The Government has announced plans to put teachers in the driving seat when it comes to improving their skills - but at a price. Warwick Mansell reports.
A DRIVE to "transform" teachers' opportunities for professional development was announced by the Government last week, to widespread approval from the profession.
More than two years after first proposing the move in a 1998 Green Paper, ministers have revealed detailed plans to give thousands of teachers the chance to upgrade their skills and knowledge.
Although the strategy does not yet amount to an entitlement to professional development for all teachers, union leaders have welcomed it as a "positive first step" towards this goal.
The Government's plans, set out in the document Learning and Teaching: a strategy for professional development, were trailed in a consultation document 18 months ago. Ministers claim that the "overwhelming majority" of the 1,100 responses to the consultation were positive.
Last December, the General Teaching Council offered advice to ministers, pressing for a national entitlement to professional development for all teachers.
At the heart of the Government's strategy is a move to give teachers more control over their training, allied to stricter monitoring of the quality of courses on offer.
Only one in six teachers will benefit from the main programmes proposed for the next three years. But in time, the paper says, "good quality, relevant and effective professional development" will become a reality for every teacher.
The Government accepts that training opportunities for teachers have been inadequate and that they need more time to develop their skills.
In a particularly candid passage, the document says that for many teachers, the "image of CPD (continuing professional development) is still of one-off events or short courses, often away from the school, and of variable quality and relevance".
It also says that although the Government has been committed to improving the profession's skills base, there have been three main problems.
First, although ministers had invested heavily in initial teacher training and headteacher development, there was little of similar quality for those below the senior management team with leadership responsibilities.
Second, ministers had required teachers to undergo professional development to support the national literacy and numeracy strategies and other national initiatives. They had also allocated headteachers money for staff development through the Standards Fund.
But all this "supported priorities decided by someone else". Teachers essentially were given little personal choice about undergoing training.
Finally, the strategy acknowledges unevenness in the quality of some of the courses currently on offer.
The key points of the Government's response are embodied in a pound;92 million commitment to six programmes (see clipboard). Together, the Government says they will benefit at least 70,000 teachers over three years.
However, as with so many o the Government's initiatives, ministers make clear that all this extra support comes at the cost of extra duties.
Specifically, they are proposing to write into teachers' contracts a responsibility that they should take charge of their own professional development. The plan has been accepted by the School Teachers' Review Body. Professional development is intended to complement the introduction of performance management for teachers.
The move to include a professional development section in schools' OFSTED reports also puts headteachers under the spotlight on training.
How the tensions between the new opportunities in this new document play out against those responsibilities will be worth watching as the strategy unfolds.
'Learning and teaching: a strategy for professional development' is available from DFEE publications, 0845 6022 260e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A summary of the paper is at www.dfee.gov.ukteacherscpd
HOW THE POUNDS 92 MILLION WILL BE SPENT
The Government's two new schemes:
* Sabbaticals of up to six weeks for experienced teachers in "challenging" schools, where at least 50 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. pound;25 million.
* A pilot of early professional development for teachers in their second and third years in teaching, again costed at pound;25m.
And the three current schemes that are to be extended:
* Professional bursaries, offering teachers pound;500-pound;700 to spend on professional development of their choice. pound;30 m.
* Best practice research scholarships, giving 1,000 teachers up to pound;3,000 to do "sharply focused research into key areas of classroom practice". pound;6m.
* Teachers' international professional development giving opportunities for study visits abroad. pound;6m.
Teachers are also to be encouraged to open "individual learning accounts", investing at least pound;25 of their own money in return for discounts of up to pound;200 on courses and learning materials.
All Government spending figures are cumulative for the next three years.
MORE INITIATIVES ON THE WAY
The Government also envisages:
* a code of practice for professional development courses;
* more funding through the Standards Fund for "substantial" numbers of new advanced skills teachers, who help staff to improve;
* a national training programme for teachers who have subject or leadership responsibilities, but are not in the senior management team;
* a new website;
* a campaign to encourage more schools to apply for the Investors in People award;
* a new emphasis on beacon schools to show excellence in professional development;
* a professional development "log" or portfolio for teachers, in which to record achievements and progress;
* a focus within the Office for Standards in Education inspections on schools' arrangements for professional development;
* a survey of teachers' experiences of professional development;
* a study of the impact of the major schemes announced in the strategy on raising standards.