Room for improvement

6th May 2005 at 01:00
It's not about which course to take, but what is best for you

Your time on induction is running out so you've got to make really good use of it before the end of term. Newly qualified teachers in secondary schools who have found it impossible to get out of the building will be offered plenty of chances for professional development once Years 11 and 13 are on exam leave.

Mohamed's comment is so common. People only think of professional development as referring to courses, yet the range of professional development activities is huge - there are on-the-job, off-the-job, and close-to-the-job opportunities.

Mohamed should try to find out how much money is available and then make it go as far as possible, factoring in supply cover costs. As someone who runs lots of courses, I am painfully aware that participants get charged anything from pound;0 to pound;60 to pound;95 to pound;290 plus VAT - and all for the same thing, though the venues and food vary.

Rather than wondering what courses to go on, he should approach it from the opposite angle. What does he want to be better at? Or know more about? What's the best use of time and money? Courses may not be the best way: often going to see someone who has that expertise is much better because it'll be tailor-made. What about drawing on advanced skills teachers - for free? They have a day a week for outreach work and many feel under-used.

Teachers - almost by definition - like learning. Some will be keen to improve their tennis; others are adult education groupies and a few like some rigorous intellectual stimulation. They get fed up with one-day professional development sessions, especially when so many of them reflect the school's or the Government's agenda and not theirs. They want something meatier so get on an accredited course. These tend to spread over about four days and give 30 credits towards a graduate diploma or MA. This is a really efficient way to get a foothold on to another level of study.

Quite a few people start a Masters in their second year. It usually takes one year full-time or two years part-time. That's a lot of time, but being able to think freely, to read widely and discuss issues at a deep level makes it worthwhile.


As well as squeezing the most out of professional development, it's useful to set yourself an objective about writing reports. Have you worked out how long reports will take? If you have a primary class of 30, I reckon the first five will average out to two hours each, which makes 10 hours, the next 20 will average out to one hour each, and the last five might get knocked off in about half an hour. So you have 32.5 hours worth of writing ahead of you, plus the preparation and proof reading afterwards. Let's call it 40 hours of extra work that will have to get squeezed in by about mid-June.

How on earth are you going to find 40 hours of extra time? Draw up a timetable of when you're going to do them, working back from the deadline.

Pace yourself - they're not something that you can knock off in a rush. If you write yourself an objective about reports you can justifiably spend some of your 10 per cent reduced timetable writing them. Maybe ask the head if you can spend the time at home - you'll probably get more done.

Preparation is key. Speak to your induction tutor about what's required: whether there's a computer program, who will work out the attendance figures, how much detail to write. Ask pupils to do a self-assessment - what they're good at, have enjoyed, need to improve. Their information will help you write one or two very personal points that give a flavour of the individual.

Getting into the style of report writing is a real skill. You need to build up a bank of useful phrases, particularly ones that express criticisms in a positive way. Read last year's reports and talk to other teachers to see how you can be both honest and positive. The phrase, "She produces good work when she applies effort" sounds so much better than "She's bone idle".

Choose a straightforward child to write about first to get you into the swing but show it to a senior member of staff for approval before doing the rest.

* 'As an NQT who apparently has loadsa spare "NQT cash" within school, I am at a loss as to where to look for available courses. I have only been on one course and want to participate in as many as possible next term. Any suggestions?' Mohamed

* 'I am just realising that I am going to have to do a lot of careful observation of the class in order to write my reports. I have a basic idea of what each child can do, but things like in ICT, can they open a file? I assume they can, but have their friends just been helping them??!?!'

From Candyfloss on the new teacher forum

* 'I decided to do an MA as I was fed up with the very poor level of Inset available - nothing went deep enough into any area, and I wanted to understand teaching and learning a bit better'

Second year teacher

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