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12th March 2004 at 00:00
Stagnation is not an option for teachers. Getting to grips with new technology, innovative teaching strategies, greater understanding about how children learn and best practice in improving pupils' behaviour are all part of teachers' professional development remit and they are embracing the challenge, reports Douglas Blane

One of the big differences between modern teachers and those of a bygone age lies in attitudes to change. "I wish they'd all leave us alone to get on with the job" was once a familiar complaint in staffrooms. It can still be heard but not so often as experienced teachers embrace professional development and younger colleagues bring fresh ways of thinking into schools.

"They are coming out of university with a willingness to change, and that's having its effect on everyone," says Tom Fleming, headteacher of St Andrew's Primary in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire. "The teachers who say 'This is how they did it in 1927 and I don't see why it should be any different today' are getting few and far between."

Brendan McCloskey, who recently took up a permanent post at St Andrew's Primary, says no one can afford to stop learning. "I've got a second-year student teacher in my class who is studying at the same university I did.

I'm watching what she's doing and thinking 'That's interesting. I'm going to try that myself.' Just in the five years since I qualified things have moved on a lot."

The post-McCrone national teachers' agreement has played its role in altering attitudes to change. Undertaking 35 hours of continuing professional development a year, outside the normal working week, has been a condition of service since August; individual CPD plans are now agreed annually with the school management; and teachers must keep a record of their CPD to monitor progress.

Greater awareness of all aspects of professional development and increased scope and variety of provision has been the result.

"That simple act of keeping a record of the CPD we've done makes a big difference," says Ruth Wood, a modern languages teacher with 20 years'

experience, who works at Balfron High, Stirling. "It helps you appreciate just how much you've been doing and makes you feel that bit more professional.

"I do a lot of reading around aspects of learning and teaching. It's good to be able to record that and have it recognised.

"I like being accountable. It's what happens in other organisations. I also like the fact that my manager now takes an interest in my professional development, makes suggestions, gives me feedback. I hope the management continues to see that as important and it doesn't eventually become just another paper exercise."

The national teachers' agreement has also had an effect on attitudes to training through its stipulation that probationers are guaranteed a one-year training contract with at least a third of the working week set aside for professional development.

Teachers such as Doni Cameron, who is currently completing his probationer year at Balfron High, are offered a comprehensive range of courses. "The school has sessions two or three times a month and Stirling has a very good CPD timetable with an afternoon session every Wednesday," he says. "The topics include 5-14, time and stress management (that was good because it recognised we were all nervous and gave us practical techniques), assessment, setting targets, positive behaviour management (very good because you can get disheartened with really difficult kids), inclusion, child protection, guidance, reporting to parents, enterprise education, interview techniques I" Balfron High's depute headteacher and staff development co-ordinator, John Lawrence, feels the probationer programme has helped to raise the profile of professional development and improve its planning. "Through acting as mentors for probationers our principal teachers now see keeping an eye on CPD profiles as a natural part of their job," he says.

Despite changed attitudes to professional development, teachers are staying away from the chartered teacher programme for reasons that have little to do with the quality of courses on offer.

"It's not at all what they were led to expect," says Mr Fleming. "I've got wonderful teachers, many with exactly the qualities a chartered teacher is supposed to possess, but I can't persuade them that spending their own money to get a pay increase is a sensible or professional thing to do."

The message from Balfron High is not dissimilar.

"Only one of our teachers has begun the chartered teacher programme," says Mr Lawrence. "I think that's fairly typical of secondary schools. The chartered teacher option doesn't seem attractive at the moment, particularly to older teachers.

"Mind you, neither the school nor the authority has tried to persuade people it's a good idea. Maybe we should think about that, and about how we can make it easier for them to take part.

"If I was a young teacher, I think I might go for it. It does seem a worthwhile option, one that makes sure you keep progressing and avoid stagnation."

Stagnation is not an option for anybody, believes Mr McCloskey. "Anyone who isn't open to all the opportunities for professional development these days will get left behind," he says.

"Every day I learn something new. Teaching is a demanding job but very enjoyable. I don't ever want to become a teacher who just turns up and does the job. Good CPD is one way to make sure that never happens."


Geraldine Wardrope teacher St Andrew's Primary, Cumbernauld 15 years' experience

"The job now is totally different from even 10 years ago. Reading, for instance, has changed out of all recognition. There are so many different teaching strategies.

"We've been learning to use the art and design pack from the Borders, which has made a big difference to the work the kids produce, and we've been getting to grips with the new Heinemann course.

