Time is running out for training

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Harvey McGavin looks at the increasing pressure on teachers to spend more of their own time on self-improvement, while, overleaf, Jane Ratcliffe explains why she's taken up the challenge.

Continuing professional development is the employee's equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. It's lifelong learning for nine-to-fivers which, in some jobs, can make or break a career. Everybody from barristers to nurses has to show that they are keeping up to date with their skills and knowledge. In businesses such as management consultancy, for instance, you're nobody without an MBA.

Teachers are also coming under pressure to spend more time on self-improvement. In the beginning there were Baker days, then there was in-service training. Now there's continuing professional development. And two things - the recently introduced national professional qualification for headship and the induction year for newly qualified teachers - have given those at either end of the profession an added element of Inset. After all, the Green Paper on professional development promised "a clear and continuing commitment throughout a career" for all teaching staff.

But while the Green Paper says that training in school time "must stop" because it disrupts children's education, it does not intend to add to the five non-teaching (Baker) days already in teachers' contracts. "Where teachers are expected to take training courses outside directed time," it says, "it is right that they should be paid for doing so . . . however, teachers should also see it as part of their professional responsibilities to keep their skills up to date and develop their own effectiveness by being ready to undertake a significant amount of training outside school time - as many already do."

The paper suggests that the money for such courses could come from individual learning accounts, which will be piloted for teachers and school staff later this year. But nobody is sure where the extra time for this "significant amount of training outside school time" will be found.

The Government believes that cutting down on administration will allow teachers more time for study - a case of less paperwork, more homework. Education Secretary David Blunkett says: "Teachers must ensure they keep up to date with best practice and develop scholarship throughout their career, which is why the Government has already cut the bureaucratic burdens which have mounted up in recent years and distracted teachers. In return, the Government will invest in providing more in-service training."

But thousands of teachers have already registered their displeasure with the plans. Nearly 21,000 responded in the consltation exercise which followed publication of the Green Paper. Eighty-five per cent agreed that professional development needed to be improved. But there was also a majority (64 per cent) who said they were against the idea of more training outside school hours (with just 23 per cent in favour).

Comparisons with other professions suggest the Government may be asking too much. The Institute of Personnel and Development, the UK's people management specialists, believes CPD should be "systematic, ongoing, self-directed learning". It recommends a minimum of35 hours a year - precisely what teachers are already expected to do.

Jenny Perkins, the institute's CPD manager, says that people who have to be qualified to practise - such as teachers - are expected to keep their skills up to scratch. But arrangements across other professional bodies vary widely.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has a compulsory system whereby points are awarded for both structured and unstructured learning. The Royal College of Nursing's post-registration education and practice (PREP) scheme requires nurses, midwives and health visitors to undertake a minimum of 35 hours of training over three years in up to five recommended areas of study and to maintain a personal professional portfolio. As its extensive support material points out, nurses are involved in a "perpetual cycle" of learning and achievement. "Just think about the number of commonplace techniques and processes that would have been unimaginable even 10 years ago," it says.

The same could be said of schools. Teachers may not be in the business of saving lives but they do prepare young people for their working lives, so it is still essential that they are up to date with the changing needs of industry and the demands of employers, especially at secondary level. But can they achieve that in the equivalent of one working week every year? Sheila Galloway from the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) at Warwick University says that the trend is away from sending employees on courses and towards a more personalised, reflective approach. Professional development is becoming holistic rather than prescriptive.

Having outlined its demands for more out-of-hours training and had them roundly booed, the Government's plans for new, improved CPD have stalled. Faced with teachers' discontent, they have been forced to rethink. Thirteen months after the Green Paper was published, the Department for Education still has not announced any of the promised spending or released any further details. Instead, it is planning a new consultation exercise "some time in 2000".

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