My tenure as head began on the day the school converted to an academy, so I can’t make comparisons to how things might have been before, but the support we currently receive from the borough is minimal – hardly a surprise, as 90% of the schools in our LA are academies. We don’t have a raft of service-level agreements to buy into – even if we wanted to – and the collaborative forums that used to be facilitated by the LA have all but disappeared.
Under these circumstances a school can quickly become isolated, which is a great shame. I’ve always been a big believer in inter-school working, be it on CPD, sharing resources or joint projects with children. So we’ve chosen to do something about it. I used to work in a Teaching School that provided the Outstanding and Improving Teaching Programmes (OPT and IPT), and know how valuable they can be. When considering sending four of my team on the OPT, however I quickly saw the difference between what it was going to cost and what I had left in the training budget. My solution was to do it myself. For free. And so we now offer the Developing Excellent Teaching Programme.
So far we’ve had over 23 delegates from 12 different settings attend, giving colleagues at St Mary Cray and other schools the chance to work together on CPD. It wasn’t cost-free (we’ve still had to pay for my time and that of the AHT) but it was excellent value for money for us and everyone involved. Feedback has been really positive, and we hope to continue offering free training opportunities for colleagues at other schools, since ultimately everyone benefits. Not everything we offer comes without cost – we also offer paid-for services. When we discovered that SEMH / behavioural expert Sue Byron was leaving the LA, we recruited her to work in our school and she’s made an immense impact. But taking on an additional salary required some creative thinking, so Sue now offers a service to eight other local schools, all of which pay for her time – we charge a rate that covers costs, rather than making a profit. That lets us break even and ensures that other schools whose vulnerable children and families need support can also benefit from Sue’s expertise.
Guest speakers is another example. We’ve offset the costs of bringing in experts to talk to staff by selling additional places to other local schools and agencies. Again, by pricing very low and not seeking to make a profit, we’ve been able to afford some amazing training and ensure the benefits aren’t just restricted to St Mary Cray. Some schools are wary of charging each other money, and I completely understand – but if we didn’t take this approach, the CPD we want would be unaffordable to us and to others. No school will ever have the budget to completely fulfil its wishlist (especially in the current financial landscape), but with a little creativity, you can bring more services within reach.
Adam Lowing is headteacher at St Mary Cray Primary Academy in Orpington