Even as teachers come and go, students at Challoner’s will always remember their favourite teacher, earmarked solely by the remarkable passion they have to instil a sense of awe and wonder into any student’s mind. The Astra Teaching School Hub and SCITT undertakes the exceptional task of training teachers to such an impressive standard, and a major implement in helping to achieve this success is undoubtedly the School Centered Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) programme. SCITT has been run through Dr Challoner’s Grammar School for the past seven years, with training placements across a wide network of local primary and secondary schools. Weekly training sessions are always a highlight and are hosted by a diverse range of Buckinghamshire schools, such as the Alfriston Special School and have included everything from team-building with the Youth Sports Trust to Mrs Whittle’s chair yoga.

A testament to the phenomenal work of all of the staff members who have been involved in its success across Buckinghamshire, over 200 schools are now part of the Astra network, which is a significant rise from the initial network of four schools. In fact, in recent years, Astra has also extended its SCITT work beyond the Home Counties to award Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to teachers in British Schools overseas on the Assessment Only (AO) route, including countries such as China, Switzerland, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has recently slowed down such international reach, the Astra team is hopeful that they will be able to resume their work overseas very soon! Closer to home, Astra has also worked with local schools such as the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, Chiltern Hills Academy, Great Kingshill primary and Wycombe High School on the AO route, which accredits teachers who are currently working unqualified in schools. Recent graduates of the AO route have described the process, which involves candidates producing a portfolio of evidence against the Teachers' Standards, as 'thorough, supportive and enjoyable’.

Recently, Dr Challoner’s Grammar School has gained the prestigious designation as one of the Department of Education’s (DfE) new 87 Teaching School Hubs (TSH) to be formed across the country, meaning that nationwide coverage has been established for the first time. The TSH rollout will extend the reach of the Astra organisation and, from September 2021, it will create a centre for teacher training and development, led by one of “the best schools and multi-academy trusts” in the country (DfE). The Hubs will replace a current network of Teaching School Alliances, which consists of 750 teaching schools, and is due to end in August 2021. Alongside continual support, teachers are presented with the opportunity to enhance and develop their careers in areas including Early Career Teacher (ECT) induction and the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs), made possible by access to the best educational research available and the expertise of experienced teachers across Buckinghamshire. More information can be found on the Astra Teaching School Hub website (www.astrahub.org).

The Astra team is currently led by Principal, Mrs Stephanie Rodgers as well as being overseen by DCGS Headmaster Mr David Atkinson as the Accounting Officer. In addition, Dr Challoner’s Mr Andrew Millar is the Astra Lead Subject Tutor, and Mrs Kerry McShane is the Acting Deputy SCITT Director. The extent of the planning behind the scheme is much more wide-reaching than initially meets the eye, with support staff ranging from a Data and Systems Manager to a Recruitment, Training and Compliance Manager all of whom are an integral part of the team and have been heavily relied on in bringing about the fruition of the Astra scheme over the past few years.

Numerous members of staff at DCGS, such as Mr Andrew Millar, also work with the SCITT programme as course tutors or as Astra Buckinghamshire Leaders of Education (ABLEs). These staff members vary by department and include Ms Lindsey Ashton (Modern Foreign Languages and Visiting Tutor), Mr John Cullen (Science Tutor) and Mr Richard Pontin (PE and Visiting Tutor) amongst numerous others. Whilst DCGS has been at the forefront of the Astra SCITT programme, several teachers have returned as permanent members of staff, including eight current teachers: these range from the Science (Mr Jacob Lowe) and Mathematics (Mr Brendan Lowry) departments to the school’s English and Drama department (Mrs Kelly Snow).

The ‘school-centred’ aspect of the SCITT programme allows trainee teachers to access the environment they wish to work in, which gives the placements great value for their strong links to the classroom. Several teachers have repeatedly expressed it as ‘the only way to learn’, with the opportunity to become adapted to the routine of school life alongside their training, empowering them within their field of aspiration. Networking plays a key role in the programme, and allows the flow of innovative ideas and creative ways to teach into our school, allowing the school community to benefit from ‘the best possible research into teacher training and development’. This is further supported by the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provided by the Astra Learning Alliance. This allows talented teachers to continue to grow their career and includes the possibility of becoming an Astra / Buckinghamshire Leaders of Education (ABLE) or becoming a mentor to future Astra SCITT trainees, passing on the same high standard of training that had previously received.

Above all, the Astra Teaching School and SCITT have become an irreplaceable part of Challoner’s life, giving the school overwhelming access to new ideas, equipping students with a first-class education and the best possible school experience in the process. It is undoubtedly true that the SCITT programme will develop from strength to strength, and the school’s selection as one of the new TSH centres across the country will only cement this for teachers and students alike in the years to come.

Under the guidance of Lead Headteacher Mr David Atkinson, Astra has ‘trained and developed’ many new teachers, and the role that the Astra community have played over the last decade ‘is something we should be immensely proud of’. If you are interested in applying to become a teacher, more information on gaining QTS for both primary and secondary teachers can be found at www.astra-alliance.com.