The planning for our designation as Teaching School Hub is still a work in progress, but I want to share five tests that we are using to guide our work and to judge it in the future.
1. Are we doing what is best for pupils?
It is a simple enough question, but we cannot support pupils directly. Instead, we will benefit pupils by providing fantastic professional development. There is strong evidence that this is one of the most cost-effective ways of benefiting all pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged.
2. Is our work truly evidence-informed?
Evidence has become something of a buzzword in education with many things claiming to be based on evidence. We believe looking at what has—and has not—worked before gives the best guide to what might work in the future. Our Research School will be crucial in supporting and challenging us, as will our new expert advisory group.
We also need to learn as we go along. We won’t get everything right the first time and we need to have the humility, resilience, and reflective capacity to learn from both our successes and failures.
3. Are we responding to local need?
It is tempting to design our programme of professional development around our own expertise, or what we think schools need. This would be wrong: our starting point should be based on what the school tells us it needs. We will listen and collaborate with schools in many ways, including establishing some user groups comprising colleagues from across our region. Please get in touch if you are interested in getting involved.
We also will use guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Putting Evidence to Work resources to help us effectively explore priorities. These resources have proved invaluable to our Research School’s work and we plan to build on this work further.
4. Are we supporting those with the greatest needs?
To ensure that we realise our aim of improving outcomes for all pupils – particularly the most disadvantaged, we need to ensure that we reach the schools and pupils with the greatest needs. However, an arresting finding from previous school-led initiatives, like the original Teaching Schools, was that the schools that benefitted the most were the Teaching Schools themselves.
We also know anecdotally that often the schools with the greatest needs are the least likely to engage with the range of support available. There are possibly good reasons for this, including the clear message from research evidence that schools should focus on a small number of key priorities and do them really well.
5. Are we adding value to the local schools?
Lots of fantastic work already happens locally; we have no interest in replacing it. Instead, we want to complement and add value to what is already happening. This ranges from the excellent work of Education Durham to the various curriculum hubs.
This has been a very odd year. Hopefully, this time next year, many of the oddities like teacher assessed grades and facemasks will be a distant memory. In contrast, I am confident that these five tests will be as relevant then as they are today.