Collaboration is key when it comes to offering useful CPD

25th November 2011 at 00:00
The right ingredients, location and agenda are all you need

As the axe falls, the next few years will be challenging. We will see cuts to staffing, real pay, school budgets and the family incomes of the children we teach. As these strands coalesce, the educational environment will become less congenial.

The cuts to continuing professional development will have a debilitating impact, unless expediency can push us in a more radical direction.

How many times have you heard colleagues say the best part of a course or in-service day was the break when they had a chance to discuss educational issues? This is not to belittle the contributions of speakers, firms providing training or the attempts of local authorities and schools. A mixed provision will still be needed - but training that aims to meet the myriad needs of a diverse workforce by traditional means looks increasingly unsatisfactory.

Dramatic change is needed if we want to provide stimulating and differentiated CPD, but there is a simple solution that has the virtue of being relatively cheap.

Ingredients: colleagues from two secondary schools, or feeder primaries, or any variation. Location: a school. Agenda: an opportunity to discuss education.

Apart from name badges (to help intro-ductions) and a supply of refreshments and comfortable seating, there should be no further intervention. Leave it to individuals to discuss what they want. Give them the time to focus on whatever they regard as pressing; give them the chance to explore alternative solutions and new ways of thinking.

As the BT advert said, it's good to talk; so let's just start the day and let them talk. We need to trust people to discuss their priorities and forge relationships with colleagues in other schools.

Communities of schools working co-operatively are a great idea on paper, but their impact has been variable, often limited. After working in the same school for a few years it becomes hard to think beyond the paradigm your school has constructed.

We need to knock down these invisible walls. We need a flow within our schools of different ways of looking at similar problems. What better way to get a ferment of ideas than to let those involved in delivering the education discuss any aspect of it, from the detail of the local to the global? The collective knowledge and experience is massive. Sadly, it is virtually untapped.

Of course it could be a flop. The day could descend into a vortex of negativity and irrelevance. As Shakespeare stated, "best safety lies in fear". But we have a choice. We can continue to play safe, pushing out information with our tried and tested, but increasingly creaky, hierarchical model - or we can trust our confident colleagues to come up with creative solutions by giving them time to collaborate and make effective contributions to the issues they consider important. The time has come to take a risk.

David Halliday teaches at Eyemouth High.

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