Can the Teacher Learning Academy double the number of teachers it has enrolled by 2011? What are the benefits of signing up? Four teachers describe their involvement with the academy

The Teacher Learning Academy offers all teachers who are registered with the General Teaching Council for England a route to professional recognition through a four-stage framework. It aims to stimulate their learning experiences and support learning communities.

Beneficial spin-offs

TLA leader Martin Beedle is assistant head at Ossett School and Sixth Form College in Wakefield, a large technology and sports college with 120 teaching staff and around 1,750 pupils. His school is part of the first wave of TLA support and verification centre pilot sites. ‘For me, it’s recognition that our school is engaged in some innovative and high-quality professional development work,’ he says. ‘Becoming a TLA centre confirms that status, demonstrating our commitment to developing the school workforce in order to secure continuous whole-school improvement. ‘We’ve been involved in the TLA for just over two years and so far about 50 of our teachers have made successful TLA presentations. We’re already on the mark to meet the criteria for becoming a TLA centre, as far as the 40% of registered teachers are concerned. Now our job is to keep that momentum going, encouraging and supporting more staff to become involved, particularly with stage 2 and 3 presentations. We deliberately concentrated on stage 1 initially, so our staff could get to know the processes of the TLA and understand its structure and framework. Many now see stage 2 and 3 as a natural progression.   ‘We’ve identified groups, targeting them to move things forward. For instance, a number of teachers are on leadership programmes or doing a Master’s degree. The beauty of a TLA presentation is that it stems from the work that teachers are doing already, rather than being a ‘bolt-on’ activity. It focuses on teacher learning and its impact on student learning, and contributes to our philosophy of leadership of learning at all levels. ‘One of the reasons I got involved was simply to give staff the recognition they deserve for the everyday work they do in leading and learning. The spin-offs have been remarkable – teacher collaboration, coaching and mentoring, and developing the idea of a learning community that’s not just for students – staff are continuing to learn all the time too. ‘I think it is well within the compass of any school to at least take on the role of becoming a TLA school. In Wakefield we’ve been developing the idea of hubs of activity for the TLA, based on partnerships that are already in existence. The TLA fosters those links. ‘In the Wakefield LA the aim is to have a trained TLA leader in every school as we move towards developing a Wakefield learning academy for teachers and support staff. At Ossett we are piloting a learning academy for our associate [support] staff using the TLA framework and processes. ‘So, as we move into the pilot phase, we’ll be working much more with local primary schools, developing an Ossett hub of TLA activity. As part of our support role, we’ll also be collaborating with other schools within and beyond Wakefield, encouraging them to get on board and become a TLA school or TLA centre.’

An enormous potential for schools to work together
Martin Mills is an assistant principal at John Kitto Community College in Plymouth. He has been CPD coordinator at the college for five years and more recently has trained to be a TLA verifier to stage 3. Of the school’s 80 teachers, around 60 are registered with the TLA and nearly half of those have already made successful presentations. His school is part of the first wave of TLA support and verification centre pilot sites.

‘At our school, where involvement is already high,’ he says, ‘this is an enormous opportunity to get recognition for the kind of work we’re doing at the moment and that we want to develop within the city of Plymouth. The need now is to look at what we’re doing and celebrate it, raising the whole status of the TLA. ‘Among the most interesting aspects is that in the future the TLA will be self-sustaining. It raises questions for us about how much more we need to work in collaboration – the potential for schools to work together is enormous. ‘In Plymouth we have a learning forum, with CPD coordinators from the 17 secondary schools meeting every half term. We also have strong confederations that are used to working together. The TLA will make us think about how we build and develop that work. We want to use our expertise as a verification centre to support other schools in our established confederation, our academic council and within the Schools’ Enterprise Education Network. We are a hub school looking to promote the sharing and development of CPD and resources through collaboration.’

A good motivational tool
Diane Hoban is deputy head of James Brindley School, which provides education to children in Birmingham who are unable to attend school because of health reasons.

The school has 13 sites across the city, in hospitals and designated units. It has a throughput of 5,000 to 6,000 pupils each year, with a steady cohort of around 600. It’s the first hospital school in the country to gain specialist status, becoming a specialist media arts school from September 2008. Having taken part in the original pilot of the TLA in 2004, now her school is part of the first wave of TLA support and verification centre pilot sites. She says: ‘We’re in the middle of doing our school improvement plan with a new senior leadership team, so we’re thinking about how the TLA can underpin our work and be integral. The TLA is a good motivational tool, particularly for those teachers who want to stay in the classroom, as it recognises their expertise. ‘The unique nature of our school means that action research happens all the time to meet the needs of all our children. Staff not only have to have curriculum knowledge, they also need strategies to deal with the pupils’ conditions. For example, many have long-term mental health or special needs. We need a knowledge base in a whole range of areas to help break down the barriers. ‘Our teachers are not in one staffroom where we can sit and pool our knowledge, so our challenge is to link 100 teachers across 13 sites. We share TLA presentations via our own professional resource library and a virtual learning gateway.’

Tapping into a wider educational conversation
Maureen Brown is head of the James Brindley School’s Dovedale Centre and a TLA leader and verifier. She made one of the first TLA presentations.

‘My TLA presentation explored what an emotionally literate school might look like,’ she says. ‘As a result of the work, our timetable changed to include emotional literacy, so the TLA has had a very direct and positive impact on the school’s curriculum. ‘Being involved in the TLA has been good for the school and for myself professionally. It’s enabled me to tap into a wider educational conversation. I’ve enjoyed that and it’s informed my teaching.’

Becoming a TLA school or centre: what are the criteria? The TLA is currently moving towards a system of ‘shared ownership’ of its work through national, local and school partnerships across the education system. Under its new ‘badge’ system, two new categories of school will be able to support teachers with their TLA work: TLA schools and TLA support and verification centres. To become a TLA school you need:

  • a trained TLA leader
  • a trained TLA verifier at stages 1 and 2
  • two or 25% – whichever is the greater – of registered teachers to have submitted a TLA presentation
  • 50% of TLA presentations recognised
  • a TLA development plan.

To become a TLA support and verification centre you need:

  • a trained TLA leader
  • two trained TLA verifiers at stages 1 and 2
  • 40% of registered teachers to have submitted a TLA presentation – at least 30% of these should be at stage 2 or above
  • 50% of TLA presentations recognised
  • a TLA development plan.

Further information: General Teaching Council for England’s Teacher Learning Academy