The coast gets a bad rap these days: poor outcomes; recruitment crisis; high deprivation; economic sinkholes, and living in isolation. Happily, that is not the case for the North East Essex sunshine coast and the Tendring Hub. Brought together through a common set of values and the Tendring Teaching School Alliance, our hub has, in a short period of time, built an open, honest and frank dialogue and our children are all benefiting from the impact of becoming a part of Challenge Partners - and not a parachuting super-teacher in sight. Our approach has been simple: a shared moral imperative and no egos.
It has been a productive year for us. We formulated our objectives by analysing each of our QA Review reports. True to the principles of the ‘Research & Development’ strand within the teaching school ‘big 6’, we focused on a research approach to provide evidence. Each of our reports’ WWWs and EBIs were coded and categorised into themes using the principles of grounded theory. These themes then became our core objectives; we had four. We found that there was a lot of work to be done around impact, strategy, action planning and strategic planning. This led us to approach Vivienne Porritt from UCL Institute of Education to partner up for a hub-led event. Vivienne delivered a very challenging day in the summer term to all of our headteachers and senior leaders and others from further afield. With our thinking challenged we set about improving our development and strategic plans for September. Vivienne then came back for two further windswept afternoons in the autumn term and, in the spirit of Challenge Partners, she ensured we were still challenging our thinking and holding each other to account – this was crucial. This approach has led to the creation of more impact-focused evaluations and has moved us away from plans that are often no more than a list of tasks with no overarching strategic goal.
Another of our priorities focused on children, specifically: able children. As Hub Manager I try to attend all of the review debriefs and this has given me great insight into the rich discussions and qualitative data that does not always make it into the fabric of the final report. We found a theme developed from our reviews: there needed to be more challenge at the top end. Emerging from these discussions was the assertion that due to our context (many schools coming out of a Requires Improvement Ofsted outcome) our default position was to focus on what was needed to move to good; able children, being few and far between, were not on our radar. It wasn’t until our schools started to move towards and beyond good that we realised that there were now able children to cater for - probably a common challenge in the cycle of improvement, especially if coming out of a category.
We have tackled this objective from two ends. Firstly, raising aspirations of children and parents by breaking down perception barriers. Our coastal location provides a catchment with lots of deprivation and little parental awareness of Higher Education and in some instances, a lot of scepticism. We used some of our hub funding to design and implement ‘University Launchpad’, a year-long programme of activities targeting our high-achieving Pupil Premium eligible children and their parents. We made contact with three universities and utilised their resources and outreach departments. Many were breaking new territory by working with Year 5 and 6 children. Feedback has been great and we already have agreed a sustainable model so that the programme can be repeated each year through a portion of our hub funding. It was great to see children from eight different primaries coming together to experience the marvel of DNA extraction from a strawberry in a real science research lab.
Our second focus has been to use our hub funding to develop a bespoke development programme for staff. We are currently in the process of setting this up and have sought the support of NACE (National Association for Able Children in Education). Together with NACE we shall be implementing a year-long, classroom-based and teaching-focused development programme for our staff that focuses on challenge. Our key remit when approaching NACE was to create something that is sustainable and replicable; we hope to produce an impact case study of this work with the aim to disseminate the findings.
Looking forward, our next two big focuses will be tackling in-school and between-school variance using our innovative Google teaching and learning evaluation system and, reverse-engineering our curriculum from Key Stage 5 to Key Stage 1. It is going to be an exciting year ahead for the Tendring Hub; the sun is definitely rising in the East.
James Saunders, Hub Manager