Under the same blanket
All professionals set to work in schools are to have their training woven together. Alison Shepherd reports
The trickiest part of creating the seamless provision for children demanded by Every Child Matters is in overcoming the huge variations in the way different professionals and their organisations work.
Stoke-on-Trent is one local authority that realised that it is not enough just to tinker around the edges where the agencies overlap, but to start right in the middle with the training of each professional.
Sue Wedgwood, Stoke's senior adviser with special responsibility for continuing professional development, was working with home-school link workers in 2004 and realised that she was dealing with the first of many new professionals destined to work with schools.
"We knew that we had to involve members of the community in schools if we were to meet the requirements of ECM, but there was no training out there that would help schools work effectively with them."
So Ms Wedgwood pulled a group of people together from schools, social services, Connexions, the police and the primary care trust to map out their joint training needs. "We realised there was a lot going on, but it was all separate with a lot of duplication across the organisations. So we designed a continuing professional development programme which was open to all the professions to train together."
But at this stage it became obvious that an even deeper meshing had to take place. "Simple things such as different terminology became an issue. When I said `assessment' as a teacher, it meant something completely different to those from a health or social services background. We had to work hard at ensuring we all knew exactly what each other was saying. Sometimes it was like trying to knit fog."
But out of it all a "CPD framework to entitlement" was drawn up which detailed all the courses available in the area and what every professional at every level was entitled to access.
"I am very proud of that document," said Ms Wedgwood. "Everyone working with children, not just from education, can now pick up a book and track the opportunities available to support their professional development."
After the first few sessions, the multi-agency meetings became huge affairs with many people attending, so it was decided that the group should split to allow small groups to concentrate on different issues.
Carolyn Brown, a workforce adviser with Warwickshire local authority, had worked as a link adviser for England's General Teaching Council on the initial training initiative with Ms Wedgwood. She joined the splinter group working on behaviour in and out of schools with money from the Government's behaviour improvement programme.
"We identified behaviour as a major issue that had to be tackled if we were to improve standards in schools. But it is an issue that goes way beyond schools and affects so many agencies: police, housing officers, social services," said Ms Brown. "All the meetings were really well-attended and everyone seemed very motivated by the project."
The professionals came together once a month to share information and practice, which was then fed back to the local authority, which developed Inset training to help teachers deal with the issues raised. The teachers taking part in the scheme could also further their own development by using the scheme as a research project, which is recognised by the GTCE's teacher learning academy, an accreditation scheme.
Ms Brown says the academy adds an extra positive dimension to the scheme as it gives structure to what the teachers are learning, allows them to pass that knowledge on to others, and uses the research expertise of Keele university.
The teachers have to present their experiences as a research paper and give evidence as to what worked and why. This has to be then disseminated to others in order to gain the accreditation.
"It encourages the teachers to be very reflective and focus on what they are doing and why. By sharing the evidence that the project is having an impact on behaviour shows in a very concrete way what teachers have learnt," said Ms Brown.
But obviously such projects are not designed just to further the careers of teachers and other professionals, and their impact on the pupils is at the core.
"The schools of the future will look very different from what they do now," says Ms Wedgwood. "There will be so many different people interacting with children that we need to be sure that they have some idea how to handle them.
"Just because a nurse knows all about sex and health, should she be able to come in and take a lesson with no other training? Nobody would let me, as a teacher, loose with a syringe."