Training courses branded a rip-off

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Two-thirds of teachers' professional development is probably rubbish, says academic. Graeme Paton reports

Schools are being ripped off by companies providing shoddy teacher-training courses, according to a leading academic.

Dr Sandra Leaton Gray said profiteering by private business was one of the major symptoms of a fragmented and under-resourced system of in-service training for teachers in the UK.

She said the Government's refusal to ring-fence cash for professional development resulted in some schools spending as little as pound;600 a year. Headteachers who spend more, sometimes up to pound;30,000, are often let down by "cowboy" training providers who are given free rein to court schools, unregulated by the Government.

Dr Leaton Gray, from Cambridge university, who interviewed 181 teachers, local councils and unions as part of a study, insisted standards had to be subject to more rigorous assessment.

"Two-thirds of the continuing professional development teachers get is probably rubbish," she said.

In her report, one secondary teacher described a course as follows: "It was all very posh. We had little notebooks and pencils, and bottles of water on the tables. But I could have delivered a better course myself. It didn't tell me anything I didn't know already."

Two teachers told how they left a course at lunchtime and returned to school because the training consultant was useless and they felt guilty about being away.

Dr Leaton Gray said some companies run the same course under different titles to maximise income. She said a secondary teacher who attended a course to improve achievement among high-ability pupils was appalled to find that a colleague had gone on a course with the same content and overheads given by the same provider to improve achievement among low-ability pupils.

Initial teacher-training is monitored, with both universities and school-based courses regularly inspected. But in-service training is free of any professional guidelines or audits.

Dr Leaton Gray said training provided by subject associations, local councils and trade unions was often rated more highly than that staged by private companies, which charge up to pound;400 a day for consultants to visit a school.

"They are often one-man-band operations, set up in a spare bedroom and touting themselves as consultants," she said.

The Government says it is committed to improving training standards and has charged the Teacher Training Agency with regulating professional development. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has said that the Office for Standards in Education may be asked to assess standards.

Ralph Tabberer, TTA chief executive, has described courses for teachers as little more than "time off", despite taking up 5 per cent of their working lives. He said future training may be linked to pay rises.

Dr Leaton Gray welcomed the move, but said greater regulation would only improve standards if it was accompanied by extra money.

In March Ms Kelly made it clear that improvements to training had to be met from existing school budgets. Dr Leaton Gray said all teachers should be entitled to a set amount of professional development in their contracts, paid for from a central funding pot.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The market for in-service training is largely unregulated. There should be an onus on the training providers to maintain the highest standards."

Alison Ross, head of Kesteven and Sleaford girls' high, a grammar school in Lincolnshire, said it was spending up to pound;22,000 next year on training, but the budget can vary enormously.

"I would be very reluctant to do it, but if I needed funds urgently elsewhere in the school I would consider taking money from the training budget."

The TTA only took responsibility for in-service training this month. Mary Doherty, the director in charge, agreed that standards had to rise and said the TTA would advise schools and local authorities to recommend the best training.

"Many of the findings in this report accord with our own review of continuing professional development," she said. However, future decisions on whether more money will be provided for training will rest with the Department for Education and Skills.

A spokeswoman for Mill Wharf, one of the country's leading teacher training companies, which offers more than 150 courses, said it was unfair to brand all organisations in the same way.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

The report is available from ucam-press-office@lists.cam.ac.uk

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