Subject training runs its course;Career development

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh reports on the demise of the much-loved designated, or '20-day', courses.

Changes in national in-service training priorities this year brought an end to what were known as the "20-day courses" aimed at improving primary teachers' subject knowledge. More correctly known as "designated courses" - they could last five or 10 days as well as 20 - they were part-funded by the Department for Education and Employment, and run by local authorities in collaboration with higher-education institutions.

They were well received and often over-subscribed. They were also expensive, not least because most of the cost of supply cover to schools - pound;115 a day on today's figures - was included. The investment, though, could have long-term benefits. At their best, the courses could improve teachers' career prospects and sharpen up their contribution to standards in their schools.

More than this, they could also boost the skills of primary teachers to the point where they could assume responsibility for aspects of the curriculum. The experience of Wiltshire teacher Carol Sampey shows how. Now a deputy head, she says she still benefits from the 20-day science course she attended almost 10 years ago. "It improved my knowledge and confidence - I became a science co-ordinator and got science established within the school I was in at the time," she says.

From there she gained promotion, and took a wider role working with county advisers running courses for other teachers.

Significantly, the courses were full-time, and held over consecutive days, during which teachers worked in groups. Anne Southworth, assistant education officer in Trafford, one of several north-western authorities trying to keep designated courses alive in some form, says: "Having teachers working together has more impact than giving them 10 single days. They become a networking group, which continues when the course is over."

Now, though, the literacy and numeracy strategies are taking centre stage with INSET, with the various courses run by the institutions that have successfully bid for Teacher Training Agency funding. Since April this year, though, there have been no funds from which authorities can offer slabs of supply cover for national curriculum "subject knowledge" courses.

To be fair, not all local authority inspectors regret their passing. One says the courses were of their time, that demand for them was declining, and that for all the investment authorities had too little funding or opportunity properly to assess their impact on standards.

Others, though, find that the demand, even in those areas of the curriculum that have effectively been pushed down the list of priorities, is still very much alive. Primary heads in Manchester, Tameside, Trafford and Stockport - authorities accustomed to collaboration on training - were asked last term whether they wanted training for their teachers along the lines of the designated courses and, if so, whether they would provide their own supply cover on the understanding that tuition would be provided free from within the authorities' own staff.

The results were surprising. The 450 or so primaries in the four authorities generated almost 300 requests for designated courses in English and in maths - over and above specific and separate literacy and numeracy strategy training. Subject knowledge courses in information technology were sought by 130 schools.

Anne Southworth says: "The message is clear - the answer to whether schools want this sort of training is a resounding yes. It is about heads knowing the needs of their staff. The DFEE, in trying to take the overview, has missed this point."

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