The idea behind the new initiative is that teachers will be able to learn from the examples of good practice seen in schools which have been highly rated by Ofsted and then transfer the lessons learnt into their own classroom. Supporting resources are also included and although the database is currently rather limited, this is something which will build up overtime.
A similar network was also recently launched by the Guardian earlier in the year, where teachers can use community pages to share their expertise, as well as access resources to help them plan and improve their lessons. With the Guardian's platform acquiring more than 12,500 subscribers in just one month, it's clear that there is high demand for teachers looking to learn from each other – and this is something it would seem the coalition government is keen to encourage.
In November, it announced plans to extend its academies scheme, allowing any school to become an academy, providing it was partnered with an outstanding institution. Commenting at the time, Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "We know that the best way of improving schools is by getting the professionals, who have already done a brilliant job, to spread their wings."
It also produced figures suggesting these partnerships have the potential to produce serious improvements within a relatively short period of time. Greensward College, which was classed as outstanding, reportedly saw an 11 per cent improvement in GCSE in the three schools it partners as academies.
Another one of the government's ideas to encourage more education professionals to learn from one another is the creation of teaching schools. "These will be outstanding schools, which will take a leading responsibility for providing and quality assuring initial teacher training in their area. We will also fund them to offer professional development for teachers and leaders," The Importance of Teaching White Paper explained.
Speaking even before the paper was published, Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said observing other teachers "is probably one of the best ways to improve teaching practice", although added that she didn't see any issues with the existing system as there "aren't any restrictions on teachers observing other teachers to share best practice".
Similar schools were already said to exist in London and Manchester, which are modelled on the style of teaching hospitals, however in their new incarnation the teaching schools will also have a stronger element of training. The institutions are intended to be "primarily accountable to their peers" and are expected to eventually form a national network.
Previous Ofsted research suggests these teaching schools can have a positive impact on pupils at some of the most deprived institutions. The London Challenge school improvement programme was set up in 2003 and focused on getting independent experts to work in underperforming schools to raise attainment, an initiative which has produce strong results. "Substantial improvements have been achieved through effective partnerships with so-called 'teaching schools'," the report noted, adding these institutions "extended coaching and practical activities on their own site to groups of teachers from several schools that need support". "Participants and providers with whom discussions were held during the survey were unanimous in their appreciation of the positive impact that this approach was having on raising standards in both the host and participant schools," it said.
Lampton School in Hounslow is one teaching school already in existence. Speaking to teachers.tv, Head Teacher Sue John said she believes the institutions are very much like "laboratories" and everyone working there is told to expect to be observed. "The principle of teaching schools is that you work as a learning three," she added.
The government is also looking at creating university training schools, much like those which have proved a success in Finland and the US, to educate people on the practice of teaching.
There are those, however, who are against the idea of using teaching schools for the training and professional development of educators. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was among those speaking out against the proposals when the government released its White Paper. "The critical job for schools is to teach children, not to train teachers. What is needed is a two year higher education-based course, combining both theory and practice, to ensure we have the best trained teachers possible," she said.
However, as the popularity of the Guardian's recently launched network shows, teachers clearly want opportunities to interact and learn from one another.
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