We have to develop the best people business

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Training and development are vital for teachers but must be more rigorously assessed and applied, writes Ralph Tabberer.

Teaching is a people business. Since its prime purpose is to make a difference to the lives of the young, it is probably the people business.

And research evidence is categorical that teacher's knowledge, skills and behaviour have the greatest influence on what pupils achieve.

One would expect teaching to be at the forefront of best practice in managing people, and in training and development. But is it? I am unconvinced. Consider these problems. Across the school sector, there is insufficient time invested in analysing the knowledge and skills that individuals could use to strengthen their teaching. Performance management is too rarely used as a natural entry into planning individuals'

development needs. Schools appoint staff development co-ordinators but the planned interventions they oversee are often short-term.

There are other problems. Whole-school training can consume much time and money, yet much is not well-focused. Meanwhile, investment in sustained programmes designed to improve staff subject knowledge and pedagogy is down; coaching and mentoring skills are undeveloped; many teachers have no access to intelligent support in planning their career. And the mass market that provides an external training component appears to be based on short inputs too, even though we know they have no lasting impact on teacher behaviour and pupil outcomes. At its worst, training and development is little better than "time off".

Individual schools, of course, excel. But even in those with a better deal for teachers, there are weaknesses in the way opportunities are extended to the wider school team. What has caused us to lose sight of how to develop people well? Perhaps we are suffering the legacy of years of high workload.

Staff may feel too busy, or simply too tired, to take extra time out for programmes designed to refine their subject and teaching skills. Or, perhaps, individual development has weakened as a reaction to the national strategies. Have people yielded to the Government's high-priority change programmes and lost sight of their own development options and responsibilities?

I certainly do not believe that money is the problem, as schools have charge of their own budgets. Nor do I see networking as the solution. It does put some control back in the hands of working teams in schools, but there is good and bad practice. We need to do more to define the conditions under which training and development programmes - whether externally or internally driven - are likely to translate into better teaching and learning.

It is time for us to play back, right across the schooling system, two fundamental messages.

First, we must reassert the importance of planned and sustained development programmes - initial teacher training works, because it is one such programme.

Second, schools would do better to think further than generating a "learning culture" and focus more keenly on creating a training and development regime. We must not waste time arguing whether development programmes are best if they start on-site or off-site. It matters less how a programme starts and more, whether or not - and how - it is followed through. Schools will flourish when training and development programmes:

* are based on a common and clear vision of what teaching should be;

* have well-defined standards of classroom practice;

* have a subject, or another sharp focus, to the development work;

* adopt a solution-based approach to achieving classroom improvements;

* secure the support of expert coaching and support throughout, from experienced and skilled teaching colleagues.

No one should be under the illusion that it is enough to achieve three or four of these. A regime requires all to be in place and it is to this fuller and more rigorous set of expectations that we must look.

I believe that the national bodies must create better conditions for quality in training and development. We can start by establishing rules for the proposed expert teaching scheme which make clear that teachers must first have a record of sustained training and development under their belt before progressing. We could make similar changes to the criteria for threshold payments, for advanced skills teacher status, and for access to leadership positions. We could then look to introducing similar expectations for all support staff.

We could also look harder at the ways judgements are made about school training and development through Office for Standards in Education inspections and in Investors in People. Schools should not be judged "good" if their training and development fails to improve learning.

Schools will not raise standards without better development programmes for those at their core. Science teaching will not improve; primary music will not be turned round; staff will fail to cope with the new 14-19 reforms. It is time we put the presumption of a strong record in training and development back at the heart of our schools, and of their whole staff.

Ralph Tabberer is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency

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