If you are old enough to remember the days before Local Management of Schools, LMS, you will probably recall the limited funds available for schools to buy “essentials”, such as all the consumables. If you were lucky, the authority, in the form of an adviser, might look kindly upon a project and offer a small pump-priming fund, usually supplemented by the PTA fund raising.
These were the days of twilight training sessions, often a series of five or six, at the local teacher’s centre, led by local teachers whose expertise was identified as worth sharing. If you were lucky, you got to do a “Gurney Dixon”; a weekend at the County residential centre. It was not as swish as it might sound. On a few occasions, I had to share my room with the caretaker’s stores, but it was taken as the norm; it was cheap training. The sessions cost the school nothing, but did demand a significant commitment to personal development. However, it did ensure that expertise was shared as widely as possible through the authority.
In-house expertise was equally generously shared, so that the “specialist” would be happy to spend time sharing ideas to help less experienced colleagues. I can remember leaving with ideas that I then went back to my classroom and played, or sat in the library and went through the available books. It was a time of self-help and self-reliance; make do and mend was the mantra. Pencil pots and other stationery containers, made from well-washed tins, covered in wallpaper, or if you were lucky, in sticky back plastic. Paper holders were adapted and covered soap powder boxes. Show boxes of the right size housed the cassette tapes.
LMS enabled internal decision making on school priorities, enabling often significant spending on quality equipment and staffing, especially if the school enjoyed a rising roll. “What would you like?” could replace “What do we need?”
Belt-tightening has been on school agendas for a while and may yet have time before the most difficult decisions have to be taken. Staff reduction decisions are always the most difficult for any school.
CPD could become a casualty, unless there are some changes in approach. To send a member of staff off site, to a central site for a conference could cost several hundred pounds, with supply cover, travel, the cost of the conference and perhaps food. It doesn’t take long for even a generous budget to be spent.
It has often been stated that there is as much discrepancy in practice within a school as there is between schools. What would be the case if every teacher in the community was as good as the best and how could that be achieved?
What do you do, though, to address the constant feeling of busyness?
TIC; Team inside the community. Are you a talking establishment? It’s well worth while looking at the mechanisms within the school that enable an appropriate level of discussion and information sharing that starts with induction practices and then continues. Has the school audited the skills of each member of staff to see where well-needed expertise lies? How are staff meetings and closure days used to support the dissemination of expertise? Is coaching time made available? Is expertise made available in written form? Is there a staff bookshelf, and is it actually used?
Short term additional “staffing” can become a reality within partnership arrangements with ITE providers, especially if final practice trainees are hosted. After a settling period, and a judgement of secure practice, the mentor can plan some time out of the classroom. Releasing staff in-house is a great deal less costly than sending them on a course.
TAC; team around the community. Do you talk outside you school; at all levels? It is really important for a school to recognise the limits of the internal expertise, and, when shared, this will become a reality. It is also essential not to feel alone in the enterprise of developing the school. Schools will develop to the level of the best, but, if the best is not as good as the best elsewhere, how can that expertise be accessed?
If the school works within a cluster, or a local academy group or federation, the expertise in one establishment could be deployed or purchased into a receiving school, to mutual benefit. This could be in the form of twilight sessions, as per the earlier model, or it could be purchased release to model and discuss aspects of practice. This is good CPD for the person delivering also, as they move into a training role.
In attending a number of Saturday conferences, Pedagoo, TLT16 and #LearningFirst (Bath) it has struck me that teachers want to get better at their job. This might prove an appropriate model for some. The #teacher5aday group has organised, and is organising another weekend CPD “retreat”.
There are many models that can begin to address development based on local expertise.
TOE; team of experts. How do you decide when you need a little extra? In some geographic areas, the availability of expertise may soon appear to be evaporated. At this point, or to make a significant impact on an aspect of school development, it may be opportune to buy in someone with acknowledged wider expertise. This could be from a local university, a local inspector, or one of the growing army of consultants. It is a case of “pay your money and take your chance”. The brief needs to be clear and concise and the expert has to have the skills to deliver. There won’t be many readers who have not sat through a training session that has not quite hit the mark.
Local clusters of schools, banding together, can create significantly greater budget for a one-off event, which may be much more cost effective.
When it comes down to it, though, there is a significant simplicity. CPD is communicating the knowledge from someone with acknowledged expertise to others with a need to develop. Making some quality time to talk is therefore paramount. This can start from sitting in a classroom with a cup of tea after school going through an idea with colleagues. It does need goodwill and teacher involvement and ownership of their own need to identify and incorporate their training needs.
Learning to teach is a life-long need. There is always a need to accommodate to change, from a move to another year group, another school, or another curricular adjustment.
Teachers need to remain learners. Learning should be a shared enterprise, or it could become three strikes and you’re out, of date…