A course in Dundee which involves collaboration between education authorities, trainers and teachers could offer a blueprint for achievement, writes Jim Rand
After the McCrone report into teachers' pay and conditions, professional development is assuming greater significance. Two key issues emerge: what is the nature of the continuing professional development that teachers will need andor want and how will teachers have the diverse nature of their CPD activities accredited?
Dundee City Council's education department and Ian Smith's training organisation Learning Unlimited have been developing a pilot programme which addresses these issues.
The programme was launched pre-McCrone and designed for both primary and secondary teachers who have specific responsibilities for initiatives to raise pupil achievement. This includes school co-ordinators for raising achievement (SCRAs), learning support teachers and members of school management teams, including headteachers. But the focus - learning for achievement - has a more general application.
The McCrone report is emphatic that teachers must be given opportunities to update their knowledge about recent research and development work with regard to effective teaching and learning. It is also clear that this should be done in an accessible, practical way, with opportunities to relate these issues to their own professional circumstances, together with time to reflect on the implications for their own practice. The pilot programme with Dundee provides these opportunities.
A criticism of current CPD provision, according to the McCrone Committee's evidence, is that much of it is too theoretical and fails to address the tasks and problems which teachers face.
A key part of the Dundee programme is a school-based project - theory into practice - where course members test the ideas and issues raised by their review of recent research and development in the context of a task which they face in their own school.
The programme recognises that effective development - whether aimed at CPD for teachers or raising achievement for pupils, if these can be separated - is a process which needs to take place over a period of time. Meaningful and sustained development does not take place as a result of a "one-off" in-service event.
All teachers have a responsibility for raising achievement for the students they teach. They need opportunities to examine the mountain of research and development evidence in this area, time to reflect on the implications for their own practice and support to implement development tasks in their own situation.
The Learning Unlimited programme consists of an initial two-day workshop, which reviews the findings from recent research in raising achievement. This is followed by three single-day workshops approximately four weeks apart. The programme runs from January to June.
To allow course members to report on the outcomes of their school-based project, a recall meeting is held in September. Course members also produce a brief report of their development task, so that the outcomes and experiences can be shared with a wider audience. These project summaries are being collated as a further resource for the authority.
An important part of the design and operation of the programme is the reciprocity between teachers, enhancing their own professional development and support for development initiatives at school level.
As mechanisms are set up to ensure that teachers can have their CPD activities accredited and reflected in their own career progression and salaries, it will be important not to separate teacher development from curriculum development and institutional development.
It is teachers who - by gaining further insights into the processes of effective teaching and learning in their classrooms through their CPD activities - will change schools and raise the achievement of their pupils.
In 1999, when Ian Smith's programme began, his company recognised that completion of the programme by teachers - who continue to undertake their normal responsibilities - represents a very significant achievement and investment of time and effort. This is not only a contribution to their own professional development but benefits their school and students.
The possibility of seeking formal accreditation through an established postgraduate programme was explored but the costs and the complexity of the accreditation processes were prohibitive and did not contribute significantly to the development value of the programme.
It was therefore decided that the authority should recognise the achievement, time and effort of course members by awarding a certificate which Dundee City Council's director of education presented to participants at the end of the programme. The certificate records the nature and extent of the formal programme, the development activities and the reporting process that each person has undertaken.
Should a member of the group subsequently wish to use their learning and experience as part of a claim for advanced entry to an established postgraduate programme at a higher education institution, the certificate and their report provide clear evidence of the level of work and achievement.
Accreditation of CPD now assumes greater significance. A teacher undertaking a staff development programme based in a higher education institution is often able to gain formal recognition through a postgraduate award. However, many have yet to be convinced that universities offer the most appropriate mechanisms to recognise and accredit the CPD of individual teachers.
It is to be hoped that initiatives to create a framework for CPD in Scotland will encourage and explore a range of formats both for provision and accreditation. The Dundee programme demonstrates that collaborative initiatives involving teachers, education authorities and training organisations offer at least one model for future development.
Jim Rand is a consultant who worked on Ian Smith's Learning Unlimited CPD programme