When push comes to shove

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Six years have passed since the last government foray into continuing professional development. Nic Barnard talks to teachers' leader Judy Moorhouse about the latest initiatives

Senate House looms over the swish new London offices of the General Teaching Council for England. Judy Moorhouse, its newly re-elected chair, says the University of London's headquarters always remind her of Batman and Gotham city. Whether it inspires her to deal with the jokers, riddlers and two-faces of education politics, she doesn't say.

Out the other side of the GTC's new Bloomsbury home lies the entrance to Eisenhower's World War Two bunker. Continuing professional development may not be stuck underground these days, but it's probably closer to the bunker than the gleaming summit of Senate House.

Continuing professional development is still a patchy picture across the country, Ms Moorhouse says. "We have this situation where teachers start their career with their first year being mentored, assessed, helped with their teaching and their practice. And then they feel abandoned."

This seems a good time for a new push. Last month, newly-returned Education Secretary Ruth Kelly highlighted "a culture of professional development" as "probably the next phase of reform" for a third-term Labour government.

Excellent news - except that David Miliband, in his former role as schools minister, said something much the same in a speech to the North of England conference more than two years ago. And it's now six - yes, six - years since the bright new dawn of the 1999 Green Paper, "Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change", which set out a comprehensive entitlement for teachers' professional development.

If there is a ray of hope this time, it comes from Mrs Kelly's recognition of the urgency of equipping teachers to deal with the wave of reforms her Government is introducing, from personalised learning to full-service schools.

Nevertheless, Ms Moorhouse says, teachers could be forgiven for cynicism.

At the time of Mr Miliband's speech, she notes, "they were getting rid of sabbaticals, getting rid of bursaries, getting rid of best practice research scholarships". And if Mrs Kelly is serious, she will have to put up the cash to make it work.

Many GTC members report training opportunities being abandoned for lack of cash - a result of the Government's decision to put CPD money into school budgets and not ring-fence it. "There are many schools where even the teachers themselves say no, it's more important to have books in the classroom," she says.

"So there will be a great deal of cynicism across the profession if there isn't actual money or help made available for teachers in schools."

The council has been heavily involved in CPD since its formation in 2000 (with Ms Moorhouse among its first elected members), under its remit to improve teaching and learning in schools.

That currently takes three forms. Its electronic Connect network allows CPD leaders in schools to spread good practice. The teacher learning academy gives a structure to training and allows teachers to progress towards higher education qualifications, while ensuring that what they learn becomes embedded in schools' practice.

Finally, there's the teachers' professional learning framework, which attempts to make sense of the maze of training options on offer, and, working with local education authorities, begins to describe an entitlement for teachers. The work with local authorities attracted a pound;350,000 grant from the Department for Skills and Education - "Peanuts in the scheme of things," admits Ms Moorhouse, but a sign of its goodwill.

In fact, she says, CPD doesn't need to be expensive - but it does require commitment. In particular, teachers need time and that means cover. It's easy to send staff off on twilight or holiday courses, but nothing beats observing others teach and being observed, and that, by definition, has to take place during the school day.

Ms Moorhouse is a passionate believer in professional development, from her own experience. A lifelong feminist and self-confessed "child of the 60s", she talks of the early courses she took with the National Union of Teachers, from girls' achievement to assertiveness and self-esteem courses taught by Dame Rennie Fritchie. "I don't think I'd be chair of the GTC if it weren't for my first taste of professional development at the NUT," she says.

She became a trainer herself and spread the message out to other teachers.

"I could see the changes it made and the developments that took place in giving people the skills to develop," she says. It was a short step to transferring those lessons to her own teaching.

She recognises that "not every teacher in the land is panting to take part in continuing professional development". Yet she believes there is a real desire for good quality training.

The trouble is, opportunities have always been too rare, too random - depending on your school or the information you happen to have received - and too often done in isolation. "For years and years and years, teachers would see a course or be told to take a course, go off for a couple of days, and that was it," she says. "What didn't happen was the sharing of that information."

The academy and the learning framework are attempts to make that link between training and school improvement, by encouraging teachers to work together on CPD relevant to their circumstances and giving them credit for reporting back to colleagues. Ms Moorhouse is keen on the idea of schools, particularly small schools, working together.

A busy couple of years lie ahead of her. With her day job on hold as special needs teacher and head of year at Richmond school, north Yorkshire, she has just been returned unopposed for a further two-year term at the GTC, is senior vice-president of the NUT and next year becomes its president.

Ms Moorhouse is optimistic. The long-awaited revolution in continuing professional development is, she thinks, "finally going to happen". It's written into the remit of the Teacher Training Agency as it becomes the Training and Development Agency. Everybody from the National College for School Leadership to the teaching unions is increasingly active. Ministers are also, she thinks, finally getting the message about creativity, about the need for teachers to be allowed to fail if they are to improve.

But this is a critical time, she warns. Many teachers feel that CPD is simply a stick to beat them with in these target-driven days of performance management. And therein lies the biggest danger.

"We could be at that pivotal point where professional development really takes off and everybody recognises its value. Or it might come down with a mighty crash because teachers feel compelled to take part."

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