Teacher talk: 'There are no school bells and we don't have a staffroom, either'

Tony Coffey, 47, is the director of studies for performing arts and physical education at Landau Forte city technology college in Derby
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The Independent Online

Do you think your school is living up to the Government's aims for city technology colleges and preparing children for work?

In terms of our recent Ofsted report it certainly is. The Government's aspiration, and our mission, is to produce pupils with marketable skills and the confidence to live in a modern society. And there are things that we do that other colleges don't. We try to empower students to be responsible for their own time; there are no school bells or teacher's desks and there's no shouting at the kids. We don't have a staffroom, either. And tutor groups are "vertical" – which means they contain several pupils from each year. All this creates a sense of ownership and partnership. With that framework goes successful education, and we offer a wide variety of learning opportunities. During a recent fire drill at 4.45pm – an hour after school closes – there were 350 pupils still around, involved in one activity or another.

Can all children benefit from studying performing arts at secondary school?

Yes. Our college has had the courage to invest in the arts, although we specialise in maths, science and technology. Eleven-to-14-year-olds have dance, drama, music and fine art for an hour each week. And we arrange vibrant cross-curriculum activities. Some of my students have just studied the slave trade in history, while in performing arts looking at and celebrating African culture, including African drumming and story songs. In this way we try to challenge kids to connect and come to terms with the world around them, and make them hungry to learn. This has a staggering spin-off around the curriculum; every time the pupils have to make a business presentation somewhere they win!

What's your opinion of the Government's scheme to recruit good teachers to inner-city schools with "golden handcuffs" payments?

If it takes such an incentive to get talented teachers into inner cities, we need the courage to say so. But it's the whole regime of an institution that makes a bigger difference.

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