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Sax appeal

How do you get the best for you when money is tight? Phil Revell listens in on how one school hit the right note

Fiona Morgan is learning the saxophone. It's been a long-standing ambition; she wanted to be able to play the sax before she hit 30. And, thanks to her school's innovative professional development programme, it looks like she will do just that. "I have learnt so much from playing the sax. I now know how my children feel when they are learning something challenging," she says.

Ms Morgan teaches at Lawley primary school in Telford, which was one of the local authorities in the first phase of the General Teaching Council's professional development programme.

"The timing of the project was perfect," says headteacher Lee Ferriday, who joined the school in September 2002 after serving five years as head at another school in the area. Lawley was "a school causing concern" and he immediately had to make a whole series of appointments. "We have had a big turnover of staff; that itself left me with some CPD issues, because we needed to move forward quickly as a school."

The first exercise involved getting together as a staff and discussing what people defined as "good CPD". "They told me that when they came back from good professional development, they felt energised, enthused and motivated."

The problem was that teachers often came back feeling anything but energised, having been on courses where speakers would deliver a top-down "this is what you need to do" model. "But it often didn't apply," says Mr Ferriday. "Either because your school was there already, or because you weren't at a stage where you could act on the agenda the speaker was addressing."

Even good training could cause problems. Teachers would return from a training day keen to implement a new idea or to get on with a new project.

"But my development plan for the year was already written; I would have to re-arrange priorities, and that wasn't always possible."

In the new model of CPD for Lawley, Mr Ferriday wanted to strike a balance between the school's needs, and the individual needs of staff. His solution was breathtakingly simple.

The CPD budget would be divided into three. Half would be allocated to whole school priorities, a quarter would go to individual professional development meeting targets and priorities identified through performance review, and the remaining 25 per cent was given to teachers to spend exactly as they wished.

"I stood back at that point and said, 'This is for your development as an individual'. I'd have let them go white-water rafting or hillwalking, if that's what they felt they needed. If someone's performance had been dipping and they had asked for a day in Wales to unwind, I'd have said Yes to that," he says.

In fact, no-one went hillwalking, but teachers did spend their entitlement in individual ways. Three teachers joined Fiona Morgan in taking music lessons: two learnt the piano and one the guitar. Another teacher bought a hand-held computer.

Mr Ferriday and his governors have made a commitment to maintain the CPD budget, currently around pound;11,000, at a level that will sustain the programme. And there were other changes. Lawley's teachers are turning to each other rather than to outside experts and advisors. "Some of the programme we run is in-house," says Mr Ferriday. "If there is an issue of ICT capability, which there was a few years ago, we have some amazing people here, so why go out?"

Another part of the programme involves teachers paired up to plan and prepare, learning from each other in the process.

"We have talented, professional teachers here. Planning and reviewing together is really cost effective, it's relevant and it works," he says.

Lee Ferriday recognises that there will always be things that the school cannot cover, but in the future his model would see local authority advisers used much less frequently.

"In my second year I used the money to buy a digital camera and next year I might follow an art project," says Fiona Morgan. "It's been brilliant to have my own continuing professional development programme."

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