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Everybody out

Making performance management targets more personalised is not easy, but a north London secondary arranged an in-service day beyond comparison. Sara Bubb reports

Baker days, training days, in-service training days - whatever you call them, organising the five professional development days a year is a huge task. How can you please everyone and avoid this kind of comment from celticchick on The TES website's online staffroom? "In-service training has consistently driven me mad with its irrelevance, dire quality and mind-numbing boringness. I am committed to my job and it frustrates me.

Much more should be given over to either departmental or personal development instead of being herded like sheep from session to session where you learn nothing, usually at great cost."

Well, Park View academy in Haringey, north London, certainly organised a humdinger on February 11, when 83 members of staff (and not just the teachers) visited 57 schools. Alex Atherton, deputy head, was forced to be innovative because the building was being used for a Year 11 careers fair.

Instead of finding another venue, he seized the opportunity and arranged for staff to visit other schools because "it's all too easy for members of staff to operate within a 'bubble' unless they are given the opportunity to look outwards and examine practice elsewhere".

These weren't random visits but part of a strategy established at a whole staff meeting in November. As part of a drive to make continuing professional development a more personalised experience for all, they tried to match visits with performance management targets and identified development needs of each member of staff. Everyone outlined what they hoped to gain from their visit and how this linked with the school development plan priorities.

Mr Atherton said, "We felt that we had most to learn from schools in a similar position to ourselves", and used the London Challenge Family of Schools document that groups schools in similar contexts. The aim was to send at least one staff member to each school in "Family 26" and to visit as many as possible in neighbouring families.

But wasn't this in-service training on the cheap? No, the schools visited were paid for their trouble. The London Challenge paid host schools where staff had a new leadership role and Park View academy offered a token amount to all others.

But it wasn't easy to find schools for the day before a half-term holiday.

Margaret Mulholland, who organises the leadership visits for the London Challenge, helped find the best places for individuals to visit according to what they wanted to get out of it. Many schools provided detailed negotiated programmes that included opportunities for discussion with staff and students, and observations of lessons. The school aimed to get 500 new ideas and were delighted to get 639.

Many ideas on teaching and learning were picked up from primary schools.

People in the leadership team found it interesting to see how the work of senior managers varied from one school to another: how much presence they had around the building and how personal assistants were used.

Drew Wilkins, who leads the ethnic minority achievement team, said: "This idea was fantastic." He spent the day at Southfields community college in Wandsworth, south London, to see how they were running a project to raise the achievement of Afro-Caribbean boys. He got masses of ideas from Jonathan Millington, who works at the college, about working with parents and using role models.

Ideas are already being turned into action, such as the ones about improving behaviour. Looking at how policies work in practice at schools such as Sydney Russell comprehensive (Barking and Dagenham), Preston Manor secondary (Brent) and Ninestiles secondary (Birmingham), has inspired Park View's new "behaviour for learning" policy.

For Mr Atherton, the important outcomes from the day are that all staff have been inspired and are taking responsibility for elements of school improvement. Interestingly, some of the ideas gleaned from other schools weren't new, but were being done by people within Park View academy. Do you know what pearls of practice lie down the corridor?

More information about the day can be found in an article by Alex Atherton in the summer issue of Professional Development Today

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