An exotic mixture of metaphors tumbles out as Pat King enthuses about the course that has transformed her thinking about teaching. "I have no need of bandwagons nor do I have an empire to build, but THRASS is like the road to Damascus."
It stands for Teaching of Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills, and for three days, Pat - head of learning support and special needs co-ordinator at Trinity School, a grant-maintained secondary in Carlisle - listened to Alan Davies explain his theories at Lacey Green primary school in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Using techniques familiar to speech therapists, the course provides a framework for teaching reading and spelling. And it answers an urgent need, says Pat. "Teachers are not negligent or bloody-minded, but we seem to have been failing at this basic level of reading and spelling. A lot of pupils enter secondary schools with a reading age of six, and a lot of very bright pupils still have severe spelling problems when they leave."
She now believes THRASS provides the answer with its framework of speech sounds and spelling choices that help children to read and spell. "I am too long in the tooth for many of the new initiatives, but this has really fired me. It pulls together best practice. As a technique it has potential to be used throughout the school, across the curriculum, so that all teachers could take responsibility for literacy in their subject."
Alan Houston, head of science at Pencoed comprehensive school, Bridgend, was equally enthusiastic about "How to use target-setting effectively in science", a one-day course he attended in Bristol, organised by the education training company SFE (Stands for Education).
"We have been setting broad targets for a long time," he says. "But what the course has done is galvanise the department to set more individual pupil targets. We run a modular science course at key stage 4 and set targets based on the key stage 3 results. We now, after each module, publish individual scores and set new targets. I find it motivates the pupils and introduces healthy competition."
Alan says the course has shown him how to use evidence from Pencoed's feeder primary schools and other sources. "Pat O'Brien, the course leader, produced a massive folder of varied types of data, including reading ages, cognitive assessments tests and SATs results. This was very useful as the material was available for everybody. We were shown how to use this information to set targets in science.
"Target-setting is part of a trend, but rather than simply plucking a target out of the air, which is always unsatisfactory, the course showed me how to use information already available in schools for setting realistic targets. The course was very well organised, with a lot of information and ideas. That doesn't always happen."
Alan Davies, THRASS course, 2nd Floor, 11a Kilmoray Park, Chester. CH2 3QS Tel 01244 321036 Stands for Education, Maggs Hse, 78 Queens Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1QX