Why would an independent school such as Ashford School want to spend some of its resources and energy jumping through the hoops to become a Teaching School? What possible benefit is there for the pupils, parents and staff at Ashford School? Why has the Head, Mike Buchanan, occupied his time pursuing this idea instead of other matters? Surely this is not the place for a private school?
According to the blurb sent with the letter of congratulations, Teaching Schools are recognised centres of excellence with the leadership and vision to engage in developing teachers, leaders and schools of the future in a similar way to Teaching Hospitals such as Guy’s.
It’s pleasing to have Ashford School described in such a way. It’s a boost to my (not inconsiderable) ego as the Head and no doubt it adds to the aura around Ashford School. It might even help us be better known (Come on, I bet you don’t know where we are?). I’d be lying if I said that any of these are not welcome and helpful but they were secondary considerations when deciding to apply to become a Teaching School
It should not surprise you that I’m passionate about education; pupils’ learning, their achievements and the development of their character. My colleagues, parents and governors share that passion and a will to do what we reasonably can to work in partnership with others to improve the education of all young people. Becoming a Teaching School provides a mechanism to do this; it works for us. Critically, it is congruent with our values.
It also provides significant opportunities for my colleagues which directly benefit my school’s pupils. It helps us to improve; to raise the standard of teaching in the school and expand the opportunities for our pupils.
It means we find and train highly qualified graduates as teachers for our pupils rather than rely on the lottery of advertising for qualified teachers. We can immerse them in our culture in those formative early years. In order to do this successfully we must be able to recognise excellence in teaching and learning, be able to analyse its constituent parts, such as the ability to question for understanding as well as recall, and have trainers who can communicate that to our trainee teachers. So far, over a third of our teachers have been trained at the school. Of course, many of our in-house trainers are also our teachers.
It means we must know what works and hence engage in research to the benefit our own pupils. It means we must identify, train, develop and coach the school leaders of the future so must have an excellent knowledge and experience of leadership, and excellent role models.
It means we must reach out to other schools and, by so doing, challenge our staff to develop their skills in training, coaching and mentoring staff in our partner schools. Of course, those skills and the understanding they gain are invaluable back at Ashford School.
All of this means that at Ashford School there is a culture of reflection and evaluation. This has not come about because of our Teaching School status. It already existed but it is enhanced by it and, we hope, will enhance the education of our pupils and that of the pupils in our partner schools.
The question is not “Why did we become a National Teaching School?” but rather “Why would we not?”
By Mike Buchanan, Headmaster of Ashford School.