Teachers are becoming students in the push to drive up standards in Blackpool’s schools.
As well as sharing skills with colleagues across the resort, Government funding means senior staff are able to work on master’s degrees in research and science.
It is part of a plan to help teachers ensure ‘no child in Blackpool is left behind’.
In October 2016, the resort was named as one of 12 opportunity areas – social mobility ‘coldspots’ that will get a share of £72m to help give youngsters a better chance in life.
As part of that, St Mary’s Catholic Academy, on St Walburgas Road, was designated a research school and given £200,000 to set up a network of local schools, with the aim of improving teaching across Blackpool.
Six months on from that announcement, the network is up and running and the school is set to be an ‘excellence hub’ for teacher development.
Assistant headteacher at St Mary’s Phil Naylor was appointed assistant director of Blackpool Research School and an expert adviser for the resorts continued professional development (CPD) hub. He said the research school will help other schools in the town to ‘use research to improve pupil outcomes’.
“Noone is better placed to support schools in doing this than teachers themselves,” he said.
Almost every secondary and primary school in Blackpool is now part of the network, he said, and more than 300 people are expected at the ResearchEd conference the school is hosting in March.
He said work is due to start soon on overhauling professional development for teachers in ‘nearly all Blackpool secondary schools and many primaries’.
Mr Naylor added: “This will mean that, as an expert adviser and an experienced senior leader working within Blackpool, I will help schools audit their existing CPD provision and identify areas of strength and areas for development.”
The research schools are part-funded through the Government’s opportunity areas programme and part of a joint initiative between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE).
The cash has freed up senior teachers to link up with other schools to share their expertise, while some have been able to work towards a master’s in research or science.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, is due to speak at Blackpool Research School’s first evidence fayre later this month.
When the funding for the schools was announced, he said: “We know that there are big differences in social mobility across the country.
Reaching those ‘coldspots’ is one of the biggest challenges we face in our drive to improve social mobility.
“Evidence of ‘what works’ is one of our most useful tools to do this. The new research schools will be crucial. They’ll help to break down barriers so that research doesn’t stay in the pages of academic journals but has a real impact on classroom practice.
“Putting teachers in the driving seat can make all the difference.”
Mr Naylor said the research school has the ‘full support’ of Blackpool’s headteachers in getting the information into the classrooms so pupils get the benefit. As a result more training will take place, with new maths guidance set to be embedded in resort schools over the coming months.
Mr Naylor added: “An improvement in pupil outcomes, facilitating greater social mobility, continues to be the long-term vision of these projects.”
‘A great deal of progress has been made’
Blackpool was singled out as one of the 12 areas most in need of Government cash to help give children a better start in life.
On Monday, The Gazette reported on the social mobility postcode lottery that means disadvantaged youngsters in Blackpool are not getting the same opportunities as those who
grow up in other parts of Lancashire.
As one of the Government’s 12 opportunity areas, the resort has access to cash to help tackle the problem.
Among the aims of the scheme is to drive up standards in schools.
Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet secretary for resilient communities, said: “The Blackpool Opportunity Area plan sets out a series of ambitious targets to raise education standards and broaden young people’s horizons.
“A great deal of progress has already been made in Blackpool, through the work of the Blackpool School Improvement Board.
“However, now every school will get additional support to improve teaching in subjects such as maths.”
Then-education secretary Justine Greening said back in October that the scheme means ‘Blackpool will be leading the way’ in giving future generations a better start in life.