Fighting for pay rises. Improving conditions. Standing up for rights at work. These are the kind of things we expect unions to help us with. But continuing professional development? Would you expect to turn to your school rep if you wanted a course on effective presentation skills or the learning-centred classroom? Unions argue that they are well placed to deliver the kind of training their members want, and their expanding CPD programmes are testament to an increasing commitment to helping teachers hone their skills. So what exactly is on offer? Is it just for political activists or can anyone sign up? And what's the point of going to your union when private training providers run perfectly good courses?
Until the mid-1970s, professional development was very much part of the unions' role. Admittedly this didn't mean three-day seminars with guest speakers and PowerPoint presentations, but it did mean printed pamphlets on everything from how to teach swimming to leadership skills. But the beginning of what John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, calls the "guerrilla war" of the early 1980s turned the focus to fighting for pay and jobs, and resources were redirected accordingly.
Moving into the 21st century, the unions have begun to rethink their priorities. Increasingly they see their role as helping teachers to move up the career ladder - and providing the training to make that possible. Over the past five years the money allocated to training has increased steadily; this year's budget for the NUT's professional development programme, for example, is pound;285,000.
Members now expect their unions to provide CPD, but 10 years ago this wasn't the case. Research carried out in 1993 at the University of Hertfordshire found that while teachers thought the unions should fight for their right to training, they didn't see it as the unions' job to deliver it. "We ignored the research and went down that road anyway," says John Bangs. "And the result is that attitudes have changed; our surveys show that members see the provision of CPD as one of our key functions."
Although the idea of unions providing professional development is not new, the range of courses on offer is. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, for example, has offered training for heads and deputies for more than 15 years, and has now extended its programme to include courses for NQTs, classroom teachers and support staff. Most of the unions claim to be expanding their CPD opportunities, but the Professional Association of Teachers is alone in moving away from providing courses itself. Although it still provides some training directly, its emphasis is on funding other partners to deliver CPD to its members.
Learning from others
The unions' new-found enthusiasm for CPD was prompted by the success of projects in other countries. In 1992, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) began to move away from a focus on pay awards and working conditions towards becoming "a professional union". This meant adding professional development to the services offered to its 984,000 members. The AFT now delivers (or collaborates with and funds others to deliver) a full range of CPD programmes, including an expanded network of "teacher centres". These union-run centres, which have been established for more than 20 years in New York and have spread to other major cities, offer teachers resources, study groups, workshops and more formal conferences in what the AFT calls "job-embedded professional development".
The British unions were inspired by the AFT model. "We saw them taking responsibility for CPD and creating amazing provision, much of it led by the teachers themselves," says John Bangs, who visited the US in 2000 to see the scheme in action. "It showed just what unions could do to offer a professional service, focusing on the basic pedagogic issues that matter most to teachers."
So what is on offer?
All the unions run training on traditional issues: health and safety, how to be an effective rep, negotiating skills. The rest of their programmes are drawn up after consultation with members about what is needed; the overwhelming demand seems to be for support in dealing with challenging behaviour. Of the 19 courses offered in 2004 by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, for example, more than a quarter deal with classroom management. "It's popular demand," explains Alison Ryan, the ATL's training manager. "This is the area of our provision that we've really expanded in the past few years."
But it's not all detentions and reprimands. The NUT is proud of its thinking skills course, which has been piloted with 1,000 teachers and is about encouraging creativity. The ATL runs courses for those preparing for retirement, and programmes dealing with team building, career development, stress management and presentation skills. And the NASUWT supplements its behaviour seminars with support in preparing a school for inspection, communication skills and technology. Its most popular course, however, is a two-day summer school aimed at NQTs who are preparing for their first post, which has a big behaviour management component. "It's both a general induction, and it deals with specific needs," says the NASUWT's education secretary, Olwyn Gunn. "It builds on what people learn in teacher training to make sure they're fully equipped for that first day in the classroom."
There's an increasing emphasis too on teachers being trained to teach other teachers, and the NUT has two programmes - Teacher2Teacher and Teachers Together - which put the emphasis on peer support and the sharing of information. In both cases initial seminars are followed up with a review meeting (see case study).
CPD provision is different in Scotland. The Educational Institute of Scotland, the country's largest union, collaborates with local councils and professional organisations to deliver courses through universities. The EIS has been developing CPD courses with the University of Paisley for several years. Launched this year by the Scottish Executive, the Teaching Profession for the 21st Century agreement not only created a training framework but also gave teachers a contractual right to 35 hours of CPD a year. The executive is drawing up a register of training providers, and has also launched a chartered teachers programme, which is a voluntary development programme for staff wanting to accredit their skills and broaden their careers without going into management. Five hundred teachers signed up to train as chartered teachers in September, and another programme is due to start early next year.
