Don't let vandals bring you down

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Teachers must be allowed to climb up the ladder of professional development, write Sara Bubb and Peter Earley

We are used to the graffiti and damaged resources that result from the vandalism of a few students: the ones who go for the short-term pleasure of destructive behaviour that spoils things for others in the long term.

But there is an even more worrying sort of vandalism going on. The erosion of teachers' continuing professional development (CPD) is insidious and far-reaching. The short-term gain of money and time saved on CPD means that teachers work below their potential, get stale, leave the profession - all of which result in children learning less than they might have done.

This educational vandalism is taking place at three levels: through funding policy, by school leaders and by teachers themselves.

The changes made to the standards fund by the Department for Education and Skills mean all the funding for CPD is disappearing into schools' general budgets rather than being ringfenced for professional development. The funding for early professional development (EPD), as well as best practice research scholarships, teachers' international professional development and bursaries for teachers in their fourth and fifth years has disappeared.

Giving schools autonomy is fine, but without a strong steer some school leaders choose not to spend money on teachers' CPD.

One school blew its annual allocation on an expensive weekend for the senior management team, while others allowed the pound;1,750 EPD pilot bursaries to be frittered away on treats such as foreign trips.

Some teachers don't help themselves: we've all met people who think they've nothing more to learn, who are unreflective, who don't take responsibility for their development or consider how their development can affect pupils.

They see training as a day off. Without someone to discuss professional development needs with, teachers often complete "activities" rather than fulfilling objectives that help their learning.

Professional development helps everyone be more effective, so pupils learn and behave better. It makes people feel valued and motivated and creates a learning community: the pupils are learning and so are the teachers. It aids retention and recruitment.

There should be a personal entitlement to professional development throughout a teacher's career. The General Teaching Council for England says teachers need the opportunity to:

* Have structured time to engage in sustained reflection and structured learning;

* Create learning opportunities from everyday practice such as planning and assessing for learning;

* Develop their ability to identify their own learning needs and those of others;

* Develop an individual learning plan;

* Have school-based learning as well as course participation, recognised for accreditation;

* Develop self-evaluation, observation and peer review skills;

* Develop mentoring and coaching skills and their ability to offer professional feedback;

* Plan their longer-term career aspirations.

This is a brilliant list. It emphasises that we need time for reflection, that there is much to be learned from everyday practice. The ability to identify our learning needs is important because it really isn't that easy.

What is also needed is greater attention to the role of CPD co-ordinators. They have the power to make a significant difference to their colleagues' working lives. But they also risk wasting a great deal of time and money. CPD co-ordinators should take time to identify training needs.

The DfES proposed online resource of information, guidance and good practice should help to provide the big picture. The setting up of a professional development programme is a substantial task, but evaluating the impact is an even greater one. For if CPD isn't having a clear impact at some level, then we're back to vandalism.

There are two groups of learners: young people and the adults who help them learn. We neglect either at our peril.

The authors work at the Institute of Education, University of London(contact Their book, Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development, is published by SagePaul Chapman, pound;18.99

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