So what is Southwark Teaching School Alliance anyway?

After a whirlwind seven weeks as the new Director of Southwark Teaching School Alliance (STSA), half term offers a moment to pause and reflect. The questions at the forefront of my mind were posed recently by a new-to-Southwark headteacher who asked what STSA is and where it fits in the wider Southwark landscape. The answers are beginning to take shape.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) defines teaching schools as:

“outstanding schools that work with others to provide high-quality training and development to new and experienced school staff. They are part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in raising standards by developing a self-improving and sustainable school-led system”.

There are two of these at the heart of Southwark Teaching School Alliance: Charles Dickens Primary School and Crampton Primary School.

NCTL goes on to explain how “teaching school alliances are led by a teaching school and include schools that are benefiting from support, as well as strategic partners [which may include other schools, universities, multi-academy trusts, diocese, local authorities and private sector organisations] who lead some aspects of training and development”.

In reality, every teaching school alliance is organised and operates differently. All commit to delivering the “big 3” – initial teacher training (ITT), continuing professional development (CPD), and school-to-school support, with research a strand that runs throughout. But how they do so is a matter for them.

Within STSA, ITT takes the form of a salaried Schools Direct partnership led by John Donne Primary School and a non-salaried scheme based at Crampton Primary School. CPD for teachers, teaching assistants, and business and support staff is led by Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs) drawn from seven schools across the borough. Leadership development programmes are provided in partnership with the UCL Institute of Education and The Future Leaders Trust. School-to-school support takes a variety of forms, from structured peer reviews using a model developed by the Education Development Trust, to consultancy from our three National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and 13 SLEs, to termly sessions where headteachers can work together on issues of common interest (our next being on recruitment and retention). Over time we expect all strands to be underpinned by and/or contribute to research into what drives the most effective practice.

What we do at STSA provides only part of the answer to the question of what STSA is; the other parts come from understanding why and how we do what we do. The answer to why lies in our vision of:

“a community where every child and young person is nurtured and challenged to flourish in all aspects of their life – academic, cultural, personal and social”.

It is about development of the whole child, through excellence across the whole curriculum and all aspects of school life. It is about impact on children’s and young people’s life chances.

How we go about doing that is described in our mission, which is:

“To build a strong community of impactful teachers and leaders based on the sharing and development of practitioner excellence and evidence-based practice”.

That sense of “community” and “sharing” in our mission, and “alliance” in our name is crucial; it is about doing with, not doing to. Our strategic leads shape our areas of focus, but they do not have all the answers. STSA will only succeed if it continues to bring together a wide range of schools to develop and improve alongside each other, drawing on expertise that already exists in schools across the borough, and creating new best practice through purposeful collaboration. Ultimately, STSA is whatever those schools who engage in the alliance make it.

The answer to where STSA fits within the wider Southwark landscape is, for now, less clear – largely because that landscape is itself evolving. In the short-term we are working with the council, as well as schools, to ensure that between us we cater coherently for the needs of Southwark learners, schools and their staff. Beyond that, we look forward to playing our part in shaping the landscape of the future, realising fully our potential to provide a forum for collaboration and action that strengthens and benefits all Southwark schools and the children and young people they serve.

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