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Union jumps on skills wagon

The NUT wants to make the most out of a new drive for professional development. Nicolas Barnard reports

THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers is to set up a major training programme which will capitalise on government plans to shake up professional development.

The union is thought to be investing a six-figure sum in the project, which sees it follow the example of teaching associations in France and the United States by running programmes to help members improve their teaching.

Traditionally, union training has focused on skills for officers, such as negotiating, and on issues such as health and safety. But all the classroom unions are starting to take professional development more seriously.

The NUT's pilot courses will start in the summer, and the Teacher Training Agency will finance a conference in March. Universities, including Newcastle, will be involved in developing and delivering courses for the Government's latest pet subject - critical-thinking skills.

Eventually the union aims to have a network of residential and distance-learning courses running across the country, covering all aspects of teaching and tapping into the expertise of members, which it describes as a huge, under-used resource. Graduates from early courses would go on to become peer-tutors themselves.

In the first year, at least, the union has pledged that members will not have to pay out of their own pockets - though it hopes most teachers will be paid for by their schools. A number of scholarships are being considered.

Courses are expected to include literacy and numeracy, overcoming pupils disaffection, managing classroom differentiation and information and communications technology.

The teaching Green Paper has attracted huge controversy for its performance-related pay proposals, but it also outlines a major expansion of in-service training and other professional development.

The NUT hopes its courses will allow teachers to develop their skills without fear of being stigmatised by heads for admitting gaps in their abilities.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "The union is a huge resource. A lot of literacy and numeracy co-ordinators, behaviour specialists, special needs co-ordinators and the like are our members.

"Other trade unions internationally use this resource to run peer-led courses."

Professional development courses run by unions in the past have tended to focus on supporting teachers through skills such as assertiveness, classroom behaviour management, coping with bullying management and surviving school inspections.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' limited programme of one and two-day courses includes special needs while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers offers training in computing.

Headteachers' associations have long run more detailed and extensive courses.

The NUT's proposals have been developed in part by senior TTA adviser, Philippa Cordingley. She described them as a long-term strategy. "The link with the higher education institutions means they will always be sure the courses are built on the best knowledge."

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