Methods madness

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Why doesn't the Government invest more in refining and improving the way we teach? Carol Adams on an obviousway to boost standards

At a time when the Government is advocating new approaches to pupils'

learning, tailored to their individual needs, it is striking that learning and professional development for teachers are still a lottery, determined by the vagaries of school budgets. Why?

It is more important than ever that teachers get the chance to work together on new developments and share good practice. The Education Secretary's efforts to tackle underachievement include the new primary strategy, which asks teachers to release pupils' creativity. Exploiting technology and new knowledge about the way children learn demands new teaching methods.

With these pressing demands, the importance of meeting teachers' own learning needs, assumes huge significance. The General Teaching Council wants every teacher to get learning opportunities at every stage of their career. The question is how this can be achieved at a local level.

Under the Government's national professional development strategy, teachers' learning needs are determined on an individual basis, driven by performance management and review. Sensitively handled, this approach can contribute to a community of learning within schools.

But if it is to succeed, we need to ask whether schools have the capacity to identify individual teachers' needs. If continuous professional learning is to become a reality in all schools, we need an infrastructure in and beyond school to support a common range of opportunities.

To this end, supporting and extending the role of school professional development co-ordinators is vital - something the GTC is promoting through an email network and a range of projects.

Unfortunately, the Government's has recently withdrawn grants to support professional development in schools. Notably, it did a U-turn on its guarantee to provide chances for staff to learn throughout their first five years in the profession by scrapping the grant to support professional development for teachers in their second and third years. The pound;25 million cost of the pilot of this scheme compared favourably with the cost of other initiatives and promised a significant return on investment for teachers and their pupils. Today's new teachers are the education leaders of the future and we should be prepared to invest for the long-term early in their careers.

Heads must now fund professional development for staff from their own budgets. But, while they recognise the benefits of training, many choose instead to spend cash on meeting the urgent need for sufficient staff. The state of many school buildings is a reminder of what happens when funding only serves immediate priorities.

Effective professional development should be at the heart of every school.

It no longer just consists of traditional forms of in-service (Inset) or national training, but also includes collaborative activity such as planning, investigation, peer-observation, mentoring, coaching and evaluation. It is supported by the best available research and partnerships with higher education. The GTC Teachers Learning Professional Framework supports these approaches.

In the past year the council has backed professional development projects in nine education authorities. These demonstrate how modest funding and effective partnerships can stimulate teacher learning at a local level.

Building on this, the council is piloting a scheme to recognise teacher learning with Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield LEAs, supported by local higher education institutions. The "Teacher Learning Academy", as the scheme is called, will allow day-to-day learning to be recognised and accredited by fellow professionals with the option of credits towards a masters degree.

This kind of activity is designed to raise pupil achievement by enabling teachers to identify their own priorities and refine their schools'


Arguably an even bigger range of incentives and recognition is required to retain teachers where the challenges are greatest - such as deprived areas or working with low-attainers. We need to make the toughest teaching jobs the most attractive.

At a time when the Government is challenging schools to raise standards further and introducing significant changes in the workforce, it is essential that teachers and other staff are enabled to work together to plan and evaluate learning.

This learning process should not be an optional extra, to be squeezed out by the day-to-day business of school life, but fundamental to the work of all education professionals.

Carol Adams is chief executive of the GTC for England. To find out about the Teacher Learning Academy and other GTC CPD activities, contact tel: 0870 001 0308

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