This successful teacher exchange scheme in the West Midlands provides high-impact, low-cost collaborative CPD, as Maggie Langdale explains.

Trading Places West Midlands was piloted in Coventry, Sandwell, Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin local authorities. Based on an idea developed at Moat Farm Junior School in Sandwell and intended for teachers in their first five years, it involved the local authorities and schools working together to secure a series of three-day teacher exchanges, with first exchanges or ‘trades’ taking place within the local authority and second trades across local authorities.

Prior to trading each teacher spent half a day in the other’s school. A further half-day was then spent in shared planning, with each teacher focusing on the needs of the other’s class. Subsequent to the trade each teacher wrote a brief evaluation, reflecting on the experience and highlighting five key outcomes. Details of participating schools, teachers and completed trades were then posted on a dedicated website developed and hosted by Shropshire County Council at:

Participating teachers came from a wide range of schools with some significant differences in size, character and location.

Some were keen to gain experience of teaching a similar age range but in a notably different setting, others wanted to teach a different age range or key stage in a broadly similar school. Some wanted to learn more about subject leadership from the experience of being part of a larger year group or key stage team, whilst for others the challenge was in applying their teaching skills to a single, mixed age class in a much smaller school.

The reasons for involvement were many and varied – whatever the reason there was a real commitment both to personal and professional development. Additionally the teachers and their schools fulfilled criteria for involvement set by the respective local authorities.

Teachers involved in the pilot rated it highly in terms of the opportunities it provided for high-impact, low-cost collaborative CPD. They felt strongly that participation in Trading Places should not be limited to teachers in the early years of their career, for whom it was seen as an ideal tool for supporting retention and career progression. They felt it could be adapted to meet the needs of teachers at all career stages, leaders, managers and support staff.

One of the most significant benefits identified was the opportunity for engagement in collaborative, class-based learning across a range of settings and socio-economic circumstances within and across local authorities.

Other key benefits included:

  • Increased confidence – being successful in another school/local authority
  • seeing the bigger picture, experiencing different styles of leadership and approaches to management
  • observing other schools’ approaches to planning, behaviour management, display etc and having the opportunity to try these out
  • discussions with receiving headteachers, subject leaders etc, and being able to rationalise different perspectives on models of teaching and learning
  • noting different models for the management of subjects within the timetable
  • exposure to different resources and approaches to use, including in ICT
  • reflection on career progression and other opportunities
  • engaging in feedback with advisers/inspectors from a range of local authorities.

The teachers said that Trading Places would be even better if:

  • trading teachers could team teach each other’s classes before the trade ‘proper’
  • it was open to all teachers (including more senior managers)
  • there was more time for evaluation with trade partners
  • the initial visit to the partner school had an agreed agenda, eg observation, learning walk, scheduled meetings, etc
  • exchanges of information, including pictures and letters to and from the trading teachers’ classes, took place before the trade to make it ‘real’ and eliminate the potential for the children (and teacher) to feel that the trade was another form of supply cover (at least two teachers involved in the pilot who exchanged information with their trade classes remain in communication with them)
  • all staff in receiving schools were aware of the nature and purpose of the trade.

The teachers also suggested that Trading Places should be further developed to provide more opportunities for collaborative CPD between teachers in special and mainstream schools and for support staff.

Support from teaching assistants

Without exception, teachers involved in the pilot recorded the valuable contribution made by teaching assistants to the success of the scheme. This was evident in the very practical support they offered with regard to day-to-day routines and in their professionalism in demonstrating a range of strategies for supporting individuals and groups, in behaviour management and in the contribution they made to classroom organisation and management.

The teaching assistant’s own professional development was enhanced through sharing, albeit on a limited basis, their practice with teachers in the early stages of their careers. The teachers believed that, given the increasingly high profile of teaching assistants in both supporting and leading children’s learning, they should also be provided with more opportunities to learn with and from each other.

For special school staff and for teaching assistants Trading Places would need to be based on shadowing, with observation and joint working providing both for professional learning and the stability of pupils who are amongst the most vulnerable. Cover arrangements for staff absence are likely to be well established with teachers and support staff familiar to the students so again a traditional ‘trade’ would not necessarily be appropriate.

The following statements are taken from the evaluations of first trades:

‘The trade was initially a daunting yet exciting challenge. Being able to observe and plan with the partner teacher was invaluable… I am now integrating many of the ideas gleaned at my trade school into my own teaching… there have been positive outcomes for both myself and the pupils in my class… Overall the trade was hard work but invaluable in terms of the amount I’ve taken out of it.’

