Teaching Schools International

On Sunday, I’m off to Freetown as part of a British Council ‘Connecting Classrooms’ visit, meeting up again with our partner schools, our friends and our teacher colleagues in Sierra Leone.

We have an ambitious objective. (Actually, we’ve several, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick to this one).

We’re going to try and franchise out the Teaching School model in the middle of West Africa. Well, come on, if you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound.

Last year, we delivered some training to over fifty teachers, using the ‘demo lesson’ model. It went down like a storm. ‘We want more!’ the teachers cried (well maybe not quite that enthusiastically, but they were very keen).

However, this is really just scratching the surface and will make little inroads into standards of teaching, despite the incredible enthusiasm and talent of the Liverpool teachers. It was clear to me that we needed to do this the other way round – equip native teachers with the skills, training them intensively, and empowering them to roll it out over their locality. The Teaching School, African style, is therefore in gestation.

So, a year later and, in addition to the fabulous ‘Connecting Classrooms’ funding from the British Council, we have also received funding from the Rotary Club to pay the salaries of the two teachers who will staff the teaching school for a year, starting in April. They will deliver the training to the fifty neighbouring schools. Following this, we have been supported heroically by Communcations Plus O2, who have supplied much of the funds required to bring these teachers plus more (teachers and pupils) to Liverpool in June for three weeks. This extended period will allow for more intensive training and support, giving us a greater chance that the Teaching School space will work.

Of course, it may not. A multitude of factors may get in the way – disease, natural disaster, school closures to name but a few. Let’s throw in Brexit too – why not.

But let’s give it a good go.

Of one thing I am convinced – that the Teaching School model is a winning one. I attended a first-rate conference run by Ignite Teaching School Alliance the other day, and I know of many other locations where the influence of Teaching Schools has made an significant difference to standards of teaching and learning in schools.

And yet they are often being hampered in their efforts by the worst effects of competitive forces. The current mess of a system pitches schools against each other, vying for pupils, poaching teachers and jealously protecting good ‘performance’. Strong leadership in some geographical areas has nullified these ill-effects, but in others – notably Liverpool – it has prevented Teaching Schools from sowing those seeds of excellent collaborative practice which leads to incremental growth for all schools.

I think Teaching Schools are great. But, rather like Children’s Centres, they’ve been relegated in the attentions of policy-makers and allowed to lie fallow. Some, like Ignite, are clearly thriving, and this provides great hope for the future.

Wish us luck for the new African Teaching School – I’ll update its progress next week alongside the other projects we’re involved in.

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