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England’s teaching school ‘super-hub’ policy: Policy meets practice

Deb Outhwaite

On 10 February 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) announced the creation of 81 ‘super-hubs’, properly known as teaching school hubs (TSHs). These, in addition to the six ‘test and learn’ pilots set up last year to trial this new system, add up to just 87 TSHs, as opposed to the approximately 900 that are currently funded by the DfE until this summer.

Teaching schools have been a contested piece of policy since their launch by the then secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, back in 2010. As Gunter (2020, p. 89) has commented, ‘New Labour invested economically and symbolically in school leadership as the means to deliver reforms, the Coalition disinvested and opened it to the market’. Teaching schools have made up a large part of the marketplace that delivers initial teacher training and education (ITTE), school-to-school support (S2SS), and continuing professional and leadership development (CPLD). Teaching schools have led the way towards ‘an increasingly school-led English initial teacher education policy context’ (Peiser et al., 2019) by running programmes that traditionally have been run by universities –teacher training, for example. The system is far from perfect, but this scepticism of teaching schools has meant that much of their better work has, in my view, gone unreported, and their potential for collaborative partnership has not been widely acknowledged.

I left my role as a masters’ programme lead at the University of Warwick in 2018 to run my local city’s collaborative teaching school alliance (TSA). Derby city council’s schools had done what many areas had done and chosen to apply for a collaborative teaching school provision, with four lead schools. The Derby Teaching Schools Alliance (DTSA) applied for the DfE’s annual annexe G allowance of £40,000. With four lead schools it could have done this four times. However, school’s Ofsted fortunes go up and down, so ‘risk’ was shared across these four lead schools. Apart from teacher training and S2SS, DTSA provided, at its height, more than a thousand hours of CPLD a term for around 60 primary schools.

‘The trend towards many of these new super-hubs sitting within multi-academy trust structures raises fears that a great deal of local, collaborative provision will be lost, and that much of the expertise developed by existing hubs will become unsustainable.’

Ten years on from the creation of teaching schools, the preferred direction of travel for the DfE in England is for many of these new hubs to sit within a multi-academy trust (MAT) structure (UCET, 2021) formed of groups of schools. In our area a local MAT has now been chosen by the DfE to run the local super-hub – perhaps unsurprisingly, as MATs are a foundation of the Conservative government’s educational policy. The fear, then, is that much of this local, collaborative provision will now go, and much of the expertise it developed will be unsustainable moving forward. Covid-19 had already hit the deployment of teachers to help support other staff, a role known as specialist leaders of education (Outhwaite & Soni, 2019), and is limiting the development of individual career trajectories to help and support others.

Many of these super-hubs have been allocated to MATs, and while that was to be expected given the trajectory of current education policy, it does now leave larger MATs with the unenviable task of working out what local provision actually needs to be kept. Clearly much remains unclear! With the current provision of ITTE, for example, whereby part of the student fee is returned to a school or an alliance provider to maintain that provision, it remains to be seen how much local, collaborative, small-scale provision will remain. There are various views on the ‘self-improving school-led system’ (see for example Greany & Higham, 2018), but I would assert that TSAs haven’t all been an extension of neoliberal education policy. Some have actively organised collaborative local solutions that have worked successfully in areas of underprivilege to provide high quality solutions for ongoing teacher education and support, developing individual members of staff through CPLD programmes relevant for their local contexts (Simkins et al., 2019). The fluidity of the landscape, and these new changes, begs the question of whether collaboration can coexist in an ever more marketised system. My view is that it will be individual teachers and schools that are at risk of losing out if it isn’t. However, this issue of teaching school hubs is just one example of how complex the middle tier in England has now become (Bubb et al, 2019).


References

Bubb, S., Crossley-Holland, J., Cordiner, J., Cousin, S., & Earley, P. (2019). Understanding the middle tier: Comparative costs of academy and LA-maintained sectors. Sara Bubb Associates.

Greany, T., & Higham, R. (2018). Hierarchy, markets & networks: Analysing the ‘self-improving school-led system’ in England and the implications for academies. UCL IOE Press.

Gunter, H. M. (2020). Book review: ‘Imperfect leadership: A book for leaders who know they don’t know it all’ by Steve Munby. Management in Education, 34(2), 89.

Outhwaite, D., & Soni, D. (2019). The role of a Specialist Leader of Education in England: position, timing, challenges and opportunities. In V.A. Storey, (Ed.), Leading in change: Implications of school diversification for school leader preparation in England and the United States. University of Central Florida; Information Age Publishing, Inc. https://www.infoagepub.com/products/Leading-in-Change

Peiser, G., Duncalf, D., & Mallaburn, A. (2019). The role of the mentor in an increasingly school-led English initial teacher education policy context. Professional Development in Education. DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2019.1694053

Simkins, T., Coldron, J., Crawford, M., & Maxwell, B. (2019). Emerging schooling landscapes in England: How primary system leaders are responding to new school groupings. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 2019, 47(3), 331–348. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1741143217751079

Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers [UCET] (2021). Teaching School Hubs (February 2021) [Webpage]. https://www.ucet.ac.uk/12673/teaching-school-hubs-february-2021