Beware of the cowboys

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Too many continuing professional development courses are a waste of time. They don't have to be, says Joe Hallgarten

IN five years of teaching, my continuing professional development had one positive effect - it made me realise that my postgraduate certificate in education wasn't so bad after all.

In-service training was delivered by out-of-touch advisory teachers whom you would not trust in front of a class of children. Their ideas were too often divorced from reality and assumed that teachers had unlimited time to construct beautiful resources and teach small groups. If these sessions occurred in the daytime, you resented the misuse of the gold dust that is non-contact time. If attending the dreaded, "twilight sessions", your thoughts turned to marking, dinner and bed.

My worst experience of INSET occurred in a grant-maintained school, delivered by a management consultant whose favourite line was "Let's face it: you're a business now." Training consisted of staff playing a two-day teamwork game of arctic survival, deciding whether to carry matches, oxygen or rum. At the end we were told that "we needed to communicate". Lesson No 1: headteachers need to beware professional development cowboys.

Although the primary purpose must be to improve teaching, it should not be limited to the nuts and bolts of pedagogy. There is a real opportunity to use high-quality in-service training to improve the status and morale of the profession. The Government is committed to reinvigorating training; the General Teaching Council's role will include promoting and scrutinising professional development. New technologies can deliver online training and networking opportunities.

High-quality training should enable teachers to become guiding lights in the lifelong learning vision. People should want to teach because they want to learn. Learning teachers will provide role models for and maintain empathy with their pupils.

If this vision is to be realised, teachers' professional development should become a universal right and responsibility, expressed through a set time commitment. Architects, for instance, need to complete 30 hours' training a year to continue membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Such a commitment will ensure that schools give teachers sufficient training, and that teachers take it seriously.

Teachers should then be given ownership of this time. Giving a percentage of professional

development funds directly to teachers can be seen as a form of fair funding, delegating budgets to those whom decisions affect. Each account would contain

centrally-allocated funds, with government money matching the teachers' own contributions. Staff could draw funds from their account to determine their own professional development.

Individual learning accounts could be used to give teaches a broader scope of learning opportunities. The most useful professional development I received was on a one-week mountain leadership training course. The course changed my whole approach to teaching and learning, encouraging me to take risks with my classroom practice.

The expansion of continuing professional development should give teachers opportunities to contribute to thinking around education policy. Looking beyond the classroom, towards the big picture of education and related policy areas, is key to raising teachers' sights. Moreover, it is likely to improve policy-making.

There should also be a greater flow between the producers and consumers. Too often, people move into providing training as a way to avoid the daily realities of classroom teaching. The pace of educational change means that non-class-based teachers are rapidly de-skilled. Blink, and the chalkface has become whiteboard technology. Everyone who advises teachers in any way - from numeracy consultants to Department for Education and Employment advisers to union officials - should teach approximately one year in five, or one day in five. At the same time, temporary secondment into teacher training can refresh and inspire serving teachers.

But just looking at the small world of education is not enough. We also need to provide teachers with professional development opportunities that enable them to transfer to other professions. The promotion of teaching as a profession has one fundamental flaw; it is sold without an exit strategy.

Today's graduates expect to have several careers, and rationally select jobs with built-in marketability. The route map for teachers is perceived as a cul-de-sac. Teaching urgently needs to gain some CV-credibility.

Any professional development worth its cost should provide teachers with a range of skills that the private sector will recognise and want to poach.

This will not damage the profession as long as the "ways in" are as attractive and flexible as "ways out". Increase the flow, and we could create a profession where the majority teach for five to 10 years, importing and exporting skills and raising the prestige of all teachers.

Now should be the time to take a few risks with in-service training, making it more responsive to its consumers. Training must impact on pupil achievement, in the broadest sense. Yet the new continuing professional development strategy can only claim success when people are attracted to teaching because of its professional development opportunities, not in spite of them.

Joe Hallgarten is a research fellow in education policy at the Institute for

Public Policy Research and part-time

primary teacher 'We could create a profession where the majority teach for five to 10 years, importing and exporting skills and raising the prestige of all teachers'

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now