We've got a lot to learn

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Training for qualified teachers must be right if the Learning Country is to be made real, writes Ken Jones.

It is time for a full review of how the professional development of those working in education is managed, led and funded in Wales.

Last month IPDA Cymru, the International Professional Development Association, held its annual conference in Cardiff on the theme of continuing professional development (CPD) for all.

The conference was attended by representatives from schools, local education authorities, higher education institutions (HEIs), government agencies and others with an interest in professional development in education.

What was abundantly clear is that we all agree on the common goal - that if schools are to provide the best learning experiences for children and young people, they have to provide the best learning support not only for teachers, but for all other professionals and associate staff involved in the learning process.

A number of key points emerged. First, focusing on the professional development of teachers will only give us part of the answer and, in an era of school remodelling, all adults who support learning are likely to need more training.

Also, unless schools, HEIs, LEAs and others collaborate in providing professional development, there will be no coherent support for learning.

The Assembly government's "making connections" agenda is already bringing potential partners together by encouraging LEAs to pool expertise. There must also be opportunities for higher education, schools and others to play a part in this if we are to build on firm foundations.

Funding must be targeted more effectively. The General Teaching Council for Wales's fund has provided excellent opportunities for CPD but is for registered teachers only, and take-up in Wales is inconsistent by age and region.

There is a significant gap in provision for teaching assistants, and reductions and changes to Assembly government funding for general CPD (via the better schools fund) limit the opportunities for headteachers to support all staff in their schools.

We do not have a clear idea of what training teachers, teaching assistants and other associate staff need. More research needs to be done on this in Wales so that funding and provision is targeted more effectively to use the money in the best way. In particular, those who are given the new teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs), which have replaced the old management allowances, will need greater targeted funding support than exists at present.

If CPD is to be valued and effective, it should be recognised in some way.

Some professions insist on counting CPD hours, others require further qualifications to be obtained before career development may take place. The proposals for chartered teacher status in the GTCW's draft professional development framework go some way towards this, and the higher level teaching assistant qualification may give similar recognition to teaching assistants.

Radical ways of ensuring entitlement to professional learning support are needed across Wales, but especially in areas which are geographically distant from centres of population. The development of online provision and e-learning must be made a priority, and teachers and teaching assistants in Wales could lead the way by exploring new forms of professional development using new technologies.

Sensibly, the ending of the undergraduate route to qualified teacher status, which was one of the recommendations in the Furlong review of initial teacher-training provision in Wales, is unlikely to take place.

This would have removed a significant and very effective form of preparing primary school teachers, equipping them to work with other adults in the classroom.

The focus now needs to be on building partnerships between universities, schools and LEAs to ensure coherence from initial training through induction to early professional development, to reduce the need to compensate for knowledge and skills that cannot be acquired in the early stages of a person's career.

Finally, if school improvement is to be built on "CPD for all", this has to be managed effectively in schools. Clear responsibilities for training will need to be identified at senior and middle leadership levels, and the role of the CPD co-ordinator will be central in working alongside those holding TLRs.

Consequently, there must be targeted training for those who manage, co-ordinate and lead CPD in schools.

The Learning Country, the Assembly government's education programme to 2010, presents dynamic and distinctive opportunities for education in Wales. However, the timescales for introducing new initiatives are often short.

There is a danger that teachers and others will be poorly prepared for these, and excellent and innovative proposals will have limited effectiveness.

Professional development must not be a catch-up to compensate for gaps in knowledge and expertise. Targeted, funded and inclusive training for all must be planned now, if the C in CPD is to genuinely mean continuing.

Ken Jones is dean of humanities at Swansea Institute of Higher Education.

See www.ipda.org.uk

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