that schools were to play more of a role in the training of teachers and that gradually the work of the agency (NCTL) would decrease. Presently the aim is to try to establish a shared vision which rests of the collective moral purpose of getting the best education for our children and young people. The task, he suggested, is challenging. All change is difficult and this change involves the balance of the relationships between schools and university partnership. The feedback received has been mixed, but the purpose of the new NCTL is to improve the system. The aims of the NCTL are on the DfE website.

In the afternoon we were pleased to welcome five colleagues to give cameo presentations which showed different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of School Direct.

Paul Dickinson

Paul Dickinson, Head of The Department of Teacher Education at Sheffield Hallam University explained the context for School Direct at Sheffield Hallam. He explained that they were building on the expertise of the university and its partner schools and moving forward positively. The pace of this change brings its own challenges, not least clarifying to all parties just exactly what School Direct is for them, but in Sheffield they are working so hard to make it work and taking a long-term perspective to ensure successful outcomes.

Download Paul Dickinson's PowerPoint

Dr Gary Chambers

Dr Gary Chambers, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Leeds, stressed the importance of forging successful partnerships. Taking time to have face to face conversations and working on successful relationships is vital; if you have a solid relationship you will come out the other side of this new challenge. Gary felt that the challenges of School Direct were more in primary than secondary and that HEIs felt under pressure, but that one of the positive results of School Direct could be that mentors in schools were trained better and the role enhanced.

Download Gary Chamber's PowerPoint

Gaynor Jones

Gaynor Jones, the Assistant Headteacher/Strategic Manager, Sheffield Teaching School Alliance, explained the many challenges; application systems, entry requirements, intention to employ, joint interviews, partnership agreement and funding, joint interviews, communication … Readjusting to the new balance is, as Pete Grady suggested, imperative. Gaynor felt that an enhanced partnership is being forged and that if we think creatively, School Direct is a real opportunity.

Download Gaynor Jones' PowerPoint

Emma Foster

Emma Foster, Director of Teaching School, Outwood Teaching School Alliance, like Gaynor, felt that, despite the challenges, things are settling, getting better. Policy, she reminded us, may well not be what we want – is it change for the sake of change? However, things like infrastructure, marketing, recruitment can be opportunities if we think positively and seize the possibilities offered.

Download Emma Foster's PowerPoint

Suzanne Bywater

Suzanne Bywater from Wickersley School and Sports College is the Lead, Learners First School Direct. She explained their model of School Direct and spoke of the collective approach of all schools in the alliance. All schools are working closely with the HEI and she reported that things are going smoothly. Despite the tricky things with which they were faced, again the message was positive as things are settling down.

Download Suzanne Bywater's PowerPoint

Group sessions

Delegates discussed what School Direct meant to them personally, considered the challenges posed by School Direct and looked for solutions to those challenges.

Summary of the points made during discussions

There were indications that School Direct is very welcome in schools struggling to recruit (especially in challenging schools), although the intention to employ was originally a deterrent for some schools. Some colleagues suggested that they like to grow their own and found School Direct a way to recruit good staff. They also were keen to have the chance to shape the programme. So, there were positive feelings about School Direct and an idea that it brings lots of opportunities, but the groups also highlighted many anxieties. There was some frustration that things had not been thought through at government level. However generally there was a sense of inevitability that School Direct must be embraced.

General concerns and challenges

It was felt that there are logistical problems on every level. There are worries about Quality Assurance of the school-led provision – both in quantity and quality – and concern about the consistency of standards which may become fragmented. Generally there seems to be not enough communication between schools, NCTL, providers. How will the national supply of teachers be assured throughout the regions, cities and rural areas? There is a fear that secondary schools in rural areas might become disenfranchised and have no students. Where does School Direct leave Teach First?

School Direct offers a greater degree of complexity than perhaps has yet been realised. Where do the roles and responsibilities lie? Will the student teachers be trained too narrowly? How will they gain and maintain criticality? Do we really speak the same language? We could do with a glossary of terms and explanations of different ITE models.

Concerns were raised that schools must be outstanding to become Training Schools and that the best practice in ITE did not always reside within these schools. The transfer of money was also discussed. Concerns were raised about the pace of change leading to a focus on the structural concerns rather than thinking about the wider issues such as what will the impact of School direct be Teacher education in the future.

Concerns and challenges for HEIs

From the point of view of HEIs, there was anxiety and uncertainty over their future role and involvement in ITT/E. There is a need to identify and embrace new roles for HEI involvement perhaps by helping lead schools to deliver on their 6 fold set of key aims (only one of which is ITT). There is anxiety that schools may be happy to support on QTS only. HEIs need to sell the advantages/benefits of a PGCE with M level credits. There was concern from academics to know how School Direct will impact on their research and how HEI materials/resources will be protected with respect to copyright. Will schools be happy to pay to use HEI materials? If schools are negotiating with HEIs wanting different things – how can HEIs manage staffing?

How can HEIs manage different schools wanting different models of training/calendars?

Concerns and challenges for schools

The expectation to employ is a worry and there are challenges for head leadership.

There are selection challenges for group or individual schools and marketing is a concern. Some schools are unsure about what to do, therefore they are tempted to wait and see – will they lose out if they are not engaged? Others may have School Direct and core students – will the core students not get so good a deal?

Student experience will be determined by mentor quality which may be variable.

Schools were encouraged to join larger clusters so that employment issues could be distributed across a group. HEI providers encouraged schools to access the knowledge that they have about the quality of ITE provision in their locality when placing students within a group of cluster schools. Looking at the transition to School Direct as an ongoing developmental process which will be revised and reviewed was encouraged.


