Learners First Schools Partnership is an inclusive, not-for-profit teaching school partnership of over 200 schools and academies. As one of the first 100 Teaching Schools to be designated in the country, Learners First is a large, well established and successful partnership covering all phases (0-19) and school contexts with a proven track record across all key performance indicators. Learners First is based in South Yorkshire and much of its work takes place across this area but the partnership has strong connections with many other schools, academies, multi academy trusts, teaching schools and system leaders from across the country.
Learners First provides high quality, relevant professional development and facilitates opportunities for forward thinking research and school-to-school support to promote meaningful collaboration and school improvement. The main focus of Learners First is to build excellence and address underperformance in equal measure through system-led school improvement and leadership development.
To achieve this ambition, the work of Learners First is organised into three core interdependent areas: Leadership Development, School-to-School Support, and Governance with the principle objective of all activity being to better deliver the mission in a greater number of schools and settings.
Founded by a group of school leaders, ‘The Mission’ is the joint endeavour of the partnership and it remains the underlying guiding principle and the constant driving force behind all Learners First activity:
- All students making at least good progress
- No underperforming cohorts
- All teachers delivering at least good learning
- All schools moving to at least the next level of successful performance
Our Approach and Aims
The Learners First approach is based on the premise that everyone should have the opportunity to work with and learn from the very best schools and school leaders to better meet the Mission in a school-led system. It is as much about promoting excellence, investigating national and international best practice and challenging good and outstanding schools as it is about supporting those currently underperforming.
The extensive network developed through the Teaching School Alliance and wider partnership provides access to a comprehensive suite of high quality opportunities, professionals and expertise in a wide range of areas to support school improvement. Support is brokered, designed and delivered by serving school leaders and lead professionals to ensure opportunities available through Learners First are of the highest quality and tailored to meet individual needs to maximise impact. This approach allows for provision that:
- Is real, challenging, and useful;
- Remains rooted in current practice;
- Reinvests capacity and resources back into the school system where it has most value;
- Is not an esoteric exercise or divorced from school improvement; and
- Maximises the impact for children and young people.
The Learners First Network
Teaching Schools are charged with managing, providing and brokering effective support to help facilitate a self-improving and sustainable school-led system. They do so by drawing on their capacity and expertise from within their alliance and from across strategic partners. In addition to its own system leader workforce of over 100 Specialist Leaders of Education and connections with over 50 Local and National Leaders of Education (LLEs and NLEs), Learners First works with a number of other Teaching Schools across the country as well as organisations such as Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE), Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs), the professional associations and National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). This provides a wealth of knowledge and expertise which is rooted in current practice but, importantly, is also agile and promotes sustainable support across a wide range of school settings, contexts and phases. This places Learners First in a privileged position and allows the partnership to draw upon some of the best and most innovative practice and the most credible, experienced and effective school leaders both locally and nationally.
All settings, irrespective of their designation or Ofsted grade, have outstanding teachers, particular specialisms and elements of best practice. The Learners First model aims to provide an avenue for this best practice to be better accessed and shared across the system and for schools and leaders from a range of different backgrounds, contexts and phases to collectively contribute to this on behalf of the children and young people they serve. Growing the number and range of schools and leaders involved in the work of Learners First is imperative to the partnership. For Learners First it ensures the provision continually evolves, remains fresh and is truly ‘school-led’. It also provides a rich diversity to the good practice, experiences and expertise across the whole school system. For schools, the partnership provides an opportunity to contribute at an operational or strategic level (depending on preference and capacity) to the work of a teaching school alliance, develop their own staff through system leader roles such as the Specialist Leader of Education (SLE) role, and benefit from working alongside other forward thinking, highly effective and passionate leaders, often from beyond traditional Local Authority boundaries. In a time of austerity, another advantage is the opportunity for schools to income generate. The school-led approach enables Learners First to reinvest funding back into the system as the schools of leaders who contribute to the design and delivery of provision are paid for their involvement.
The National Remit of Learners First
At the heart of Learners First are three nationally designated lead Teaching Schools, each led by a National Leader of Education (NLE). The Teaching Schools are subject to external scrutiny and have contractual obligations with the Department for Education (DfE). This makes clear that Teaching Schools will:
- Lead the development of school-led initial teacher training through School Direct or by gaining accreditation as an initial teacher training provider and take an active role in the recruitment and selection of trainee teachers.
- Offer a range of professional development opportunities for teachers and support staff, extending a strong learning culture to other schools. These must build on initial teacher training and induction.
- Develop successful succession planning strategies to identify and develop people to fill leadership and governance positions in the future. Teaching Schools should build strategic governance and partnerships in order to make decisions about developing and placing potential leaders.
- Lead the coordination of school-to-school support and identify local priorities to support under performing schools and academies.
- Recruit, assess and manage the placements of specialist leaders of education and negotiate SLE work across the alliance.
- Build on existing research and contribute to alliance and wider priorities and share learning from research and development work with the wider school system.
Since the inception of Teaching Schools in 2012 an increasing number of new initiatives and opportunities have been, and continue to be, channelled through these school-led organisations in a move away from central and Local Authority control. Learners First therefore plays an important role in providing a local conduit for schools and academies to access and contribute to these opportunities, many of which are offered via competitive application. The scale, size and forward thinking nature of Learners First has led to a successful track record in this area and has helped to establish the partnership as one of the largest and most ambitious Teaching Schools in the North of England.