Building capacity in a teaching school

Teaching schools train, develop and support staff in other schools while maintaining standards in their own. Read the advice and areas to consider when building capacity in your school and others

Author details

Lisa Griffin is content lead at Optimus Education, focusing on leadership and governance. 

Building capacity is about building the abilities, skills and expertise of school leaders and teachers – a process which takes time.

The collaborative activities of teaching schools can help to improve partnerships between teachers and school leaders across schools in a community, building capacity in that community and the wider education system.

For teaching schools aiming to maximise their impact, the effective brokerage of staff offering support and sharing of intelligence for capacity is a priority. Often headteachers broker between themselves and then the specific staff member will arrange with the school directly the kind of support they need.

With increasing numbers of schools gaining school improvement expertise from within a partnership of schools, such as a teaching school alliance or MAT, and the number of these groups of schools growing too, another priority is to embed collaboration within and between TSAs and MATs.

Start with your own school

  • School partnerships and school to school support are a vital way of building capacity in the system and enabling schools to take ownership of school improvement.
  • Before partnering with others, capacity building starts with your own school. A good starting point is to ask yourself the following questions.
  • What capacity do you have in your own school?
  • How many staff would you send out to support others?
  • Have you tested them in your school?
  • What capacity do the other schools in your alliance have?
  • How do you know how good they are?

Achieving a balance

This is between the teaching and learning in your own school and the commercial operations a teaching schools has of supplying staff to support others or leading CPD and training courses, for example.

Appointing a teaching school manager can help achieve this balance - and keep it. They’ll play a key role in leading CPD across the alliance and acting as a network leader by keeping in touch with all schools.

Heads and their SLEs must also find a balance between the time they spend out of school working with others and the needs of their own school. 

Specialist leader in education (SLE)

SLEs play an important role in improving schools and outcomes for children by developing leadership capacity in others.

As outstanding middle and senior leaders in their own school, they have the skills to support staff in similar positions in other schools to help raise standards and improve the quality of school leadership. 

It’s important that you get the best from your SLEs and that they can use their experience in other schools to help reflect on their own practice.

Provide them with regular training so that they can offer the same to others and ask for frequent updates from them on their time in other schools: the support they offered, how their time was spent, what their observations and recommendations were etc.

Have them evaluate the time they spend in schools to help them reflect on practice in their own school and identify where learnings and improvements can be made.

B​uilding trust

Collaboration must be based on mutual trust and support. Developing good relationships with headteachers of the schools you collaborate with will ensure open and honest conversations and create strong links between schools.

The most important relationships are those between staff and classrooms. Although we know it exists, competition must be put aside and the benefits of collaboration promoted, such as staff development and cost savings through joint CPD.

Holding subject network meetings with leaders at all levels from partner schools and offering secondments or leadership swaps are attractive propositions for staff looking to enhance their skills.

Avoid committees

To avoid duplication and additional layers of management, consider having one team/group rather than several different committees. One approach is to have an informal management group, made up of headteachers and deputies from partner schools.

This group could meet once every six weeks, for example, to make key decisions collectively and focus on learning and day to day management of partnerships.

Every meeting could include a colleague bringing along an example of good practice to discuss, share and learn from. Having one group meet regularly ensures the time spent together is productive, identifying areas to work on and celebrating achievements.

Expand a​nd evaluate

Building capacity will mean expanding your alliance with schools who wish to participate. As is key in developing any relationship, transparency from the start is needed so be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

Schools in even the most challenging circumstances will have their good points and similarly outstanding schools will have areas they can work on.

As a teaching school, it is vital that you regularly evaluate the impact that supporting other schools has on your own school.

Look at standards and results in your school. With staff spending time out of classrooms in their own school to visit other schools, results back at home need to be continue to be closely monitored.

  • Are they consistent?
  • Are there any dips in performance?
  • Can you account for any changes?

Ask how your staff feel about the teaching school. Find out whether working with others has had a positive impact on them and how they feel their performance has been effected.

Stay in

Remember, supporting another school doesn’t always have to mean a trip out of your own.

It’s much cheaper to invite someone into your school to work with different departments and can be more effective both at a classroom level and SLT.

This article is adapted from a presentation by Richard Steward at our Teaching Schools Summit.

Last Updated: 
05 May 2017