Skill-crazy after all these years

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
With the help of an extra pound;92m, the Government aims to transform teachers' professional development, says schools minister Estelle Morris.

Yesterday we published Learning and Teaching, our strategy for teachers' continuing professional development. This has been a key element in our plans for the profession since we published the 1998 Green Paper. All our ambitions for education depend on teachers doing well in the classroom.

We published a consultation document on professional development a year ago, which generally received a very positive response, and have since been building our strategy through further consultation with the General Teaching Council, the teacher unions, and others across the profession. The strategy is informed by advice the GTC gave us just before Christmas.

I know that high-quality professional development is crucial. The demands on teaching are changing all the time. To stay effective, staff need to keep on top of their subject, make the most of new technology and build skills to enhance their careers.

A strong professional development culture in a school can make it a much better place to work, with supportive relationships and enthusiastic, self-confident staff. It is also good for recruitment, as schools committed to professional development often find it easier to attract and retain good staff.

Moreover, we want children to develop enthusiasm for lifelong learning, since this is increasingly the key to success in adult life. That is more likely if they see their teachers involved in regular learning.

Teachers will quite rightly ask of our plans:"What's in it for me?" My answer is many things, but two in particular: more money under your control to develop your skills in the way that you want; and more opportunity to learn from good professional development practice in other schools.

As a government, we have put a lot of money into professional development over the past four years - through national programmes like the literacy and numeracy strategies, and through direct grants to schools. But I recognise that for individual teachers this has two key limitations. First, however good the training, it supports priorities decided by someone else. Secondly, schools vary widely in the quality of professional development they offer, so teachers' access to professional development at present depends too heavily on where they are.

One key part of our strategy, therefore, is to incease the money for individual teachers to spend on development. I know this is something that the GTC particularly welcomes.

We are allocating an additional pound;92 million in total over the next three years. We will expand our programmes of bursaries, scholarships for research into best practice and international development. We will also pilot two new programmes: sabbaticals for experienced teachers in challenging schools; and early professional development for teachers in their second and third years in service.

By 2003-04 this will increase the funding for individual teachers nearly four-fold, and, over the next three years, offer over 70,000 extra development opportunities. I know that the National Union of Teachers, for example, has fully backed this approach and is running its own professional development programme.

A second key priority is to identify and share widely the many examples of excellent professional development that exist. To support this we are launching a new website as part of TeacherNet at teacherscpd . Here, teachers can get information about state-funded programmes, but they will also, for example, be able to find lesson plans, multi-media presentations and other teaching materials that can lighten the burdens on them as well as increase their expertise.

Professional development is not just about going on courses. We are also encouraging teachers to look at what they can learn from effective colleagues - many teachers say this makes the most difference to their teaching.

We are planning to have at least 300 beacon schools that have strengths in professional development, and will fund many more advanced skills teachers so expertise can be transferred between colleagues and schools.

We are encouraging schools to apply for the "Investors in People" standard. And we are publishing a code of practice for those providing continuing professional development, Good Value CPD, so schools know what they are entitled to expect and how to secure it.

Will the strategy work? I believe it will, because it reflects what the teaching profession has told us it wants and many across the profession will be helping us to implement it. But it is not our final word. We shall watch its impact closely and not hesitate to adapt it if that proves necessary. I want good-quality professional development to become something that every teacher, wherever they work, can take for granted.

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