Sending teachers off on expensive continuing professional development (CPD) courses in London was beginning to annoy Brian Crisell, assistant head of Poole Grammar School, Dorset.
It was not just the impact on the school's budget, though that could be major: perhaps #163;260 for the day, plus train fare of #163;112, plus pay for a cover teacher. It was also the fact that the training could turn out to be a waste of time. Mr Crisell recalls that a typical "evaluation" from a teacher after attending training would be "Lovely lunch, but the course wasn't very good".
The senior leadership team at Poole Grammar decided they needed to come up with a more effective strategy for CPD - one that would also save the school money.
"We started by getting diverse groups of teachers into clusters of five - cross-department, differing levels of experience and so on," Mr Crisell explains. The Quintets, as they became known, would gather after each staff meeting to discuss ideas that could be explored based on the school development plan, with the aim of sharing these with other Quintets. Although the school found this approach reasonably successfully, it was the next step that made a bigger impact.
They then introduced one-hour "masterclasses" in lunch breaks or after school, which were given by staff on an area of interest and personal expertise. In exchange for having one-and-a-half days of training turned into holiday time, staff had to attend at least nine hours of the classes. For teachers who taught the masterclasses, each hour counted as two hours.
To the organisers' amazement, in the first year they had 54 offers to teach the classes from a full-time equivalent staff of 70. "The offers were very wide-ranging," Mr Crisell says. "So we decided to put them in categories like 'teaching and learning' and 'assessment'."
All the staff completed their nine hours, some doing as many as 20. "Without doubt, the best discovery was just how talented our staff were. They were also very supportive of each other. So, after a nervous start, the sessions became relaxed and fun to deliver," Mr Crisell explains.
Tips from the scheme
- Recognise that colleagues have a whole range of hidden skills and talents.
- Do not worry about a cynical response.
- Full co-operation from the leadership team is a necessity.
- Be aware that the person who administers the project will be inundated with ideas and suggestions of what counts as a masterclass.
Evidence that it works?
Poole Grammar School believes the scheme has effectively halved its CPD budget to #163;12,000 per year. It has shared the approach with seven other schools in the South West, and the borough of Poole is encouraging other schools to emulate it by promoting the approach on its website.
Perhaps most impressively, Poole Grammar has been awarded #163;77,000 by the European Commission's Comenius Regio scheme in order to set up a mirror scheme in the city of Eskilstuna in Sweden. A total of 10 institutions, including two universities, are involved in the project, which will conclude with a conference in the summer of 2013.
Approach: Running masterclasses where school staff provide CPD for each other
Led: by Brian Crisell, assistant head
Name: Poole Grammar, School, Dorset
Type: A selective grammar and trust school, with specialisms in maths, computing and cognition
Pupils: 968, all boys aged 12-18
Ofsted overall rating: Good (2009).