'We want control over our own careers'

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Sheffield teachers knew what they needed: more non-contact time, structured CPD and a say in what they studied. Jill Parkin reports

A group of young teachers in Sheffield recently set out to find what their peer group wanted in the way of professional development. But when they tried to send out a questionnaire on the subject to colleagues around the city, they hit a stumbling block.

"The idea was to get the opinions of teachers with two to five years' experience, but we found out the LEA didn't have a database telling us who those teachers might be. So that was an immediate learning curve for the LEA," laughs Jo Mirza, a Year 6 teacher at Ballifield primary school.

Jo, 29, is in her fifth year of teaching and was one of five teachers - three primary and two secondary - who developed an entitlement for post-entry teachers in a joint project with Sheffield LEA and the General Teaching Council.

"The first thing was to find out what we all thought CPD was, because it seemed to be just courses and INSET days. We went back to our schools and talked to lots of teachers and interviewed our CPD co-ordinators, who rather tellingly are often called INSET co-ordinators.

"We used what we heard as a basis to draw up a questionnaire for teachers, with the help of Sheffield Hallam University. We asked what CPD experiences they had had, what had been useful and what not, and what experiences they would like to have."

When the results of the 200-plus questionnaires were analysed by the project group, Jo and her colleagues found there was little difference between secondary and primary teachers. Strong common themes emerged.

"They wanted more non-contact time but they wanted it to be structured for CPD. And they wanted it structured by themselves rather than by someone else.

"CPD had always fitted round the school development plan; teachers wanted it to give them more control over their own careers," Jo says. "They felt there was an assumption in CPD that they would want to move up the ladder into managerial roles, but many of them wanted to develop a specialism at their own level.

"Another strong theme was personal study time. They wanted to be seen as professionals at the cutting edge and so they needed to keep up with their field.

"We were surprised how few of them knew about the CPD that was available.

Few knew about the professional bursaries scheme or about TIPD (the international scheme). It became clear that the role of co-ordinator needed to be developed through training so that they should become more than just the person who sends us on courses.

"Teachers felt there wasn't enough feedback time to share CPD experiences and ideas with colleagues. We also followed up by meeting 30 of the teachers between the five of us and what came up strongly there was accreditation, something which hadn't seemed so important when we analysed the questionnaire. There was a feeling that accreditation would mark the route of a teacher's professional development."

For Jo Mirza and her colleagues organising the questionnaire has been valuable professional development. "We're going to write it all up as a work-based learning unit towards a master's degree at Sheffield Hallam," she says.

The head of Ballifield, Geoff Gillard, used last year's in-service training funds to send several of his teachers on a part-time postgraduate course in leadership and management in education at the same university.

"The school covers the fees of pound;630 each and the cost can be spread over two financial years," he says. "It's good value for the school as all sessions are out of school time so there are no cover costs. The coursework supports the school's development. The final module requires each course member to undertake a main strand of school development from the school's improvement plan. So the school benefits directly.

"We have four staff on the programme and demands on their time are considerable. You need a high level of motivation to balance the demands of the course with the pressures of normal working. Staff feedback on the course so far has been positive. Credits gained can be used towards an eventual masters degree. And it gives staff an opportunity to work with colleagues from other schools."

The Sheffield project is one of nine that the GTC is running with English LEAs to agree professional learning entitlements designed to support and encourage teachers to stay in the profession.

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