The funding crisis hitting our schools is going to have serious negative consequences. Teachers are facing redundancies as class sizes soar. Pupils are being offered fewer choices of subjects and many A level classes will see their contact time cut. Budgets are slashed, subjects aren’t resourced and buildings are crumbling. It is hard to make a silk purse from this particular sow’s ear but I think I may have found the light at the end of the tunnel, the silver lining to the cloud. CPD budgets will be reduced.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think that our professional development is vitally important. In fact, I can think of nothing more important for ensuring the quality of teaching and learning. In the past however, I am not at all convinced that CPD has actually done very much to achieve this noble goal. CPD from paid for external providers have, on the whole, been dire.
There are of course gems amongst the dross. Shortly before I arrived, my current school had a session with Dylan William which seems to have had a dramatic impact on a number of staff and the culture there. I once attended a session on teaching A level Geography from David Redfern which was incredibly helpful for someone who had limited KS5 experience. Beyond that though, I am struggling to think of examples. I can though think of many, many, examples of time where the school’s budget and our time was wasted, and all in the name of “CPD”.
- In my first school, when I was young and fresh faced and less likely to walk out on an INSET day in disgust, I sat through an entire day’s training on Brain Gym. A whole day of debunked pseudo-science, shoulder massages and finger shapes. A whole day. These people were paid to deliver this.
- A second INSET day, same school, and we were introduced to the idea of “learning music” – these special CDs had been specially composed to match the pupil’s brainwaves and help them concentrate. I have a feeling our CPD coordinator may have been booking people from the Shopping Channel.
- On another occasion, and in a different school, the whole staff had a two hour session from someone who came in to talk about issues of schizophrenia affecting young people. This was genuinely fascinating but ended with them telling us when asked “What can we as teachers do?” – Nothing. There was literally nothing that they felt we should be taking away from their session.
- In my early years of teaching it was felt that teachers had an entitlement to be sent on some sort of external course each year. These would be advertised in a shiny brochure and have titles like “Outstanding Geography Lessons” or “Engage your class!”. Off I’d trot, getting the train in to London, spend hours travelling, to sit in a conference room in a Ibis hotel somewhere on the outskirts of nowhere, to be told that card sorts might be fun and that it was a good idea to do some kinaesthetic learning. These sessions always seemed to be led by people who had taught for a couple of years and couldn’t believe their luck that they had gotten out. I don’t think I ever took anything away from these session that I could use.
- Another INSET day, another group brought in to share their wisdom. This one was actually pretty useful as it was looking at supporting pupils with EAL. The session was over long and a lot of it wasn’t very useful but I did come away with a couple of strategies I could use. Then they came back next year and did the same session again. Word for word.
- Finally – too many occasions to count – someone has come in and shared with us dozens of teaching ideas, whole teaching philosophies, strategies too numerous to mention. And then we have gone home and done nothing with them, either because we haven’t had time to do anything with the information, or because we hadn’t had time to take the general ideas and make them specific to our subjects.
What these examples have in common was that;
- They were often designed so that someone could make some money.
- Time wasn’t given to actually implement the training.
- They were not subject specific.
- They didn’t have clear outcomes where practice would be changed or enhanced.
- They wasted time and money.
So I find it hard to mourn the cutting of CPD budgets. I hope what will happen is that we will focus on effective and efficient means of professional development, which are meaningful for us and improve our teaching and learning. In Part Two I’ll consider how this is being achieved and where we go from here.