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Bid to dispel training gloom

Schools are under-using 'Baker days' and do not always spend all their staff development cash, reports Nicholas Pyke

Many schools fail to spend their training budgets and do not use their special closure days for in-service training, the Teacher Training Agency claimed this week, announcing a drive to improve the quality of "professional development".

In a gloomy portrait of the current training system for working teachers, the agency concluded that there was no reliable mechanism for evaluating a system that costs Pounds 400 million annually, and too little connection between training sessions and what happens in the classroom.

The agency is proposing to establish a system of national standards leading to an "expert teacher" category, along with experts in subject leadership and management, and in school leadership and management.

It also wants to emphasise the skills required of newly-qualified teachers and has already said there will be a new national professional qualification for headteachers - announced by Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard at the Conservative party's Blackpool conference.

Anthea Millett, the agency's chief executive, said that the national standards could lead to a new system of qualifications. But she refused to say if these would be national vocational qualifications. Nor would she comment on the likely funding arrangements for future in-service training.

In a survey of 7,800 schools commissioned from the Market and Opinion Research Institute, less than two-thirds of teachers said all five of their closure or "Baker" days were used for training - the intended purpose.

Two per cent said that none of the days was used, while 5 per cent said that only one was used.

"We don't think this is good enough," said Anthea Millett as she commented on the findings in the first annual TTA lecture to an audience at the Royal Society this week. "There is widespread variation in the use of the five school closure days.

"There is insufficient planning, monitoring and follow-up of professional development activities to ensure they are having a direct impact on improving teaching and learning. The vast majority of teachers, some 9 per cent, find them useful or very useful. However, only 26 per cent said they had a great deal of impact on their work in the classroom.

"What is very clear is that while there is some very good practice, we do not have a systematic approach to continuing professional development."

The MORI survey found wide variations in the amount spent on training by schools, from nothing to more than Pounds 25,000 a year. Overall annual spending amounts to Pounds 400 million. But few schools, said MORI, have any systematic means of evaluating in-service training.

The TTA will be setting up four national groups of "practitioners" to advise on draft standards with a view to finalising them by spring 1997.

The agency has also announced a series of national priorities for action which include: school leadership and management; middle management in secondary schools; specialist teaching in primary schools; increasing subject knowledge at key stage 2; effective teaching in early-years education; and the development of special educational needs co-ordinators.

The Headteachers Learning and Management Programme (Headlamp), which provides training funds for new headteachers, will be extended to those preparing for headships and to heads who have been in post for more than six years.

* The TTA has added religious education to the list of priority subjects attracting government bursaries to encourage trainee teachers. RE professionals have long complained that a shortage of qualified staff is the main obstacle to improvement - a view shared by the Office for Standards in Education and, now, the TTA.

Anthea Millett said this week that there are too many unqualified staff teaching the subject.

The agency has also announced a shake-up of the bursary system, replacing the flat-rate Pounds 1,000 with a scheme in which training institutions - mostly universities - must bid for the additional cash they think suitable to attract applicants in shortage subjects: science, maths, technology, modern languages and RE.

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