School Direct will certainly change the HEI/school dynamic. It is good that schools and HEIs will be working together to develop courses, but it was generally thought that working with multiple providers would not be the best way forward – an in-depth relationship with one provider is best. There are lots of opportunities to get the best of both worlds and this should be seen as evolutionary – an opportunity to develop HEI/School partnerships. Establishing collaborative groups of schools is very important.

Universities and schools having joint employees and using secondment models were seen as a positive way forward. Schools generally are positive about School Direct, especially where recruitment is an issue. There are however concerns from both sides about offering a full range of subjects e.g. creative arts /humanities. It was felt that HEIs could profitably give advice about how to handle the recruitment process – e.g. tips and also models of how interviews are managed etc. Other useful advice would be in the development of basic principles, benefits of joining a cluster – what the lead school does. The development of new link tutor roles which support the concern of Quality Assurance of school-based provision would be beneficial. Also HEIs could offer the possibility of developing better on-going support for NQTs and beyond as they develop their careers. Schools saw this as an opportunity for HEIs to fill the CPD vacuum caused by the demise of the local authority though HEIs need to marketise and sell their services to school which may be unused to paying for such input (e.g. phonics support/CPD). There will be more opportunities to design/commission school-based research (one of the 6 key strands of activity for SD/lead schools and teaching schools).

There are opportunities for innovative practice with schools and HEIs working together to develop training sessions and programmes and for greater ownership and engagement of schools with trainees during the whole of their training. The identification of areas of good practice within a cluster or alliance of schools and all trainees benefiting from this should result in more consistent experiences for trainees. However there are also many challenges. It was acknowledge that there will be a shift in the power position between schools and HEIs and that this re-positioning will be difficult especially as the HEI is still accountable to Ofsted. Building trust between the schools and HEIs in an alliance is challenging as is ensuring consistency of the quality of training within a cluster. There is a fear that there are inconsistencies in practice in recruitment processes and practices. A particular concern is that trainees will be equipped to teach in one particular setting rather than developing the skills and attributes that allow them to teach in any school. i.e. apprenticeship rather than development; training rather than education

All valued the opportunity to strengthen and deepen partners, recognising the unique contribution of both HEIs and schools – collaboration, compromise, negotiation, shared value and ethos.

School improvement

We should capitalise on opportunities for professional development for staff through research informed practice; consultants from HEIs would be able to be responsive to school priorities. School Direct is a powerful vehicle for regular communication between schools and their HEI. There will need to be a change of mind-set about mentors; they will need a higher profile and develop greater powers of reflection. This would benefit the school as School Direct will formalise the process and status of mentoring, affording it the resources and priority that are necessary.

TRIAD working between ITE/NQT/RQT working together on small scale studies linked to school improvement priorities would be possible. This could be followed by a presentation evening for all and present their findings in carousel model.

School Direct can have a positive impact on children and young people through such things as joint action research, pedagogical development, more reflective practitioners, co-designed assignments. It was felt that host teachers/mentors who look after ITE students do teach better lessons in their own right and that schools already have plenty of evidence to suggest that the additional input from ITE students is improving pupil attainment. Discussions which incorporate a shared vision or moral purpose will result in enhanced experiences for pupils. Data should be able to evidence trainee impact on children’s progress – it can be built into training programmes from the beginning for 2013. School Direct trainees can be used to support departmental and school improvement plans and work with intervention groups. School Direct is a trigger for innovation, however many innovative practices are already happening in the partnerships between schools and HEIs.

Masters for the teaching profession

There was some neutrality in connection with this, but others valued this enormously, feeling that schools and HEIs are lifelong learners and that all in education need time to reflect and see things from a different point of view. Those engaging in Masters study could be agents of change. Others suggested that heads want to invest in staff and that it is left for schools to decide about Masters. HEIs, it was suggested, need to think creatively about making M level study more affordable/accessible and the partnerships in general need to be more explicit about the potential benefits of M level/ Higher study with respect to improving classroom practice and pupil outcomes. It is important that the different aspects of training i.e. school based and university based complement rather than duplicate so that the students are not overwhelmed by the demands of the course.

Questions asked included: How do we encourage those who believe that QTS only is enough preparation for teaching to change their viewpoints? Is there a danger that students will opt for a cheaper ITT option if the need for supporting academic underpinning to QTS is not emphasised? Different Universities offer different models and this can be confusing – how do we get round this?

School-based teacher educators

Finally, were there concerns from schools about their enhanced role as teacher educators. There is a lack of familiarity of the new role. The most significant concerns were: time – where does it come from for busy teachers? And money - who finances it? Suggestions were: to discuss the additional funding coming into school with the Senior Leadership Team; and to try to ensure that this money is ring fenced for ITE and that all staff involved have time and recognition for this work.

There was real concern that schools rarely prioritise ITE and that therefore there is a danger that we will lose the focus on ITE. Here again focussing on one HEI was seen as an effective strategy. HEIs need to clarify what they can offer and what expertise is available. School Direct has brought deeper relationships with partner schools, but will this continue? All lead schools present felt that things were running quite smoothly currently though the problems associated with developing a streamlined/efficient/effective recruitment strategy within a school cluster still presents challenges as does ensuring continuity and consistency.

Concluding thoughts

The tone of the meeting was very positive. There are huge challenges but the extension of current partnerships is to be celebrated. There was a great feeling amongst those present of willingness to make this work, despite anxiety about the future and worries that there might be a hidden agenda. A leap of faith is required and it is to be hoped that this commitment will not be betrayed. We have had good partnerships for a long time and this is another step along that line.

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