Training is way off course

21st March 2014 at 00:00

When I was a green young teacher, continuing professional development (CPD) courses abounded and I loved them. You would be sent off for a day, well away from any children, to sit with friendly fellow teachers while someone taught you stuff you could actually use in the classroom. More importantly, you were given a free lunch. For a workforce that has to pay for its own tea and coffee, this is a bit like being handed a winning lottery ticket and a puppy. I went on so many courses at one venue that I learned where to sit to get first dibs on the cream doughnuts.

These courses were mostly curriculum-based and full of practical ideas. Some were dull, but many were brilliant and run by dynamic people (often classroom teachers) who genuinely loved their subject. And your school encouraged this learning process. If you were struggling to teach art, your school leader would book you on to a course from which you'd return desperate to get back into class so that you could recreate Van Gogh's The Starry Night using just three colours of paint and a shoelace.

During my first few years as a teacher, I learned countless new skills and tricks that I still use regularly. Thanks to a maths course I can teach Russian multiplication and have an arsenal of tried and tested mental maths starters. A particularly memorable creative writing course gave me a foolproof method for teaching subordinate clauses. And a lot of the new ideas I picked up came from chatting to teachers from other schools. It was morale-boosting to have people to share stories of success and failure with.

CPD today couldn't be more different. Because of ever-increasing school autonomy, training providers are usually bought in, which means that you rarely get to see teachers from other schools. Curriculum-based courses seem to have vanished - training days that aren't the essential "safeguarding" and "positive handling" are invariably based around implementing a new system to track performance data. The presenters lack charisma and their preferred delivery method often consists of laboriously reading out a 47-page PowerPoint. And to add insult to injury, they even make us bring our own lunch.

It is years since I learned something on a course that I could use in the classroom. I once raised this point with a senior manager, who waved it aside, saying: "You don't need courses now. Everything is on the internet." While it's true that I, like most teachers, would not survive without a vast network of online teaching resources, scouring the web for a history lesson at midnight is never going to fire you up with the same enthusiasm as a day spent discussing ideas with human beings.

We don't need more training on monitoring students' progress, we need more training in how to teach them. And never underestimate the impact a teacher can have on a student's attainment when she's been given a free cream doughnut.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands, England

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