Interestingly, but not surprising really, the people I meet from schools in Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham miss the best National Strategies, the best materials and the best people associated with these programmes... although they don't miss the political and bureaucratic interference which dogged many local authorities school improvement arrangements and are still there in so many Children's Services arrangements. My work in Sheffield/Nottingham/Leeds clearly shows that schools need relationships with other schools, headteachers need relationships with other headteachers and teachers need relationships with other teachers. Headteachers and teachers I know want someone or something to provide strategic leadership, they want to belong to something bigger and with the same moral purpose and they need a framework within which they can see the bigger picture, the connections, the outcomes and their impact on young people, families and communities.
Together, we must put the things that matter first and ensure every school is a brilliant school and every child a brilliant learner! Sad then that, in many schoolsprofessional development has been put on the back-burner in a lot of schools who don't know where to find the support they need and for a lot of them don't necessarily understand/think they need it especially in a world where money is tight and with teachers/teaching being promoted as the answer to life, the universe and everything! Many schools also lack the experience associated with good quality assurance and the ability to moderate judgements about what is great, what isn't and what to do about it. The danger, for schools in a world without these good local teams, is that they simply don't identify their training needs until things go wrong or unless OFSTED calls. Sadly, the national, and in many places the local, debate seems to hinge around Academies, Free Schools and OFSTED and there simply aren't the people talking about school improvement and developing and sharing a coherent vision for learning!
The 'well-connected' schools are finding support mechanisms through a range of providers; Whole Education, Learning Futures, FutureLab, National College, SSAT etc but the danger is that these programmes are generic and lack the local contextual flavor, the understanding of local challenges and fail to work closely and connect with local teams. The danger is also that many of these providers are offering one day/one off events and real change is about long term sustained programmes of professional development that change cultures and attitudes to learning. We must also recognize that busy school-based colleagues simply lack the experience and breadth of examples so you get a very limited set of prescriptions. The models which have been developed around master coaching, deep practice and passionate engagement generally don't get a look in!
Teaching Schools clearly could provide some of the required infrastructure but schools are still deeply suspicious of any school that sets itself up as a centre of excellence. In my view the model will only work if clusters of schools work together using the pockets of expertise that exist in different schools to share, network and learn together... perhaps it should have been called the Learning Schools Network! These arrangements therefore need to be set within a middle tier structure which provides local leadership, strong monitoring/information systems, intelligent accountability and access to local networks.