Leadership - Vocational CPD needs to get real

5th December 2014 at 00:00
How can FE lecturers hope to educate pupils about work when their knowledge is out of date?

To say that professional development is not fit for purpose is not particularly revolutionary: it's a mainstream view these days. Yet we hear little in the way of alternatives. This can be especially true for vocational education teachers, who are too often lumped into academic CPD sessions that deliver nothing of use and can even be detrimental.

Academic teachers need to have subject knowledge and know how to teach; they present this knowledge, with the odd tweak dictated by syllabus changes, year after year. Industry teachers have a wider remit: subject knowledge and knowing how to teach by doing are a given, but they also need understanding of practice through personal experience, up-to-date industry awareness and familiarity with a range of competencies.

Back in business

So how should CPD for vocational teachers work? A friend of mine teaches film and media studies. He came into teaching after years of successful industrial experience and the first thing he did was to turn the BTEC specification into a film project. His enthusiastic 16-year-old students wrote scripts, selected musical scores, scouted locations, began a crowdfunding project, and begged and borrowed equipment via social media. They worked antisocial hours. They were cold, tired and furiously challenged. They learned on the job.

After two years, the students had produced a brilliant 82-minute feature film that had trained them in every aspect of film production: acting, make-up, creative design, finance, promotion and numerous other skills.

What my friend needed to make the project succeed wasn't hours and hours of CPD on how to embed numeracy and literacy into lessons or how to teach entrepreneurship; he already had those skills. Focusing on the Ofsted framework, policies, procedures, schemes of work and learning plans would not have been useful.

Instead, this example shows that vocational teachers sometimes need to be resubmerged in industry to ensure they are giving students the best experience possible.

Skills, skills, skills

One of the most revealing CPD sessions I ran demonstrated this very point. It involved choosing units for a BTEC course. The traditional teaching staff at the meeting had a very different view from employers and industry teachers about what was required. Because they had not been in industry recently, they were out of date and focused on hitting the learning criteria rather than the industrial knowledge required for success. Although they were passionate teachers, with full log books of CPD attendance, they were "educationalised"; learning was seen in terms of targets, scores and results, not employability skills.

Clearly, we are failing to develop subject specialisms, the very thing that learners sign up for. The number of teaching staff who have taken to Twitter to set up their own CPD groups is indicative of the gulf between CPD expectations and delivery. People want more.

A new approach

James Kempton, an associate director at the thinktank CentreForum, last year proposed a solution for academic teachers that could be applied to this vocational issue. He suggested creating a system of chartered teachers, enabling staff to access relevant CPD, research and revalidation, with subject associations taking a key position.

The idea has merit: taking the best experience and combining it with academic research and skills makes sense. There is no reason why this could not work for the vocational sector. Industry connections are there to be used and we should be encouraging more interaction. We should ensure that our teachers go back to work in industry and experience it regularly. We should share the latest research with our staff.

And industry should respond. The only way they can have the best students to pick from is if the teachers are kept up to date with industry-specific CPD. Otherwise it is just guesswork.

Currently, this simply isn't happening. If we ignore the application of our subjects and have no understanding of practice through personal experience, we are not preparing our learners for the world of work.

Jayne Stigger is an FE manager in south-east England

What else?

Teacher Development Trust tips on CPD

Use CPD to create a learning culture

A 10-minute guide to CPD's benefits


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