Time to share the benefits of our expertise
As the new year dawns, many teachers' resolutions may include plans for more training. But the need for a coherent approach to continuing professional development for all secondary staff will be more pressing than ever this year.
Consider some of the challenges in the curriculum alone; the revised national curriculum at key stage 3 and changes to teacher assessment; the introduction of learning pathways for all 14 to 19-year-olds; roll-out of the Welsh bac; and the introduction of key, basic and functional skills. And add to these the new pedagogy, methodologies and technologies teachers must get to grips with. There is vast new knowledge to master, including moves towards personalised learning and applying developments in neuroscience.
New technologies have the power to transform the quality of learning, but can also prove a white elephant if not used properly. The role of school leaders, at all levels, is changing beyond recognition. Rightly, the main responsibility for leading the school improvement lies in schools, but this calls for high levels of expertise from middle and senior leaders.
School accountability is more sharply focused than ever. Heads will be called on to monitor and evaluate the quality of provision in ways that lead to measurable outcomes and impact. Under workforce remodelling, our staff will include people from a range of professional backgrounds, all of whom will require leadership and professional development.
We also have to understand and adapt our teaching to a far wider and different range of special needs. We are challenged with motivating children who are often from needy and deprived backgrounds. We need to educate learners who have grown up in a multimedia environment in which literacy means far more than reading text. And we must work in the context of a society in which the "respect agenda" cannot be taken for granted.
All this means that the old days of CPD being a summer handbook of training courses have well and truly gone. CPD means far more than courses: it has to be an integral part of our working conditions and include collaborative partnerships in which various learning providers learn from each other and share good practice.
It needs wide-ranging in-house and external learning opportunities; coaching and mentoring; peer observation; classroom-based small-scale research; membership of school-based working parties involved in development projects; and close formal and informal links with higher education to draw on research and provide accreditation.
One approach that has a highly successful track record has, amazingly, never been used in Wales. It is the use of extra funding to invest in the cost of an additional teacher in each school to provide flexibility in timetables and cover for training.
A number of hours a week are then allocated to a selection of individuals who carry out collaborative professional and curriculum development activities according to clearly defined, monitored and evaluated briefs.
The great advantage of this is that it does not disrupt learning by requiring lessons to be covered, and enables teachers to attend off-site meetings, visit other schools to share good practice and carry out collaborative work.
I came to Wales from an area that had transformed the curriculum and teacher expertise, and brought about a truly collaborative approach to CPD. It is of great concern that the funding of professional development is in such a parlous state in Wales. News that the General Teaching Council for Wales's bursary funds run out with nearly half of the financial year to go is deeply worrying. The capacity of schools to organise professional development programmes that meet whole-school needs has been severely constrained by funding cuts. The training needs of the wider school workforce have simply been ignored.
I would say the body of research into the impact of CPD on school improvement is incontrovertible. Last year, Ofsted conducted a survey of schools in England that it judged to be outstanding. In every one, good CPD was one of the characteristics that accounted for their success. These schools all invest a great deal of time in identifying evidence for priorities, identifying the needs of individual staff and shifting classroom practice.
We continue in Wales to do far too little to address the pressing need to nurture new school leaders. The concerns about an ageing population of heads are well known, and we all have a duty to ensure we are preparing and equipping the next generation of school leaders. Professional development is the key to this, and that means far more than simply sending people to complete the National Professional Qualification for Headship.
But there is is a ray of hope. We all have a vast amount of expertise within our schools that can be shared for the benefit of all of our staff, and not all of this is a question of new funding.
Much of it is a matter of directing it to the point of delivery. The clock is ticking - let's work together to make this a success in 2009.
Brian Lightman, Head of St Cyres School in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.