MUCH in the way that a teaching hospital teaches doctors and nurses, Skipton Girls’ High School has become a centre for the training of future teachers.
And it has proved to be a great success - not only for the trainee teachers, but for the school itself, which is currently training 20 young women and men, some of which will be taken on by the school.
Six years ago, the Gargrave Road school took an opportunity offered by the government to play a part in a more school-led educational improvement system.
And, the school, consistently rated outstanding by Ofsted, was successful in its bid to become a National Teaching School.
Its task was to support schools across not only Yorkshire, but into the Humber region, through the professional development of staff, and also the recruitment and training of new teachers.
Together with Feversham College in Bradford, itself a newly designated Teaching School, Skipton Girls’ formed the Northern Lights Teaching School Alliance (NLTSA).
The alliance now has more than 20 schools in its membership across Skipton, Bradford and Harrogate, with its leadership team based at the high school.
‘Northern Lights’ is now a Department for Education accredited School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) provider with programmes tailored to local schools.
Its successful trainees are awarded post graduate certificates of education from Leeds Trinity University.
Hannah Toberman, one of the current 22 trainees, is looking to be a secondary school teacher and is based at Upper Wharfedale School, Threshfield. “After a career in scientific research I decided that I wanted to re-train as a secondary science teacher to use my scientific knowledge to inspire young people to go on to use science in their careers,” she said.
“I have found the SCITT route has really suited the way I want to study and learn to teach. Having the course providers and lecturers still immersed in teaching themselves means that they can provide real examples and advice and are up to date with educational policy and teaching techniques.”
And, she very much approves of being so closely connected to schools.
“Getting into our first school placement early in the course, but still interspersed with regular course training days, meant that we could have hands-on practice of teaching while being fully supported.”
She says being at Upper Wharfedale five days a week makes her feel like a real part of the school community.
“My experiences teaching here have been both rewarding and inspirational. It is a small and very friendly school, and everyone here, both staff and students, really know and look out for one another which has helped with me settling in quickly and getting the most out of my experiences, both in teaching and in other aspects of school life,” she said.
“Training alongside a comparatively small number of other trainees means we have all got to know each other quickly and have formed a close-knit group. We all share our experiences of our teaching practice across the range of placement schools we are at and ask each other for advice.”
She added: “I feel very well supported by both my mentor at the school and by all members of the teaching and support staff, and already feel that, despite me just starting out in my new career, I am already valued by the school.”
Joel Pearson, a primary teacher who graduated from the programme last summer believes the time he spent in schools and the relationships he formed, were important factors in his success.
“My Postgraduate Certificate in Education was an amazing opportunity and an eye-opener to my own potential. I felt guided and supported through my journey and sharing my experiences with the other trainees was invaluable. Having a broad range of year groups and class sizes formed a great base of knowledge for my teaching,” he said.
Joel now teaches year six children, and believes without his trainee year, he would have lacked both the confidence and ability.
“ Northern Lights made a special effort to minimise my need to commute and organised the year that led to my current feeling of success. I hope that more teachers training in primary education, are able to access as many fantastic, practical experiences as I was lucky enough to have,” he said.
Schools and teachers involved in the training see benefits in having real input in the development of future teachers as well as the ability to talent spot strong trainees at an early stage in their training year.
Eleanor Belfield, one of the mentors at the high school, said she had found her job to be very rewarding. “ To have those in-depth discussions, the need for creativity and curiosity; just how to foster that love of learning. I gained a lot from our talks, debates, but to be honest I was learning and refreshing alongside the trainee. A fresh approach, a reminder of the fundamentals and, above all, the value in continuing to reflect on one’s own practice and the learning of those young people in front of us was all brought home to me in sharp detail.”
Jenn Plews, headteacher at Skipton Girls, said the school was thoroughly committed to the training of new recruits into teaching. “Training and educating high quality teachers to the profession to work in schools in the north is our passion,” she said. “Having an effective pipeline of talented and skilled teachers and school leaders has become increasingly important as we move towards a school-led system and especially if we are to improve education in local areas of social and educational disadvantage.”
To find out more about Northern Lights, go to the website northernlightsscitt.com