School-led school improvement? Such a catchy title, such an enticing concept: great schools helping failing schools to improve. The establishing of the Teaching School network and the academisation programme are entirely based on this delicious but fatally flawed abstraction.
But hold on one gold-darned minute I hear you cry! Who better to improve schools than those who operate within the system, who understand the system and who have succeeded in the system?
Pretty much anyone.
A successful school is exactly that - a single institution that has found a way to negotiate and manage the assessment minefield and dodge the educational shrapnel from numerous centrally charged detonations. It will have done so for any one of a variety of reasons: having access to privileged cohorts by virtue of its geographical location; having excellent, experienced teachers in assessment year groups; employing an enlightened senior leadership team. What it will almost certainly NOT have is a paradigm for success, a template for replicable school improvement, a hard drive panacea available to plug into any supported school.
And in the unlikely event that it does have this golden bullet it will definitely NOT have the crucial lubricant for a school-led system to operate: capacity.
There is not a school in England that has any capacity to support another school. The idea that there is, is a disingenuous fallacy propagated by the NCTL, the Teaching School Council and the RSC. Why would a school have spare capacity? Don't they have children to teach? Why is the Governing body not questioning their 'spare capacity"? And what does this spare capacity look like: Cupboards full of 'outstanding' teachers on standby, ready to leap into action and fly to support failing schools? The only institutions that may have the financial muscle to bear this burden are the independent schools and they don't support anyone - why should they, they operate in a competitive, capitalist, dog-eat-dog environment. I know they're charities, but let's not kid ourselves, they're the antithesis of charities, working tirelessly to cultivate and promote social inequality.
But let's just suppose that a school did have a workable, replicable model for success and it did have the capacity to support a failing school , what would this look like? A National Leader of Education and a couple of SLEs would be deployed to support. They'd make a few suggestions (based on their work in a perfectly formed, purring, outstanding school); a bit of cpd would be offered along with a few resources and some exemplar lessons. An initial flurry of excitement would all then grind to a halt. Why? Because support never comes with authority. For any school improvement paradigm to work it must come with power or it will always stumble at the hurdle of the incumbent Headteacher. Headteachers have been bred by the narcissism-inducing NPQH to believe that schools can only be improved by their inspiring leadership so of course they don't really want anything imposed on them. They like 'support' because they can simper that they are 'open for help', listen attentively, have no idea what anyone is talking about and then impose what they think everyone was talking about - usually a version of their already running but failed systems.
So what is the alternative to a school-led system?
A centrally imposed system.
We have to stop allowing relatively poorly educated, fairly stupid people to play at running education. Academy trusts are run by bemused headteachers who have suddenly and through great good fortune found themselves CEOs of complex organisations that shift shape in manners very different to their cozy one-form entry 'outstanding' primary school.
We must take education back to central government, impose a clear, rigorous and knowledge-led national curriculum that is taught and tested in centrally run ITT institutions. We must stop primary school teaching becoming the last bastion of a route to University and a profession with poor A' level results. We must teach mathematics in exactly the same way that it is taught in Shanghai. We must teach linguistic phonics and keep screening it until all children can decode and screen fluency until all children can read. We must teach writing as a skill to be mastered and not an art to be loved. We must stop presupposing that young children can share anything of academic value with their peers and ban peer marking and nonsense 'pair/share'. There is an expert in the room - the teacher - defer to their expertise.
And that would be start.
Dismantling the NPQH, the Teaching School system and the NCTL will have to wait.