Treasure hunters

21st March 2003 at 00:00
After a highly critical inspection, Manchester plans to unearth its hidden classroom riches. Nic Barnard reports

WHEN Mick Waters talks about continuing professional development, he speaks as though it were a crusade.

"Our best teachers are treasures and sometimes treasures are hidden," he says. "Our job is to find them and keep them sparkling."

Since he arrived four months ago as Manchester's chief education officer, Mr Waters has moved to put CPDat the heart of the city's attempt to progress after a disastrous inspection by the Office for Standards in Education five years ago. And it's an approach that chimes well with heads.

"We want inspiration, innovation - to get teachers excited about learning again is crucial," says Anne Whitehead, head of the Willows primary in Wythenshawe .

Manchester under Mr Waters, the former deputy leader of Birmingham LEA, would like to think of itself as a "learning LEA". But this is also about recruitment and retention. Teachers often begin their careers in the city but move after three or four years to more "successful" schools in the suburbs. And having proved themselves in Manchester, they are highly prized.

Four out of five teachers who leave the inner city cite quality of career development as a reason for moving. But the city is responding by developing two key ideas: the "Manchester guarantee" and the "urban specialist".

Waters and his team believe the urban specialist should sit alongside the subject specialist, the special needs co-ordinator or the behaviour expert.

"Our teachers work in the most difficult circumstances in the country," says Mr Waters. "They become experts in the urban agenda, and we've got to keep them where they're needed."

If a philosophy isn't enough, Manchester will offer a more tangible incentive:the Manchester Bond. Students on local teacher-training courses would be sponsored during teaching practice and signed up to work in the city for a minimum of five years. In return they would get subsidised housing, transport and sports facilities. They would aso get the 12-point Manchester Guarantee of continuing professional development, including a "learning account" of up to pound;500 a year.

"They'll get perks they wouldn't get in Stockport and they'll get professional development," says Paul Latham, head of the LEA's Innovations Team. They will also automatically join the Manchester Academy (see below).

But the guarantee does not come cheap. The LEA will put in some resources, but schools will have to give about 1 per cent of their budgets.

Mr Waters and his team need to win the hearts and minds of heads.

With budgets increasingly devolved to schools, the council's ability to drive an agenda depends more on its powers of persuasion than its bank balance.

But the city is in fertile territory. Heads who lost trust in the council took CPD upon themselves and built networks. Mr Whitehead is part of a group of 11 heads working on schol impvement, and the LEAaims to develop these links further.

"The city has taken four years to get sorted out. I think now there can be real lift-off," says Mr Whitehead. "We've been working on lots of stuff, but Mick Waters is taking it to another level."

Mr Latham sees the authorityas a co-ordinator, convening strands of Department for Education and Skills funding that get lost in school budgets, and providing a framework, although there are limits.

"If you want to do a course on needlecraft, you'd better look for some Saturday morning classes," he says. "There's been a lot of indulgence in CPD - it's not there for you to meet pals."

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