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Tired development needs a wake-up call

Few things can be more irritating for teachers than being urged not to "chalk and talk" by someone delivering a two-hour, droning monologue in front of a PowerPoint presentation.

The failure of some trainers to practise what they preach has frequently been noted by teachers - and not just by those who have started nodding off at the back of the hall on Inset days.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools produced a "state of the nation" report on continuing professional development (CPD) four years ago. Teachers surveyed for the report "described a `PowerPoint problem' where presenters read from slides," the agency said, adding: "Some teachers also referred to a `spin-out problem' where content that should have merited a couple of hours was used to fill an entire day."

The agency noted that teachers were equally put off by what they saw as a "bandwagon" approach to some staff development. Perhaps the most important problem noted in the report was that many teachers seemed to regard CPD as synonymous with "going on a course".

Needless to say, good staff development involves more than that. Most schools have recognised that for a long time. Others have decided that it may no longer be worthwhile to pay for a course, plus supply cover, only to get a feedback form saying "the sandwiches were nice".

CPD may not be the sexiest of topics, but getting it right is crucial. The influential McKinsey report on the world's best-performing schools quoted a policymaker in Boston saying that the "three pillars" of successful reform were "professional development, professional development, professional development".

Teaching quality has, of course, been found to be the most important factor in improving an education system. It is teaching quality, not teacher quality, that counts - a reminder that the skills are not necessarily innate and anyone can benefit from further development. The rise of the grassroots Teachmeet movement (see panel, right) shows that some teachers are willing to take their CPD into their own hands.

In light of these trends, teachers certainly deserve much more than a snooze-worthy Inset.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

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