Show them you care

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Several studies have suggested that secondary headteachers are losing touch with the training needs of staff. But it's not easy to balance individual, departmental and school-wide priorities says Martin Baxter.

So how was it for you then? The Baker Day I mean. Some recent research suggests teachers feel there is too little connection between training and what happens in the classroom. And the problems seem to be worse in secondary schools.

In a MORI poll of 7,800 schools, completed for the Teacher Training Agency in November, almost a third of teachers did not regard all five of their Baker Days as having been used for training and several studies have suggested that secondary heads are losing touch with the training needs of their staff. Heads appear to give training days a higher priority than teachers who feel too much time is spent in meetings, looking at school-wide issues determined by senior management, instead of meeting subject needs.

In contrast, studies in primary schools show that headteachers and teachers have similar priorities. The smaller staff team and broader curriculum interests mean the needs of the school also determine those of individual members of staff. The daily debate in a primary school staffroom is more likely to include the headteacher who, as the leading professional, can shape opinion and ensure that all staff are involved in the organisation and planning of training. Training days can then develop policies while expanding the staff's skills and knowledge.

In secondary schools, local management has tended to distance the head from educational leadership and teaching. Hierarchical management has been replaced by flatter structures and an emphasis on strategic planning, with increased responsibility and accountability devolved to subject and pastoral teams. This means the relatively equal status among teachers in primary schools is applied to ten or a dozen teams in secondary schools and is a recipe for anarchy and discontinuity of learning unless the school's priorities are very clear.

Businesses are learning that there is a balance between short-term business strategy - their equivalent of improving the teaching of a specific topic - in separate departments and planning for change and long-term success in the whole business. Organisations such as Shell have been able to respond to rapid change because senior managers have been removed from fire-fighting so they can think about the longer term. Is a large school with 100 staff and 1,000 pupils so different?

It is not surprising that a hard-pressed teacher who desperately needs to revise a work scheme reacts negatively to a training day devoted to team-building or liaison with primary schools. The headteacher, on the other hand, might think that such a day challenged perceptions, made a statement about school priorities and laid the foundation for subsequent work at department level.

The TTA is rightly concerned that many schools do not yet have a systematic approach to professional development or an understanding of how in-service budgets actually affect what happens in classrooms. This is an issue that local authorities and the Government have failed to solve.

Commercial organisations are responding to the challenge of providing a product or service that meets customers' needs in the short term, while planning for long-term success, by motivating those people within the organisation who can provide a high-quality service or are capable of rapid innovation.

When this professional development is translated to schools, it is likely to include:

* focusing on the future;

* preparing the medium-term plan;

* achieving short-term objectives within a department;

* transforming individuals;

* transforming the school

Achieving short-term goals within a department is very important but there are other less-obvious priorities. Responding to requests from the School Development Plan team can easily be another chore to be ignored. Yet, increasingly it informs governors about the implementation of policies, determines whole-school priorities for the next year, and identifies what is required at department level.

Department priorities can improve the competence of all staff, and fast tracking and special projects provide new ways of using talent and expertise. An important role for the headteacher and senior managers is to think about the future and ensure that knowledge, skills and processes are being developed to meet the changing needs of pupils and the curriculum.

Training days are a valuable resource. However, staff costs alone for a large secondary school could be in excess of Pounds 6,000 a day, so perhaps evaluating whether training days provide value for money could be a priority. It may not always be obvious to the participants what the long-term intentions are. But when the objectives allow a department team to shape its own destiny, the benefits can be rapid.

A training day may be concerned with preparing for a switch in emphasis next year, challenging accepted norms, or laying the foundations for an anticipated change the details of which are still unclear. None of these are likely to impact immediately on teaching and learning, and some teachers will certainly feel that their time on a training day has not been well used. However in terms of developing the school as an organisation, they are important issues to be discussed by the whole staff.

So how was it for you? Were the outcomes of your last training day clear? What was the balance between individual, department and whole-school issues? Is the link between the school development plan and in-service training clear? And who does the long-term planning in your school?

* Martin Baxter is professionaltutor at Campion School, Bugbrooke, Northampton, responsible for development planning, staff induction and school-based teacher training.

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