Principals head for the boot camp

21st March 2003 at 00:00
In-service training takes many forms around the world. TES writers offer a guide to the varying approaches of different countries


Recruitment and retention go hand in hand. For the time being, US schools appear to have the first "R" licked. Today's recruitment boom stoked by the recession is timely because the retirement of more than half the workforce over the next decade is expected to lead to a shortfall of 2.2 million staff.

As well as drawing from the swelling ranks of the unemployed, education chiefs are wooing career-changers. A raft of accelerated training schemes are on offer to spare recruits the usually costly and protracted path into the profession.

But pinning down the other "R", retention, is proving elusive. Until this problem is solved, US schools will find it hard to gear-up for an expected influx of 2 million children over the next five years, bringing the total up to 54 million.

Out of every five people who become teachers, one quits within five years.

In many urban schools newcomer attrition runs as high as 50 per cent.

At the heart of the problem is a stultifyingly flat career structure. The remedy is thought to be training-based salary increments, which have the bonus of boosting teaching quality.

The most popular professional development model being applied borrows from the principle of teaching hospitals. Like apprentice doctors, new teachers practise their craft during the day while studying for advanced certification in extra-curricular classes.

Such training is badly needed if the findings of an Education Week poll are any guide. Fewer than one in five primary teachers and half of maths staff in middle school felt adequately prepared to teach the subject.

In California, $10,000 (pound;6,200) bonuses encourage teachers to gain extra accreditation through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Once they graduate from the gruelling, year-long performance-based evaluation, there are other financial opportunities. If they agree to become mentors to other teachers navigating the scheme, they qualify for a 15 per cent salary hike. And if they also take a post in an academically flagging school, they get a further $20,000.

Emphasising professional development has been an integral part of California's recruitment and retention strategy. And it is working: last year the state announced that more than 80 per cent of new recruits were still in the classroom after four years.

But elsewhere it is offered only patchily. It is far from gaining a national footing in an education system that remains under local control.

Still, there are interesting initiatives afoot - not least in New York, where headteachers will enrol at boot camp this summer to refresh their leadership skills. In charge of their training at the $15 million Leadership Academy will be the business legend Jack Welch, a fiery executive credited with turning around industrial behemoth General Electric.

Big Apple principals got a taste of what to expect from the man dubbed Neutron Jack at a press conference last month. It didn't sound as if they were in line for a touchy-feely workshop.

"We used to say at the corporation: 'Anyone of you jerk managers who've got a dull crowd hanging around with you don't deserve your job'," Welch declared. "Well, we'll say that to principals."

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