This is not the way to train for change

7th February 1997 at 00:00
No doubt many teachers are appalled at Glasgow's latest exercise in financial trimming, which would mean in-service courses after school and in the holidays. In-service training is vital to teachers' continued professional development.

It motivates jaded teachers and creates the opportunity for teachers to mix with their peers. Teachers should be positively encouraged to participate in courses. Expecting them to give up their own time to attend an in-service course is insulting -especially when many already willingly give up their holidays for school work and are engaged in some form of further education. This is yet another example of the increasing demands placed on teachers.

Those with young families will be immediately disadvantaged, as they will have to arrange for child care before they consider attending a course. There is a danger that such courses could become the province of the ambitious, eager to show their extra commitment and collect brownie points.

Unfortunately it is the large remaining group who need in-service courses the most. Even if teachers are willing to participate, there will be an absence of what may be called "the stress-free factor". Knowing that you could be at home enjoying your vacation is likely to cause resentment, especially if a trip away from home was planned. Perhaps one solution would be comfortable venues for courses. But with the financial crisis that Glasgow currently faces this is but a pipedream.

The council claims that a change in in-service provision will provide greater continuity of education for pupils. Today's schools have a structured curriculum and contain explicit forward plans. The idea of supply teachers' lily-white hands adversely affecting pupils is a nonsense. From my experience when teachers know that they are going on a course their plans are meticulous and ensure consistency (sometimes to the nth degree) in the programme of work.

The council also questions the benefits of in-service courses. It claims that evaluation forms indicate little change occurring within the school or classroom. This is a particularly contentious area. First, not all courses can produce a visible change. What could one see from a teacher who has just attended a course on child abuse? Often as not, the lack of change has nothing whatever to do with the quality of the course but with availability of resources. Are primary teachers to miss out on computer courses because computers are not widely available in the school they teach in?

I support the value of in-service provision despite my own early experience. My first course was one that I had no desire to attend. This was in the prehistoric "autocrassic" days when the headteacher, whom you had not seen for three weeks or so, would march purposefully into your room and give you the letter informing you of a course that you were to go on. As a probationary teacher who was glued to the classroom, I was unsure of what my day's release would bring.

On this particular course, we were left, for what seemed like ages, to make puppets. As we divided ourselves into groups of eight to 10 people, I was able to sit back and let the talented teachers do all the work. Most were enthusiastic and participated with confidence. I bluffed my way through.

To make matters worse, the second day was similar to the first with "more opportunities to create", followed by putting on a puppet show. I confess that with my limited artistic ability, I have still never made puppets with a class. Yet I got something out of this learning experience. I talked to teachers about their schools and classes, took note of useful materials that were then unavailable in my school and went back to school refreshed and ready to try something artistically new.

I may not have made a puppet, but the course taught me about organisation and presentation which I immediately put into practice. This too may not have been clearly obvious to everyone who entered my room.

The greatest danger of this review is that once other councils see a degree of success in Glasgow's initiative they will follow suit and view in-service as a means of financial saving. Whatever its implications, this move heralds the end of an in-service provision, that has in the past ensured that Glasgow teachers have the same opportunities as teachers elsewhere in Scotland to keep abreast of current educational developments. Let's hope that this can somehow be maintained in the future.

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