Ostracised for improving

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Professional development is a personal thing but, say researchers, it's becoming too personal.Continuing professional development is creating a damaging divide in the staffroom that is leaving many teachers feeling "ostracised", according to researchers.

On one side, enthusiasm for CPD can see a teacher branded an "outcast"; on the other, sceptics are unhappy that it is being "foisted" upon them.

The findings, presented to the annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association, emerged from research at a number of universities, based on feedback from teachers and 10 "elite" figures in Scottish education.

Lesley Reid, of Edinburgh University, said "ostracising is happening in both directions", affecting both those who engage with continuing professional development and a "worrying" group who do not.

One teacher described the lonely experience of a colleague who had a secondment at a university to do a PhD. "Ironically, the person who sees him as an outcast is one who has a PhD, but did that before they entered teaching," the teacher said.

Dr Reid uncovered an antipathy to "people who get above themselves" and "start to use a different language" after taking part in CPD.

But the disdain flows both ways, with another teacher criticising fellow professionals who "pooh-poohed" CPD. "It seems quite paradoxical that they are keen to make sure pupils are working hard to improve themselves but they don't really want to do that themselves," the teacher said.

Another teacher talked of a "very strong tradition of anti-intellectualism" in schools that went beyond classroom-based staff. "Very often, the attitude from senior management and colleagues is 'there is a job to be done, just get on with doing it'," the teacher said.

Strathclyde University's Mary Welsh said some teachers appeared to believe continuing professional development was about being forced to do things their schools wanted them to do, rather than realising their own goals.

Ms Welsh was concerned by "the narrowness of what people thought constituted CPD". It was something "done to you", rather than being about collaborative teamwork and the development of understanding.

Dr Reid found that "many teachers felt unwilling or unable to voice professional aspirations within a culture dominated by compliance".

But care was taken not to cast the sceptics as out-and-out villains. The research stressed that CPD enthusiasts were not necessarily paragons of virtue: if they were racking up their annual 35 hours without properly reflecting on practice, then the CPD was devalued.

The 10 unidentified senior education figures interviewed also found disharmony within the profession.

"John" said teachers felt they had their annual 35 hours of continuing professional development "foisted upon them", adding that he thought a lot of CPD has been "quite reactionary".

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