Like a true pro

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Teachers need time and money to develop their skills if they are to be seen as realprofessionals, argues Val Poultney.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a leaflet about the General Teaching Council and was uplifted to read that professional development is one of its main areas of concern.

But the real question the council will have to consider is just how much of a "profession" teaching is - then it will need to get government consensus on the issue. Teachers should demand - and get - the opportunity to work as professionals, and should work with GTC chair Lord Puttnam, actively seeking out professional development, in and out of school.

While we are all too familiar with the half-day or day-course targeted at the specifics of teaching, much more should be on offer. A cursory glance at any list of courses coming into schools these days reveals the usual diet of "How to improve key stage 3 results", "So you want to be a head of department", and so on. What the profession needs is an opportunity for teachers to go the extra mile.

I'm two years into an EdD course at Nottingham University, and my reading for this is slowly changing my perception of the way in which teachers are being sold so-called "professional development". The reality, I believe, is that we are being denied the real thing. Five years ago, I was looking for promotion to head of department. I went on the relevant course to fill the gap in my CV, but it wasn't enough. What was required was a masters in management.

Having gained the qualification, I earned my promotion. The course was interesting, I enjoyed the mental challenge, but it was all done at my own expense and in my own time. So what? Plenty of other teachers do the same; it is seen as a prerequisite to promotion these days.

I was offered the opportunity to carry on and do a PhD. I was flattered, but then doubts started to creep in. Where was the time? I was less concerned about the finances - I was working full-time and my salary was good.

After a year's consideration (and at that time working in a school under special measures), I decided on the EdD - two years' taught modules, and two years to complete a thesis. This time, I had no promotional goals in sight. But, two years in I am wrestling with that same problem - time. It's all very well completing assignments - you have no holidays, and your social life is reduced to a trickle - but finding the time to do "proper" research, where you need to go out and visit other schools, is more problematic.

I was advised to look for a researchable subject for my thesis at my current school, but, just when I thought I'd found, it the project fell through. So, back to square one, I must begin to look for other possible areas for research.

Lord Puttnam, we are out here, willing to put in time, money and effort not just to improve our teaching skills but also to acquire the expertise to enter into the current political debate.

I am not negative. I refuse to be. After all, in the later years of my teaching life I have found that this degree is making me question some of the situations teachers today take for granted. Professional development is one such area. Our profession needs a structured, on-going programme, in partnership with universities, to lift its morale.

While there will always be teachers who are willing to attend only relevant in-service training courses linked to the job, others will want to go a bit further. In an already prescriptive profession, there must be room for those of us who want to delve further into educational research. It may help retain teachers who feel they have "done the mileage" in the classroom and give them a fresh perspective on the profession.

To retain and attract staff into teaching we need to be able to take on research courses, perhaps while still working. After all, we should be feeding such expertise back into schools and raising the profile of research carried out by teachers working in schools. Perhaps it's also time to look back at the value of secondments - say one day a week - to get such research completed. This sort of flexibility could do much for the recruitment and retention crisis. It may encourage older, more experienced staff to stay at the chalkface, while at the same time helping younger staff to aspire to such qualifications. Maybe then teachers can begin to truly say they are working as professionals.

Val Poultney is head of science at Stoke Park school in Coventry

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