Keep it professional

24th June 2005 at 01:00
With changes to national policy on the way, Sarah Stephens looks at the future for teachers, pupils...and pay

Since its inception, the General Teaching Council has focused on making the case for extended opportunities for all teachers to continue to learn and develop. We have worked directly with teachers and the partners who influence how much and what kind of continuing professional development is available - government and its national agencies, local authorities, universities, the professional, subject and specialist associations and others.

We've built professional networks, worked with local authorities and schools to remodel the professional development on offer, and commissioned research to find out what changes are needed and help teachers push them through.

Through all this, the same themes have emerged again and again. What are they, and what is being done to address them? First, that continued teacher learning is the lifeblood of invigorated teaching and learning, of continuous improvement in pupil learning and achievement, of school development, of national standards and of retaining teachers in teaching.

CPD needs to be at the centre of teacher professionalism, not at the margin, and national policy needs to support this in every way.

Second, direct training has its place but different ways are needed to grow and share quality approaches to learning between schools and teachers.

Teacher learning needs to be applied in context as with any other learning.

Third, being a good teacher should not mean having to exchange the classroom for management in order to progress. Inequitable access to professional development serves no one, whether individuals' careers, teaching, schools or the wider education system - and especially not the children and young people at the heart of all this. Finally, the quality of professional development is often unchecked. More needs to be done to evaluate the impact and extent of the change that comes from it.

So where is national policy on all of this? There are changes under way that are set to make a real difference to the supply, demand, quality and value of professional development. Most significantly, the Government made a big commitment to the value of CPD in its five-year strategy published last year. In her first post-election press interview, the Secretary of State Ruth Kelly confirmed that she intends professional development to be a major force to support pupil learning.

The networking strategy is already live and growing. The national primary networks and networked learning communities - as well as those initiated locally - are set to involve more than 10,000 schools in identifying, sharing and growing new practice through teacher-to-teacher learning.

The GTC's own networks are growing rapidly, with more than 7,000 school professional development leaders in touch with each other's practice and with research through Connect. And most radical of all are the changes in what is expected of teachers. There are the revisions to the professional standards framework and the introduction of new standards. There are the replacement of management allowances with teaching and learning responsibility points, the revision of performance management, the linkage of pay progression to proven CPD and accomplishment of standards, and the emphasis throughout on mentoring and coaching of colleagues.

First of the changes in training is the new excellent-teacher status standard for teachers who are already at point 3 on the upper pay spine.

This will require teachers to demonstrate that, among other factors, they have sustained their professional development in a way that has improved pupil learning and that over time they have mentored or coached colleagues.

The Teacher Training Agency has been charged with recommending revisions to all of the other standards for teaching to make them more coherent and progressive and, importantly, to ensure that teachers' own CPD and support for colleagues' learning is written through all the standards.

The framework for performance management is set to change to ensure it is based on a more profound dialogue on teaching and learning, utilises the professional standards for teaching to identify development needs and structured learning experiences and assesses progress against these standards for pay progression. These are radical changes and are likely to challenge the amount, range, quality and accessibility of professional development that is available from various sources.

If teacher progression is to be dependent on proven sustained professional development, then there is a wider responsibility for ensuring CPD supply than ever before. Teachers will need to be consistently proactive in working with colleagues to identify their needs and seeking out the opportunities to meet them.

Schools and local and national partners will need to ensure that quality learning opportunities are in place across the board and that the support is there in schools to enable teachers to apply their learning and make the change to practice that professional development is designed to support.

Much creative and rigorous work has been done already by local partners and schools and there is a foundation to build on.

Yet the evidence continues to suggest that opportunities are inconsistent and learning is not always applied in practice. There is an opportunity here for a major gain for everyone - for children and young people, for government, for schools and their communities and for teachers and the wider school workforce.

Continuing professional development is undeniably a major force in stimulating improvement in teaching and learning, in sustaining teacher confidence and commitment and in supporting and invigorating disciplined creativity. The gates are opening onto an expanded vision of professionalism with continuous enquiry and learning at the heart of all teachers' practice. Will the system in which teachers work be ready to respond so that this new journey is more than a perfunctory chase for pay progression? The GTC is ready to play its part.

Sarah Stephens is policy director of the General Teaching Council

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