The work of teaching schools

Teaching schools

John Stephens, Director of Teaching Schools at NCTL, gives an overview of teaching schools and their work.

Since the first teaching schools were designated less than 4 years ago we have developed a national network of over 600, engaging with almost a third of all schools.

Each teaching school works closely with a group of schools and other partners called their alliance. Teaching school alliances typically include about 20 member schools plus strategic organisations such as universities and local authorities. The formation of alliances underlines the concept that teaching schools are collaborative organisations that are at their most effective when they work with others.

Professional challenge

Similar to teaching hospitals, teaching schools are intended to lead the system in:

  • training and developing teachers and leaders
  • delivering school improvement through school-to-school support
  • focusing on high-quality research and innovation that helps to spread good practice across the system

Governors sometimes have concerns about the capacity of their school to fulfill such a demanding role while also maintaining high standards for their own pupils. However, the research suggests that the work of a teaching school is never one way. In helping and supporting others, the teaching school itself also improves. Moreover, some headteachers report that becoming a teaching school gives them and their colleagues a new, significant and exciting professional challenge that helps to retain them in their posts.

In order to apply to be a teaching school, applicant schools must be judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in all categories. They must also be able to demonstrate a successful track record in the core areas of teaching school work and have clear plans for delivery. In the first year, new teaching schools receive £60,000 to support their development. This reduces to £50,000 in the second year and £40,000 for the two years after that.

There is an expectation that teaching schools become sustainable over time and there are opportunities to apply for additional grant funding to support specific projects. Teaching school designation is open to just about every type of school and setting. As well as primary and secondary schools, we have sixth form and further education colleges, nurseries and early years settings, special schools and alternative provisions. Schools can apply as partners. Small schools, for example, sometimes ‘jobshare’ the role.

In a very short time, teaching school alliances have established themselves as significant partners in the development of a truly school-led system. The  challenge now facing us is to make sure that we have enough teaching schools in the right places to ensure that nobody misses out on the significant benefits they bring to children and young people and all those who work with them.

Ashton on Mersey School


Ashton on Mersey School, a secondary academy in Sale with almost 1,500 pupils, became a teaching school in July 2011. Ashton has consistently improved outcomes for children year on year from 2009 to 2012 and was judged by Ofsted in 2013 as ‘outstanding’ in all areas. Students join the school with broadly average attainment and go on to achieve outstandingly well. The school works with over 40 other schools.


Ashton offers more than 100 initial teacher training places per year in partnership with several universities, in addition to leading a School Direct programme for 30 trainees and supporting more than 60 PGCE block placements. A pilot School Direct programme in 2012/13 was a great success, with all trainees judged as being at least ‘good’ and two-thirds as ‘outstanding’. All trainees secured employment within Ashton’s teaching school alliance. Other initial teacher training projects include a new primary PE specialist programme (supported by the Olympic Legacy), a maths specialist programme which has led to an 11% increase in A* to C maths GCSE grades, and Ashton’s own Journey to Outstanding programme which enables trainees to work closely with outstanding teachers. To support this 70% of Ashton’s teaching staff are trained mentors.


School-to-school support is another strength, with national leaders of education (NLEs) and specialist leaders of education (SLEs) across the alliance supporting underperforming schools. For example, Ashton’s sponsorship of Forest Gate Primary School led to an increase in pupils achieving level 4+ in KS2 English and maths, from 29% (2011) to 79% (2012). Forest Gate now has no significant attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils and 90% of teaching is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

This article was written by John Stephens for Governing Matters, the membership magazine of The National Governors' Association.

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