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After-hours thinking

Flexible study options can boost your career prospects - and offer more fulfilment than other pastimes, writes Jill Parkin.

Done any good courses lately? Or are you too busy teaching to start learning as well? However, there's more to career growth than an in-service training day on the latest methods of teaching long division.

Apart from looking good on your CV, self-study is DIY training that can help classroom teachers and those going for management positions. And it can often be stimulating and interesting.

But the problem is: how do you fit study in with work? Teachers need flexible study hours because school and college terms coincide. This means that traditional evening classes are out of the question.

Your two main considerations are what to study and when. A postgraduate degree in your academic subject may be interesing but is probably not the best route to effective professional development - the holy grail of teaching today.

You can check with your local university, but for maximum flexibility the Open University is probably your best bet. It has a range of courses to suit teachers, whether your need is to update, learn leadership skills or train in a specialist area. Some are modules forming part of a masters degree; others are certificates and diplomas.

If you're still relatively young, you may want to consider the OU course on Early Professional Development for Teachers. It's based on classroom evidence, so your daily work will come in handy when it comes to backing up applications for promotion and threshold payments. It will also help you analyse your work against national standards.

The assessment includes two assignments on classroom work and writing an action plan for professional development. The idea of this course and others like it is to help you to develop while you work and to help you to see the overall wood as well as the nearby trees.

The OU also teaches curriculum development, including one on inclusive curriculums. This is useful if you're moving towards some special area of responsibility. It aims to develop your understanding of education for those with, say, learning difficulties or physical disability. An alternative course offers training for special needs co-ordinators.

If you're going for a headship or a higher management job, you may also want to consider the courses offered by the National College for School Leadership, whose courses are becoming increasingly flexible.

Eventually, new heads in state schools will be able to write NPQH - National Professional Qualification for Headteachers - after their names. Already these letters give you extra Brownie points when applying for jobs.

Now that training for the qualification has been made more work-friendly, it is bound to become a must - even before the Government makes it mandatory.

Applications have shot up since the course was cut from three years to one and made more school-based - more than 10,000 teachers have registered since it began in 1997.

The remodelled course includes self-study access modules to prepare for it and a two-day residential course at the National College for School Leadership.

There are three routes through the course, depending on your experience. The first is for those with little experience of senior management, those who intend to apply for headships two years hence or more. There are four access modules, mainly self-study, but it does include two days of face-to-face training and on-line learning.

Route two, the most common, is designed for those with leadership experience, probably as a deputy head. These candidates are expected to apply for headships after one year. A tutor visits them in school to agree on personal training and the focus of their work towards school improvement then they pitch straight into the four development modules via an induction day.

The tutor returns once the modules are complete to assess whether candidates are ready to proceed to the final stage.

Route three is a fast-track for those with lots of experience, perhaps as acting head, who may already be applying for headships.

If candidates are adjudged ready, they attend the college for a two-day residential after which there is an assessment day where they must prove that they are ready for the job.

The technology component of headship training is considerable, and candidates are expected to take part in online discussion with experts and fellow candidates, and to contact their tutors via computer.

The final question is: who pays? For maintained schools, the course is covered by standards funding through the local education authority. Recruitment is twice yearly, the next round being in the autumn. Applicants are selected on their contribution to school improvement. Maintained primary and special schools will get full supply cover, while secondary candidates may get part cover, depending on teaching load.

WEBSITES

Open Universty: www.open.ac.uk. National College for School Leadership: www.ncsl.gov.uk

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