"One of the tips we got was to put everything related to your CPD into a box. We also keep a diary and self-evaluate every night, so that can be pulled together into a portfolio.

"There is a lot of CPD available. I've done the New Opportunities Fund ICT training.

"As a whole school we've been doing co-operative learning, which involved a summer school and twilight sessions. I'm really enjoying trying that out in class.

"I've been on the North Lanarkshire literacy course, which was very good.

It took a week of afternoons, which meant you were coming back and trying the ideas out right away with the children. That worked really well.

"For me, with two young children, the chartered teacher programme would take an awful lot of time. I have an infant teacher qualification but it's more than five years old, so I wouild have to write a long essay explaining why it should be considered and then pay to get it accredited.

"I'll maybe think about becoming a chartered teacher again in a year or two."

Rosemary O'Neill teacher St Andrew's Primary, Cumbernauld 10 years' experience

"In the infant classes we have new maths schemes and literacy schemes. You have to do a lot study and reading.

"I like things to be changing. At times, though, you're spinning and don't get a chance to draw breath. There's so much you have to get through each day: language, maths, ICT, science, expressive arts. The thing that has suffered most in infant classes is structured play.

"I've done the North Lanarkshire reading course, the co-operative learning summer school and the NOF ICT training. It's amazing what the kids can do with computers now.

"I don't see any benefit in the chartered teacher programme. It feels like starting all over again. Then there's the cost and time. Where are you supposed to find time? I couldn't do justice to the job and would have to just jog along in the classroom. I'm not prepared to do that. If you give children the best start you can in Primary 1, they don't have the same difficulties later on."

Brendan McCloskey teacher St Andrew's Primary, Cumbernauld 5 years' experience

"The school and the authority provide us with a lot of information on courses and you can phone around yourself to see what's available.

"A lot of the professional development I've been doing is in ICT. I recently started the European Computer Driving Licence course, and we're trying to get a course on PowerPoint presentations on the Smartboard.

That would be very useful.

"I've got a fair number of kids with special educational needs, so I want to learn how to help them. I've got one now with Stickler syndrome, which I'd never heard of, so I looked it up on the Internet. (It is a hereditary condition causing progressive joint, hearing, eye and mouth abnormalities.) It's good to know that that kind of thing - professional reading - is valued.

"I keep a CPD folder of everything I do, saying when and why I did it. You very quickly get through your 35 hours of CPD. But I see myself in a profession in which I don't want to think about counting hours.

"It'll be a couple of years before I'll be eligible for the chartered teacher programme and that's a bit annoying. A lot of the courses look really interesting."

Tom Fleming headteacher St Andrew's Primary, Cumbernauld over 30 years' experience

"If you come into school at 8.30am there'll be half a dozen cars already here. If you leave at 5pm you won't be last out. I find teachers nowadays are really fired up for things and they talk about education and teaching strategies in the staffroom, not just the price of mince.

"I think the national teachers' agreement was to make sure people who didn't do the work had no hiding place. You used to get a few of those in the profession.

"Teachers are much more in touch with change nowadays and know they have to keep up to date.

"I tell student teachers who come here that they shouldn't be in teaching if they want a 9am to 5pm job. Teachers work longer hours than ever before.

I know McCrone said we would all do 35 hours a week, but that was just a joke."

Jackie Ebsworth depute headteacher Balfron High 14 years' experience

"I'm doing the Scottish Qualification for Headship course at the University of Glasgow. The first unit assessment was a project plan, which in the second unit has to be carried out in school. My original plan changed a lot to take account of developments in school: there has been a lot of upheaval in trying to implement the post-McCrone agreement.

"The Standard for Headship sets out the competencies you need.

You provide a portfolio of evidence to match yourself against those, looking at different aspects of the project and other work in school. You study the research and write a 6,000 word critical commentary. I'm still working on my conclusions.

"It certainly makes you more reflective, especially about strategic issues.

It's interesting, inspiring and good to share ideas with colleagues.

"Since the start of the year, I've also been involved with circle time training and managing challenging behaviour. We are about to start a course of depute headteacher training from the council. Depute headteacher is a big job and is still evolving.

"One of the threads in my SQH commentary is that you can't separate anything that is going on in a school from everything else. There is a lot of interconnection.

"Change is hard for people and we are in a climate of great change now. It will take a while for people to get used to all the changes post-McCrone.

There is more work than ever before and time is a huge issue for teachers and managers."

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