But the EIS is concerned about where funding is going to come from for all this extra provision. Although teachers are now entitled to 35 hours CPD a year, they have to pay for the training themselves. For someone taking a number of modules in order to move up the salary scale or training for chartered teacher status, this can amount to thousands of pounds. "We've managed to negotiate some discounts," says Eileen Stewart at the EIS. "The University of Paisley reduces fees by 15 per cent for our members, for example. But it's still a problem. We're talking to the Scottish Executive to try to get more assistance."
It's news to me
For those not actively involved in union issues, the CPD programmes may come as a surprise. Recent funding from the central Union Learning Fund, however, has enabled several of the teaching unions to increase awareness and accessibility. They have set up a network of "learning reps" to communicate with members about CPD opportunities and persuade heads to release staff for training. At the moment the NUT and the NASUWT reps are only at branch or regional level, but there are plans to set up a network in schools. The EIS has already accredited 24 learning reps, a figure it plans to double soon, and the ATL is also working on a system that will allow regional advisers to negotiate on training locally. These new posts should become the first port of call for CPD enquiries.
Why choose a union course?
There are plenty of CPD courses out there, so why go with the unions? Most of the courses are offered to members free or at cost price. Travel expenses are often paid in full or heavily subsidised, and those attending a course away from home are likely to be offered free accommodation. The NASUWT's course for NQTs, for example, draws people from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the whole of England, all put up at the union's expense in a London conference centre. "We tried having regional sessions," says Olwyn Gunn, "but members preferred coming to us. It gives them more of a chance to get to know people from all over and find out what's going on."
The NUT even has its own training centre at Stoke Rochford Hall, a stately home in Lincolnshire. "Our members seem to like it there," says John Bangs.
This is perhaps not surprising given that the facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts and multi gym, as well as en-suite rooms with satellite television. But the real advantage of union courses, John Bangs suggests, is that they can provide the training that teachers really want. "Schools will often only pay for courses that meet school objectives, government targets, or development plans," he says. "But our development is focused on the needs of the teacher. People feel safe in a union-led environment, where you are able to admit your shortcomings because you know that no one is judging you. That makes for a real sense of freedom."
Getting the best
It's not only the number and range of courses that's improving. The traditional image of a dyed-in-the-wool activist delivering the party line from the front of a seminar room is being overtaken by specially trained course leaders and an emphasis on broadening career options. "We've made radical changes recently," explains John Mayes, chair of the NASUWT's training committee. "From January we'll be accrediting some of our courses through the Open College Network. This is something we're really proud of.
We're working with new trainers, people who are active in the classroom.
We're keeping up with current issues. Good quality accredited training will open up all kinds of opportunities, both inside teaching or elsewhere."
John Bangs is similarly keen to emphasise the quality of the training available. "We now offer cutting-edge training about relevant issues," he says. "Our courses are led by experts." The shift towards using professional trainers and tailor-made courses, rather than programmes adapted from the TUC, means that teachers can now get training that meets their needs and reflects changes in the classroom.
Do I have to be a member?
This varies from course to course: most of the popular courses are open only to members but some will accommodate non-members if there is space.
Non-members, however, usually have to pay full price, which can be around pound;250 for two days. If it's appropriate, some courses will allow you to bring a colleague, and for the ATL's retirement seminar, delegates are encouraged to bring along their husband wife for a charge of pound;20.
Some of the more popular courses also distinguish between active and non-active members. Just paying your subscription each year will entitle you to a subsidised rate on the course; taking an active role as school rep or branch officer will get you in for free. The new accredited training schemes are also aimed, in the first instance, at those taking an active role in their union. The NASUWT's partnership with the Open College Network, for example, will allow those already working as "activists in schools" to be the first to train towards the NVQ qualifications.
If you belong to a union, the best contact - until all the 'learning reps' are in place - is probably through your school rep, who should have all the details of CPD on offer. Alternatively, contact your branch office. All the union websites have direct links to listings of CPD training and courses.
PAT: www.pat.org.uk (follow the link to education and learning)
Secondary Heads Association: www.sha.org.uk
In Scotland the Scottish Executive publishes a booklet outlining the new CPD framework. Contact the education department (schools group) on 0131 556 8400 or 0845 774 1741. Alternatively, information and key documents can be found at www.teachinginscotland.com. Details of the chartered teachers programme can be found at www.ctprogrammes.org
Main text: Steven Hastings. Illustration: Brett Ryder. Additional research: Tracey Thomas
Next week: ADHD