Now you see it, now you don't

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Two years ago ministers promised more money for teachers' Inset, but by 2005 the amount will be miserly, says John Bangs

Ofsted's findings that the professional development provided to new teachers is inadequate comes as no surprise. School training budgets are stretched and teachers' time to mentor properly is limited. It was precisely for this reason that the Government designed the early professional development (EPD) programme. Yet, despite Ofsted's warnings, EPD will emerge like a mayfly in summer, only to be extinguished. Why?

Two years ago, David Blunkett published "Learning and Teaching - A Strategy for Professional Development". It heralded "more money for teachers to undertake the CPD they see as important". It proposed a raft of initiatives: best practice research scholarships, teachers' international professional development, sabbaticals, and, of course, EPD. Some pound;92 million was put into the system for three years. It wasn't enough but it was a start.

For the NUT it heralded, after 30 years, the beginning of a realisation of the 1972 James Report proposals, which focused on teachers being treated as professionals when it came to their learning. Mr James understood that teachers must have the opportunity to conduct research and direct their own professional development.

Two years on, Mr Blunkett's strategy faces extinction, despite the outrageous claim in the Government's recent "Time and Standards" document that the strategy is continuing in order to give teachers choice and autonomy in their training. In 2005-06, the central government budget for professional development will drop to pound;2m - barely enough to pay for a few conferences and a decent website.

The reality is that a brave initiative has evaporated because of the Government's obsession with devolving resources to "the front line". It has become a victim of its desperate attempts to maximise the funding in schools to fund the agreement on workforce reform.

The Government's claim that extra money will be in schools for professional development by 2006 ignores the fact that schools will also have to provide for the training of 50,000 extra support staff from the same pot. In these circumstances, what price the future of sabbaticals and bursaries - never mind scholarships?

Every relevant piece of research indicates that professional development, owned and valued by teachers, both motivates and retains. This is a classic case of the Government shooting itself in the foot. There is something that can be retrieved from the wreckage: local education authorities can seize the opportunity to ensure that teachers receive the professional development of their choice.

Second, the responsibility will now rest with the NUT's own professional development programme and with higher education to step in and fill the gap. Otherwise, the Government's previous commitment that the strategy is "not our last word on professional development" will be completely reversed.

John Bangs is assistant secretary (education and equal opportunities) at the National Union of Teachers

Union reaction, page 18

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