Staff development sessions contribute little to school improvement, a seminar organised by West Lothian Council and the Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum was told on Sunday.
Mel West, a member of the Cambridge-based Improving the Quality of Education for All project, told primary and secondary headteachers and teachers: "Staff development usually has not developed anything in terms of better teaching. It may lead to promotion, and it gives teachers a new vocabulary about matters which they are unable themselves to influence."
Bart McGettrick, principal of St Andrew's College, agreed that staff development was only valuable if it contributed to teachers' effectiveness and if it was in harmony with the school's own development and that of the curriculum.
Professor McGettrick set quality of teaching and learning in the context of schools' partnership with central and local government. "In the past there was bureaucratic planning. Now we need planning that makes a difference in the classroom," he said.
The IQEA team emphasised change from within a school. Mr West said that external policies, such as those demanding greater accountability and measurement by league tables, led to wrong notions of school effectiveness. The policies might be in place everywhere, he said, "but we should be very suspicious about what that tells us of classroom practice".
Academics had agonised about the Government's agenda for change and about technical problems such as "added value" in interpreting exam results instead of questioning where greater effectiveness comes from.
David Hopkins, professor of education at Nottingham University, said that the impetus for planned improvement had to come from within a school. The IQEA has formed partnerships with schools since 1989 and has worked with 50 across England.
Change would only come about, Professor Hopkins said, if the whole school community was involved. Usually it was the headteacher who took the lead in involving the IQEA.
As academic researchers, his team realised that "there is no blueprint or recipe" for improving teaching and learning. Working in classrooms and staffrooms led to a search for patterns which characterised the "rich life" of good schools and which would be more helpful than generalisations in talking to other schools.