Crossing the Borders: The Challenge of Advanced Skills Teachers' Outreach Work in Other Schools

Cooper, Deborah Anne (2008). Crossing the Borders: The Challenge of Advanced Skills Teachers' Outreach Work in Other Schools. EdD thesis The Open University.



Most teachers work in isolation (Hargreaves, A 1994). Although joint work among teachers is recognized as a factor in internal school improvement, less is known about teacher perspectives of collaborative practice which crosses the borders between schools.

During the time frame of this study, 2003-2007, policies to encourage partnership and collaboration between schools were based on assumptions that teacher good practice could be transferred and this would be for the benefit of area wide improvement. Thus, inter-school collaboration was usually presented in positive terms of modernization. In contrast, this study does not present a blue-skies version of collaboration but looks at the challenges.

This small-scale qualitative study examines how teachers work in other schools. It is presented as a case-study of the outreach responsibilities of secondary Advanced Skills Teachers in two shire local authorities, based on interview and observation data In England, Advanced Skills Teachers are promoted for their excellent contribution to teaching and support to other colleagues. A key idea behind the scheme was to provide an alternative promotion route by retaining good teachers in the classroom. These teachers are based in their home school and spend 20% of their time supporting colleagues in other schools on outreach. A key research question is: what is outreach? The study considers why ASTs were introduced and looks at outreach as a distinctive model of professional development.

As the AST scheme got under way, outreach was reported to be a difficult part of the role, seen especially in local authority co-ordination of access to schools and the inappropriate use of ASTs as supply teachers. (Ofsted 2001) This research looks at the exact nature of the challenges of outreach from an AST perspective and how ASTS worked with other professionals in other school contexts. It uses concepts of reflective practice. This study was influenced by the emerging work of Fielding et al (2005) who investigated the factors influencing transfer and found that a relationship model was important and that rather than a one-way transfer, “joint practice development” was a more appropriate term.

Outreach was found to be a challenging new aspect of the teacher role. In the words of one respondent: “ASTs are in the vanguard and that is never a comfortable place to be”. For ASTs, outreach was frequently a stimulating part of the role providing renewed enthusiasm. The findings show a wide range of outreach work involving varying degrees of tension for ASTs and for different purposes in different local contexts. Outreach was limited by inappropriate timetable, or lack of support from head teachers or local authorities. ASTs demonstrated collegiality across schools as a way to offer support and overcome early derogatotory images of ‘super teachers’. ASTs made considerable use of informal networks to advertise their availability for outreach. Some ASTs worked in project groups and this has further potential for challenging stereo-types of good and bad schools, opening up classrooms and crossing borders.

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