With all the curriculum change going on in Scotland, there is a growing need for staff development. But teachers are too tired to go on twilight courses, and heads are reluctant to release them during the day. Seonag MacKinnon reports
The depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland has called on the Government to release a major sum of money for inservice training to tackle a "staleness and lack of dynamism in teaching right now".
Speaking to The TES Scotland, Fred Forrester said: "The curriculum has been changing at an unprecedented rate. Never has there been a greater need for courses. Many teachers are in their forties and fifties and a lot has happened since they trained. It is very hard to get updating.
"I hope that Brian Wilson (the Scottish education minister) will be addressing the need. I know there is a freeze on expenditure for two years, but more and more parcels of money are being made available. There is a need for a large extra parcel of money for this."
Justifying his call, Mr Forrester says: "Education is a long-term issue. In the short term it is a bit of a nuisance to have the teacher on a course, but I don't think staff development is a luxury. Otherwise you're left with a very utilitarian system, where staff just deliver what they can. They feel resentful. It imposes a state of staleness, a lack of dynamism."
The cash ring-fenced for staff development disappeared in April when the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, agreed to the suggestion from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Attacking the axing of the specific grant, Mr Forrester says: "It becomes a battle with social work and roads, and a question of which directors and committees in the council have most clout.
"We don't like it. Staff development for teachers is not a high priority for local authorities. They want teachers in front of classes. Administrators are not good at looking at the long-term need to improve teachers' knowledge and experience.
A spokesman for Brian Wilson stressed that it was at COSLA's suggestion that the ring fencing was removed, and said: "There is no evidence to suggest a need for change of the present system."
But Mr Forrester says: "There is a lot of cynicism and resentment in the profession about new measures in education. The credibility of the whole system will be seriously undermined if the demands for staff development are not met.
"Scottish Office intervention is essential for action. The new authorities are only 18 months into office, they haven't bedded down and are very strapped for cash. Inservice training will remain on the back burner."
He does not believe more twilight courses which might overcome the financial obstacle of a need to pay about Pounds 100 a day to cover staff absence are the answer: "There is some place for them, but I don't think staff would be particularly keen to go on them in their own time and in many parts of the country it would be difficult to get to a centre in time for 4.30pm.
"Teaching is a very tiring job," he adds. "By 4pm they may be pretty well flaked out."
One education official who declined to be identified takes a different and forthright view of after-school classes, highlighting the days and hours in the year that staff are already released from class: "Parents don't like their children being left with a supply teacher any more than they are already. Maybe the area that needs looking at is teachers' contracts."
Kenny Dykes, headteacher of Barrhead High, East Renfrewshire, argues that there is a need for a more coherent approach: "We need courses that build upon courses that have gone before. Long-term staff development has disappeared into the ether."
He says the general quality of existing courses varies enormously: "The key issue for many teachers is whether the deliverer is a long time removed from the classroom. If teachers smell that the course is not very relevant or authentic, they are unimpressed.
"Teachers are very difficult to please, because they are deliverers of training themselves and are connoisseurs of it. If the course is content-free, they say not enough direction. If content-laden, they say too many heads."
Forrester holds up Fife as a role model of an authority which sets great store by staff development and has an "excellent" integrated centre, ASDARC in the middle of the county at Auchterderran, under the direction of performance review manager David Cameron. A full prospectus for a large number of courses is issued to staff for the one-stop centre which has a large conference hall, a library, small recording studio, graphic arts area and video production facilities, plus advisers on hand.
The wide range of facilities in the centre, opened in 1991, allows staff to make full use of their time there. Cameron sees the emphasis in future training on practice rather than curricular issues - how teachers teach, not what they teach: "There is a great deal of teaching practice to be proud of in our schools, but there is no resistance to improvement. We need to build on that."
TEACHERS FEEL LEFT OUT AND UNDERVALUED
"It's always the same - you hear quite by chance from a teacher at another school about a course that is just exactly what you need. The information doesn't get to us because distribution of information is so disorganised.
"I don't think the headteacher is that enthusiastic about courses anyway. There is the cost, especially of cover. Sometimes you feel that it is just the headteacher's pets in the staffroom who get to go.
"But not going makes me feel that I and my department are of little importance. We're just expected to get on with it, trundle along day in, day out. It's ironic when everything you see in the media suggests we're meant to be striving for some kind of quantum leap in standards.
"We're the public face of education and take the flak, but it is the bureaucrats who should be in the firing line for not giving us the support we need to make improvements."