‘The scheme has enabled me to experience a very different school… it was very beneficial to see a different planning style… there are lots of small organisational aspects that I have begun to incorporate into my daily practice… I now feel that I could teach a different key stage to mine.’

Subject leadership became a focus of a second, cross local authority trade:

‘We were both ICT coordinators so it was very useful for us to see how we led ICT and what different initiatives were in place… I taught the lessons that my trade teacher had planned but had the opportunity to talk to the other Year 4 teacher about how the shared planning took place… It was very different to work in a larger team as I have been used to working in a one form entry school… Lots of subject areas had two leaders which meant more expertise within an area… I worked with three teaching assistants because the intervention work was done in the literacy hour, which is different from my school… I have gained a lot from this experience and feel that it has been a very valuable CPD opportunity. I now feel that I could work in a different local authority and would welcome working in a larger setting.’

Trading Places has continued to be developed on the basis of feedback and is now intrinsic to the CPD opportunities offered by an increasing number of local authorities. Recent activity in Coventry includes extending Trading Places to teaching assistants and in Shropshire Trading Places is being further developed to include a wider range of school staff.

The Trading Places website provides for the inclusion of all West Midlands local authorities wishing to participate in the scheme. Templates for school and staff profiles and evaluations, together with more detailed information about Trading Places, can be downloaded from the website.

Shropshire County Council Children and Young People’s Services Directorate Contact: [email protected]

Editor’s comment – Cliff Jones, CPD Update

Maggie Langdale is the senior adviser for cross-phase CPD in Shropshire. She specifically asked us to point out that the work that she and her colleagues have undertaken in making Trading Places happen owes much to and is part of a range of achievements by the regional advisers (RAs) for CPD. This was an initiative taken by the DfES in September 2002. They created a team of ten RAs whose purpose was defined as:

‘To support Teaching and Learning by publicising the Government’s CPD strategy and the opportunities it offers for professional development, and to help identify and spread good practice between the LEAs in the nine Government Office regions.’

In other words, the team were expected to spread the word about the government’s CPD strategy. In the first year or so of the team’s existence, however, government policy changed and the CPD strategy that had been announced by Estelle Morris on 1 March 2001 lost momentum and money. Funds dedicated to CPD for teachers were diverted to be available for general school priorities. As a result schools and local authorities were encouraged to build their capacity for CPD without being able to draw upon specific earmarked resource. The purpose of the team then became:

‘To support capacity building in primary and secondary schools, and for networking and collaboration, through the promotion of effective CPD practice, and to help identify and spread good practice between the LEAs and other agencies in the nine Government Office regions.’

Taking into account this remit from government the team gave themselves the following three major objectives.

  1. To raise awareness with LEAs, schools and other key strategic regional partners of the contribution of effective CPD to school improvement and transformation.
  2. To build collaboration across the region, between the DfES, LEAs, groups/networks of schools and other key partners; identifying good practice in the context of the capacity building agenda, key contacts and promoting joint action.
  3. To feed useful and relevant information back to the CPD team, and to contribute to policy thinking and development by suggesting new ways forward and improvements to strategies where appropriate.

The full story of how the team worked in all the corners of England to bring people together to work at making CPD a prominent part of educational policy at all levels may have to wait. What must, however, be said is that the experience of this team shows just how important it is to build collaborative approaches across boundaries. There are now many examples of local authorities working together, with schools, with other agencies and with HEIs on continuing professional development. The previous culture pushed people towards competition. If individual authorities are left to operate on their own it can encourage a splintering of provision and a desire for the best deal regardless of the benefits from working together.

Another lesson is that teamwork is essential. I visited the team on a number of occasions. They had regular meetings that enabled them to keep up-to-date and to exchange experience and expertise. I think it is fair to say that every member felt that they were part of a community with a mutual interest in professional learning. They had no big stick with which to enforce a positive approach to CPD. Maybe, therefore, the secret of success was that if you get a good group of people who work well together and are managed and led with clarity, fairness and good nature they can help to unlock the natural desire of fellow professionals in local government, schools, agencies and higher education to collaborate and learn together.

We must hope to see more initiatives such as Trading Places. We must also hope that, having inherited the team of regional advisers for CPD and subsequently decided to close it down at the end of March 2006, the Training and Development Agency does not throw away what has been learned from their work.