“I enjoy nurturing partnerships and I am continuously reminded of their importance in every we do.”
As we embrace this new year as a time of renewal and revitalisation and as the culmination of the first four-years cycle of Teaching School Hubs, it seemed opportune to check in with our Executive Director, Martin Smith to reflect on his role in leading the Colyton and Kingsbridge Teaching School Hubs, as you will know as SWIFT (South West Institute for Teaching).
Martin started his career as a Teacher of History in Herefordshire and became an Advanced Skills Teacher early in his career, working as a Teaching and Learning consultant for Gloucestershire Local Authority. For four years he was Deputy Head of a rural 11 to 18-years school in Herefordshire, before becoming a secondary Headteacher in East Devon for eight years.
As the backdrop to his current leadership, Martin led the formation of the Dartmoor Teaching School Alliance and in 2020 he was appointed founding Director of Teaching Schools South West (TSSW) as one of six Department for Education’s test and learn Teaching School Hubs with Kingsbridge Community College the lead school. A year later, with the roll-out of 81 further Teaching School Hubs as national centres of excellence, Martin orchestrated combined of operations with the newly formed Colyton Teaching School Hub, with Colyton Grammar School the lead school to create SWIFT.
1. What did you anticipate from your role of leading the Test and Learn Teaching Schools South West (TSSW)?
I anticipated that there was a great opportunity to create a system for schools that was more joined-up with less duplication, and less overload of providers delivering similar programmes.
This, of course, was mainly the professional development Early Career Framework (ECF) programme, before the launch of the reformed National Professional Qualifications (NPQ's) and before the Department for Education’s Golden Thread of professional development.
My role was to focus on bringing together partners who were experienced in making significant contributions in the area and included the former Teaching School Alliances and Multi Academy Trusts who were emerging onto the scene and growing rapidly.
As part of my role, I anticipated bringing together the different components into a coherent partnership framework.
2. What do you believe to be the most important function for Teaching School Hubs and has that changed over the past four years?
The most important function is to provide high-quality professional development for teachers and leaders because we know that if teachers and leaders engage in high-quality professional development, it has a positive impact on the quality of what they do in the classroom and the outcomes for young people.
Teaching School Hubs also have a key role to play in the teacher recruitment and retention agenda.
Recruitment, by improving initial teacher training (ITT) and making it accessible to more people.
Retention, in running high-quality Early Career Framework programmes that support new teachers, and inspire them to stay in the profession for longer, and to provide a pathway for more experienced school leaders through the NPQs so that this journey of growing and developing continues beyond the first few years of teaching.
Therefore, well trained and supported teachers are more likely to stay in the profession for the longer-term and Teaching School Hubs are making an important contribution to the recruitment and retention of teachers.
It is also important to create a coherent and accessible professional development structure for Schools and Trusts.
One of the drawbacks of the previous iterations of Teaching Schools was working with a large and disparate number of Teaching School Alliances – along the lines of 14 across Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, all of which were providing their own professional development and initial teacher training and as a Teaching School Hub we wanted to create a clear and accessible marketplace for schools to access high-quality professional development. A clear marketplace incentivises and supports schools to engage in professional development.
3. What has been the most constructive learning point to date in your tenure as Executive Director of SWIFT?
It is more of a validation and something that is constantly validated for me is the importance of partnership in building long-term high-quality partnerships based on strong relationships with trust, a genuine collaboration, sharing and a generosity between partners. I enjoy nurturing partnerships and I am continuously reminded of their importance in every we do.
4. What do you find to be the most personally rewarding for you in the role?
Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing people flourish in their roles and organisations and knowing that as Teaching School Hubs, we are enabling colleagues across the profession to take on new opportunities. Whether it is to design an ITT curriculum, become an ECF Mentor, lead ECF Mentors or facilitate an NPQ.
I think that these opportunities across the partnership are truly inspiring and we know that they can make an important difference to people's professional lives.
In addition, we now have a not-insignificant SWIFT Central Team of ten people and it is very gratifying to see them grow and develop as individuals and as a team to embrace challenges and celebrate successes.
5. What would be your vision and hope (s) for the next four years of Teaching School Hubs?
If we are successful in our re-designation for the next four years, I think my vision will largely remain the same to create those high-quality pathways for teachers from initial teacher training through to Executive Headship and to continue to develop and ensure that these opportunities are meaningful and relevant.
We always want to give schools in the South West the best of regional, national and available evidence.
We have always believed very strongly in our vision to give South West leaders the best opportunities available and we are committed to this mission that continues, not least with the exciting opportunity we now have with SWIFT Teacher Training to increase the number of teachers entering the profession across our area.
There are many great ITT providers within our region and we want to work alongside those existing providers to support potential trainees with the requisite skills and commitment who wish to get into teaching.
I also hope that we can adapt to the changing educational context towards larger Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) and at a practical level, as Teaching School Hubs, we are very keen to be responsive to the needs of growing MATs and offer more personalised approaches to ITT and NPQs that allows them to access the benefits of a national programme, but at the same time put their own Trust stamp on the experience.
We thank Martin for his reflections and his continued leadership of SWIFT.
Interview by Jude Owens, SWIFT Executive Assistant