Teachers want relevant CPD – not motivational speakers

Teachers want to be supported to improve their classroom practice – not subjected to another motivational speaker, argues Stuart Farmer

Emma Seith

 Teachers want relevant CPD – not motivational speakers

An education body is calling for a more coherent and systemic approach to subject-specific professional learning, with less reliance on motivational speakers.

Stuart Farmer, a former physics teacher who is now the Institute of Physics (IOP) education manager for Scotland, says that teachers want to understand how to teach their pupils better so that learning and outcomes improve, but that too often professional development time is filled with “busy activities” that do nothing to help staff develop and grow as teachers.

He told Tes Scotland: “People in leadership positions do not necessarily understand what good-quality, subject-specific professional learning looks like, but nevertheless they feel a responsibility to provide teacher professional learning.

“So they fill in-service time sometimes with necessary training about [for example] child protection or new IT systems, but often with other activities that have nothing to do with supporting teachers with the core of their job: teaching the pupils in their classroom."

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Mr Farmer added: “To paraphrase [emeritus professor of educational assessment at the UCL Institute of Education] Dylan Wiliam, this is not about teachers not being good enough but all teachers can be better.

“Teachers need more subject-specific support – not another motivational speaker parachuted in for an in-service day with no follow-up to enable teachers to embed anything in their practice."

Mr Farmer’s comments follow the publication of a 2020 Institute of Physics report in December called Subjects Matter. It called on the governments of the UK to invest in creating a more confident and engaged teaching profession, through “a sustained world-class system of subject-specific professional development for all teachers”.

The report argued that such a system would help to increase the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools and contribute to improved outcomes for all students. 

Mr Farmer spoke to Tes Scotland after an event organised in Edinburgh last week by the IOP and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, on behalf of the Learned Societies Group on Scottish Stem Education.

According to Mr Farmer, in Scotland the right building blocks are there – secondary teachers have to have a degree in the subject they are teaching, they go through high-quality initial teacher education, and then the one-year teacher induction scheme.

There is also the General Teaching Council for Scotland professional standards and teachers are entitled to 35 hours of continuing professional development every year. Before May’s Scottish Parliament election the government also committed to cutting class contact time by 1.5 hours per week.

However, class contact time – even once that cut is made – will still be above average when compared with other developed nations.

That is a barrier, said Mr Farmer, but that time must also be used “wisely”.

“There is very little provision in the system to allow a teacher who wants to upskill in terms of their basic subject knowledge – be it physics or history or music – to actually do that and have that properly recognised and accredited," he said.

“At the moment the Institute of Physics and SSERC [a body which provides support for Stem education in Scotland] can provide some things but really that’s just tinkering around the edges compared to what’s required to do it properly.

“Not all subjects have a motivated learned society so there is inequality – there should be systemic support for this. It’s not just about Stem.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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