I would preface my remarks here by saying that the basis for my observations in this article come from practice in the UK. However, conversations with colleagues in Australia, Canada and the United States suggest the same features appear in their systems.
In the UK 1988 was a decisive turning point in education history. The Education Reform Act introduced by Kenneth Baker introduced many new features to the learning and teaching landscape and has shaped development for the last thirty years.
The first and possibly most negative aspect was the introduction of the National Curriculum. This attempted to codify WHAT was to be taught to every student across their student career. It set the education direction as being primarily concerned with curriculum content.
The world, his wife and all their relations were invited to contribute to the National Curriculum and the result was an overly bloated curriculum, often lacking relevance or coherence. The mantra of the time was that the curriculum should be ‘broad and balanced’, which it was. Unfortunately everyone knew what they wanted in the curriculum, but no-one could agree what should be dropped to accommodate it!
The second great innovation was the advent of five days per school year set aside for the In Service Training of Teachers (INSET). Initially, this was a very popular innovation with teachers, as it recognised their requirement to have days of professional study, development an interaction (this was less popular with parents who had to find five extra days of childcare!).
Having previously had no statutory professional development days, school leadership teams were free to invent their own professional development programme and some were very innovative. Initially there was some funding called TVEI (Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative) designed to encourage collaborations and some schools coordinated their INSET days to enable staff to attend events in a number of schools.
Within that sentence was the major issue with INSET days. They became a stage-managed EVENT which, for the most part still holds true today. Rather than addressing issues at a fundamental cultural level, the pattern of the day fragmented around what came to be a familiar pattern. The school, apart from those staff on externally accredited external courses, would have their professional development opportunities constrained to this five day model.
The first element, usually occupying the early part of the day was an inspirational visiting speaker, the content of whose talk may, or may not have had any bearing on the development priorities of the school. The talk element meant that the teachers for the most part were passive participants in the process. Many would describe the experience of the guest speaker as seeing their favourite comedian live… intensely engaging, compelling, humorous and insightful. But the next day, they could not recall what they had heard and it certainly was not going to impact on their practice on a daily basis.
Following the talk there would be some pressing whole school based business such as the implications of new national initiatives on school processes, or some urgent training related to pupil welfare or health.
The afternoon session, when most people were soporific after a good lunch, tended to be devoted to curriculum/departmental time when rather than moving the school forward, teachers were engaged in preparing for the term starting the next day, or closing down the term just past. Important administrative work indeed, but not work designed to professionally challenge and develop teachers.
There was no PROCESS in these events, no reflection and development, little sharing of practice, good, developing or bad and no centrality of the learner in planning.
I’ve observed this as a trainer, guest speaker, school leader and departmental head across the country. The same meagre developmental diet served up repeatedly despite the lack of impact.
Given these experiences I began working on a different approach to teacher professional development. You will notice I avoid the word training from this point, as I believe training has unfortunate connotations and impacts.
Over several years I pulled a template together for a model of Continuous Professional Development that any school could adopt and adapt to suit their development purposes.
The model works irrespective of context, cultural, national or sector.
I’ve been able to condense over a decade work of development work into a coherent whole in a book to be published in March 2019.
Please contact me if you would like to know more, including some sample templates for how to implement the model to address the quality of teaching and learning in your school.