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Mountaineering... take a hike;Career development

Professional training is about much more than meeting the needs of individuals, says Helen Horne

Long gone are the days when a keen geography teacher could sign up for a mountaineering course to satisfy a whim. And when did you last hear of an English teacher taking an MA for sheer pleasure at the local education authority's expense? Professional development has slowly, but inexorably, moved away from the personal to become institutional.

This shift of emphasis raises questions about whose training needs are being fulfilled. The Government has a national agenda, rooted in effectiveness and improvement. Each school sets targets, based on these criteria, leaving little room for manoeuvre. Individual teachers' targets are thus filtered through national priorities, school needs and curriculum demands.

Barbara Mansfield, staff development co-ordinator at Haydon Bridge High School, Northumberland, sees this process as circular. "Our school development plan emerges through consultation, in the light of local and national need, with feedback from the Office for Standards in Education," she says. "The school's targets feed curriculum targets, which feed individual targets. Anyone wishing to take a course needs to show me how the training fits our school's targets."

Durham education authority bases its courses on the perceived needs of schools, linked to raising achievement, says a spokesman. Durham has curriculum-based advisers who arrange "in-house" training for specific curriculum areas as well as providing post-OFSTED support. The spokesman says: "Courses related to improving literacy and numeracy, and on IT are very popular."

Private training consultants' programmes also reflect these priorities. Sue Gallagher, a consultant with Stands for Education, in Bristol, says: "As money is scarce, schools are spending their allocations selectively - opting for need rather than desire. Religious education courses, for example, are popular because they meet curriculum needs." A recent course on promoting effective learning with unmotivated pupils in modern foreign languages also proved extremely popular.

Schools are forging strong partnerships with higher education institutions, where courses are also judged on their potential to raise standards. In London, the Institute of Education, in partnership with Hampstead School, offers a modular masters degree that is school-based and supported by the institution.

Ms Mansfield is also setting up research projects for two teachers at Haydon BridgeHigh, as part of their masters degrees. "Their research will need to be related to the school's target of raising performance, with specific reference to underachieving boys," she says.

Nevertheless, at Bishop Goodwin C of E junior school in Carlisle, headteacher Eamonn Pugh says his school has too few links between staff development and pupil achievement. So he encourages staff training that has a direct impact on children's learning. The head of upper school will be one of the first cohort for the National Professional Qualification for Headship. "This qualification, will benefit everyone," he says.

School standards minister Estelle Morris has also promised the Government's plans for appraisal will help to "secure better-focused professional development". So it seems that teachers hoping to develop their career should plan carefully if they want to make their personal needs fit school and national priorities.

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