Teaching Schools: We’re better together

Written by: Sarah Livesey | Published:
Image: iStock

As a Teaching School, Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College offers a wide range of outreach to other schools that need it. Assistant head Sarah Livesey discusses their work

I am lucky to work in a school with an Ofsted “outstanding” grading stretching back eight years. Blessed Thomas Holford (BTH) was awarded national Teaching School status in 2013. As a support school, led by National Leader of Education John Cornally, BTH already had an extensive outreach programme. However, schools were required to pay BTH directly for support as this was the only way that we could sustain the level of outreach that we offered.

To have a bigger impact, I wanted to make our outreach systems even better, and free to schools that needed them. Our aims were:

  • To build a robust and sustainable core Teaching Schools programme.
  • To bid for funding from the National College so that we could support schools that needed it at no cost to them.
  • To support interesting and useful research that would improve the quality of teaching and learning in our school and further afield.

Our first two years of Teaching School status were hard work, but certainly worth it. We have been able to provide support for schools in our area and further afield, and as a result many children have had a better education. In this article, I hope to give you a glimpse of the inner workings of a new Teaching School – including the surprising impact on our side of the school gates.

Building the programme

To start working with more schools we had to “market” our programme, especially to schools that had not engaged in any form of outreach before. We went on visits to these schools in particular to help them understand what we do as a teaching school, and how we could help them.

We began to run short twilight CPD sessions that covered some of the key areas that many of the schools that we had visited in the past had needed support in.

This enabled schools to release staff at little or no cost, and because sessions were in the evening schools didn’t need to arrange cover. Many schools now send up to six staff per session, really helping to build their capacity. It also allows our own staff to build their experience and skills in developing others.

We recruited more Specialist Leaders of Education to ensure that we could meet the growing demand for our support. These were employed predominantly from BTH, but some came from schools we had supported in the past.

In supporting more schools using these great practitioners we are building a strong and sustainable system of support in our area.

We have benefited from the support of the Future Leaders network too. They have helped us to choose and recruit leaders from further afield, from a variety of contexts.

We have also put in place more in-school training to develop our team, including our own initial teacher training programme through School Direct. Six School Direct trainees will be trained as teachers by BTH, with the support and accreditation of the University of Manchester.

Free support for schools that need it

To ensure that we could offer support to schools that needed it regardless of their financial situation, we applied for funding from the National College.

After much research and many discussions with the Regional Schools Commissioner, we established that there was a major national concern around underachievement in coastal schools. This had been discussed by Future Leaders on our online forum, as well as at training events and later in the charity’s coastal schools report, Combatting Isolation in Coastal Schools (October 2015).

I worked alongside the National College to write a comprehensive bid for funds to support two schools – one that had recently been placed in special measures and another where they were deemed to be requiring improvement. One of these schools was located in a coastal town. We have now received this funding, and are supporting the schools to improve – which wouldn’t have been possible without our research, and the funding that came as a result.

I also applied for a grant to offer a Maths Subject Knowledge Enhancement course to improve the subject knowledge and teaching practice of returning teachers, non-specialist maths teachers and teachers new to teaching maths free of charge.

We aim to increase the number of maths teachers across the country, addressing the current shortage and furthering our aim to improve the education of students outside BTH.

The programme has already proved extremely popular and has afforded many of our staff the opportunity to plan and deliver a university-accredited programme.

Research and development

One of the core elements of the Teaching School programme is research and development, but much of the research conducted by Teaching Schools is often read and forgotten about. I was keen to utilise the research funding effectively to ensure an output that was actually put into practice, and to set up a sustainable research programme.

An area for development across the Trafford education authority was the use of technology. I advertised a post within the school for someone to lead a research and development programme on the use of technology in school.

The successful applicant developed a programme around the use of iPads to improve the quality of teaching and learning across the school. The impact of this was ground-breaking. The research was published and shared nationally (http://bit.ly/20ySPeG) and we have since become one of O2’s core schools for iPad development.

We have recently developed this further with the use of iPads to support the monitoring of teaching and learning and this research will be published later in the year. Hopefully this is the start of a sustainable research programme which will allow us to support more children’s education outside our local area.


Leading the development of our Teaching School programme has been completely different to other initiatives I have led in the past, such as developing teaching and learning, literacy, and provision for the most able students.

Working with other schools meant that I had to really adapt my leadership style to ensure the best possible outcomes; sometimes this was extremely challenging as the credibility and respect I had gained from the staff at my own school wasn’t always there with external staff who knew very little about me.

I have dealt with huge budgets in this past year which has certainly been a learning curve for me (now I know the importance and value of having a good school business manager).


In our first year as a Teaching School we conducted a vast amount of school-to-school support. This has included the support of coastal schools and academy chains with teaching and learning and data, the improvement of English and maths within an inner city school, the development of middle leaders in a large secondary school and, most recently, leadership support in a failing local academy.

We have recently taken over a school locally. Last week our bid for £20,000 to assist in the sustainability and development of the school was successful, ensuring that the school’s upwards trajectory maintains momentum.

Within one year, the Teaching School programme has had a direct impact on the outcomes of hundreds – maybe thousands – of children.

This academic year our programme has continued to grow. Our school has been named in a number of Ofsted reports, recognising the hard work our staff have done and are doing with schools across the country.

Since beginning the Teaching School programme I have noticed a change in attitude with many of our staff. Although always committed, there was a clear shift for many after working in schools in challenging circumstances towards a new determination. While working in an “outstanding” school brings its own challenges, seeing departments and staff that are at the very beginning of that journey to good and outstanding really motivated our staff to want to make a difference.

Ultimately, the biggest impact can be seen in the results of students. Within one year, we have seen results improve, Ofsted gradings go up and schools be taken out of special measures as a direct result of the work we have done.

As school leaders, we should be committed to improving the life chances of each and every student, whether or not they attend our school. Future Leaders stresses the core concept of “No Islands”. Teaching Schools help to make this idea – that schools and leaders are better working together – a reality.

  • Sarah Livesey is an assistant headteacher at Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham.

Future Leaders

The Future Leaders programme offers leadership development for aspiring headteachers of challenging schools who believe that all children deserve a great education. Find out more and become part of the network of more than 500 senior leaders and headteachers at www.future-leaders.org.uk/programmes


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