At St Margaret's, a large junior school, we believe in developing the organisation by developing the individual.
Training is the key but the grants, even in a school with 43 staff, are barely sufficient to meet all the demands made on them. We needed a way of maximising their value by finding a more effective way of managing our training and development.
I found the answer on a tour of the GEC Avionics training facility where staff control their own training and development.
They are offered a range of courses which can be purchased from training credits given to each employee by the company. Take-up is high and the training centre is never idle.
Although this was a far cry from the system which we operated in school via the Grants for Education Support and Training budget it seemed to offer a radical way forward. We considered how to convert GEST cash into individual training credits and devised a flexible system.
The largest slice of GEST money comes under school effectiveness, so this was the money used for the new approach.
St Margaret's is proud to be a member of the Rainham primary consortium, 12 schools working together to provide training for all our staff. Consequently the budget was first top-sliced to meet our consortium commitments - these would remain available to all staff outside the training credit scheme.
The balance was augmented by the main school budget and divided into training credits; 10 for each teacher and five for support staff who have access to free local authority courses. Manual staff were not awarded credits because of financial constraints.
This year a training credit is worth pound;25, in future the value will depend on the cash available but the distribution will remain the same.
This approach has liberated us from trying to target courses at the right people; instead all course details are placed in a file available to all staff.
It might be expected that, without a gentle nudge from management, individuals might not bother to apply. In practice, everybody is motivated by the knowledge that they have control over their own development to seek out appropriate courses.
As staff have become used to the freedom so training credits have been used more creatively. One assistant is using hers to co-fund an RSA certificate in dyslexia, a member of the admin staff has decided to use hers for a degree and a teacher is funding his MA.
Take-up of courses is at an unprecedented level - so far, over half way through the financial year - 13 staff have made no less than 57 course applications. Now I only have to issue a periodic reminder of the number of training credits remaining and individual motivation does the rest.
This year several staff left the school. To be as fair as possible, those unused by the departing staff were aggregated and redistributed among the newcomers so that they were able to buy into appropriate training as soon as possible.
Working with consultants, Carl Taylor Associates, we devised a thorough application and evaluation system which supports the training credit system by allowing courses and providers to be monitored for effectiveness. Before applying, the individual completes a form, stating what their expectations of the course are and how it fits into the school's development priorities. This is subject to scrutiny by top management who agree to - or reject - the application.
On return from the training the individual completes another form which asks if the course met their expectations and how they propose to disseminate what they have learnt. After three months a further form is completed which checks how working practice has changed as a result of the course, how dissemination took place and if further training is required.
The returns are analysed by a spreadsheet which can be used to provide refined data about the quality of providers and effectiveness of training.
Three databases support the training programme: one tracks each course and provides a check on costs and procedures; a second tracks each member of staff so that an up-to-date print-out is available of courses attended and training credits used; and a third is an annually updated record of individuals' training needs.
People are enthusiastic about the training credits, they do not balk at the paperwork because they know that ultimately it improves their chances of getting good training. The system not only works, it works well so that GEST is transformed and both school and staff benefit.
John Viner is head of St Margaret's junior school, Rainham, Kent