Mid-life career crisis

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Can't go back, struggling to go forward. Gary Brace says the new aims of the teaching council might help many stuck in the middle

I have the greatest respect and admiration for the 5,000 registered supply teachers we have in Wales who face many challenges in our classrooms but often fail to be appreciated.

From being called in at the last minute to having to deal with unpredictable and awkward pupils who have little regard for their stand-in teacher, the life of a supply teacher can be demanding.

Nevertheless, contrary to the suggestion of Anne Manyara in her article ("Supply new meaning", TES Cymru, October 7), support and development opportunities for supply teachers are available. At the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW), we aim to raise the status of teaching by maintaining and promoting professional practice.

One of our responsibilities is to support individual teachers' professional needs through our continuing professional development funding scheme.

It offers professional development bursaries, teacher research scholarships, teacher sabbatical grants and professional development network bursaries, all of which are open to registered teachers working in maintained schools.

Supply teachers are also eligible, and we recently sent all our 5,000 registered supply teachers information on how to apply for funding. Our only requirement is that they should have completed 20 days' supply work in the previous year. Having said that, we do acknowledge the challenges of giving time for CPD to supply teachers when the reason for their presence is to cover permanent staff members' absence.

One of our visions for CPD is to see more headteachers include all their supply staff, many of whom hold longer-term "temporary" positions, in school plans for professional development. The same applies to the growing number of support staff in schools.

Our aim is that every teacher in Wales will benefit from the results of CPD activities and learning, through the cultivation of a climate of sharing professional practice.

At the GTCW, we have put aside pound;100,000 from the Assembly government's CPD fund to help realise this goal. We are piloting events and approaches which will enable individual teachers to share the outcomes of their professional development activities.

One example was the successful Teachers Talking About Learning conference held at the end of October in Cardiff. Organised by Cardiff local education authority and the GTCW, more than 80 primary school teachers went away buzzing with ideas as a result of the classroom practice presented and the ideas swapped at the all-day event.

I witnessed some great examples of self-confident teachers sharing their experiences based on Professor Guy Claxton's Learning to Learn programme: teachers with a firm research basis who had tried new ideas, measured the impact on pupils and then reflected on professional practice.

For them, their case studies are not the end of the road. They see themselves as lifelong learners, committed to improving their professional practice.

It is the GTCW's role to establish a framework within which CPD can be best cultivated. While a newly-qualified teacher can benefit from a supported start to their career through the statutory induction and early professional development programme, and those aspiring to headship must complete the National Professional Qualification for Headship programme, there is no clear career structure or progression for most teachers.

New professional milestones, such as the chartered teacher and middle leader, which we will now be developing, will aim to establish a more coherent structure to career development.

High-quality CPD schemes will become a crucial ingredient in achieving these milestones. While professional development funding is administered through a number of channels, it has been acknowledged, not least by Jane Davidson, the minister for education and lifelong learning, that greater clarity is needed about funding sources and mechanisms to meet the needs of individuals, schools and LEAs.

Once it is clear what is available, it will be possible to work out what increases are necessary. Then we can ensure that all teachers receive training to keep them up-to-date.

Gary Brace is chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Wales

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