Even as members of staff come and go, students at Challoner’s will always remember their favourite teacher, earmarked solely by their remarkable passion to instill a sense of awe and wonder into any student’s mind. The Astra Learning Alliance undertakes the exceptional task of training teachers to such an impressive standard, and a major tool in helping to achieve this success is undoubtedly the School Centered Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) programme that has been run at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School for the past seven years.

A testament to the phenomenal work of all of the staff members who have been involved in the programme’s success across Buckinghamshire, are the 150+ schools that are represented by the Alliance, a significant rise from the meagre initial network of four schools. Dr Challoner’s Grammar School has recently been designated as one of the Department of Education’s (DfE) 87 new Teaching School Hubs (TSH) that will be formed across the country, establishing nationwide coverage for the first time. The TSH programme aims to extend the reach of the Astra Learning Alliance, incorporating all primary and secondary schools in the county.

From September, the Astra Teaching School Hub (Astra Hub) will create a centre for teacher training and development, led by one of “the best schools and multi-academy trusts” in the country, as quoted by the DfE. The programme will replace the current scheme, which consists of 750 teaching schools, and is due to end in August. Alongside continual support, teachers are presented with the opportunity to enhance and develop their careers in areas including Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) induction and the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs). This is made possible by access to the best educational research available and the expertise of experienced teachers from across Buckinghamshire.

The Astra team is currently led by Principal Mrs Stephanie Rodgers and Director Mrs Catherine Priggs, 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 Recruitment and Compliance Manager, a Data and Systems Manager to a Recruitment, Training and Compliance Administrator, all of whom are an integral part of the team and have been heavily relied on in bringing the Astra scheme to fruition over the past few years.

Numerous members of staff at DCGS also work with the SCITT programme as course tutors or as Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs). 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). 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 Mr Jacob Lowe in the Science department and Mr Brendan Lowry in the Maths department, to Mrs Kelly Snow working in the school’s English and Drama department.

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 its 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. 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 SLE or becoming a mentor to future Astra SCITT trainees, passing on the same high standard of training that they received prior.

As a member of the Teaching Talent Network - an organisation that enables collaboration between several Buckinghamshire Teaching School Alliances - the programme is autonomous and remains focused solely on the needs of local schools and the trainees themselves, whilst encouraging cooperation with other local schools. The Astra Learning Alliance has been an invaluable organisation for the county, where ambitious and enthusiastic teachers can learn and develop in a genuine environment designed to provide access to their potential and instill unwavering confidence in them when approaching the classroom for the first time. Above all, the Astra Learning Alliance and SCITT programme 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 clear 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 ensure the programme's success in the years to come.