The World Outside

My interest in CPD doesn’t seem to be one that is likely to end any time soon. Knowing that so much time has been invested, with seemingly so little impact on what happens in the classroom, continues to buzz round my head like an annoying mosquito. I know that when professionals do get access to high quality development it makes a difference though. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it on a personal level.

That is why I am continuing to look for answers and on my recent Teachers Talk Radio show (which you can listen to here) I cast my net beyond the world of education and decided to focus on what CPD looks like in the world outside of education.

A little bit of history

To begin my journey, I first looked at a little of the history of CPD. The google searches didn’t throw up anything particularly interesting, but it did remind me that the concept of CPD, especially in the form of INSET, is relatively new. It was only in 1988 that Kenneth Baker, the then Secretary of State, enshrined the five days a year which teachers are entitled to, into the system. I am not for a minute suggesting teacher development for those in the profession did not happen prior to that, but these INSET (or INSECT days as so many children have endearingly called them over the year) were not part of our landscape. Part of this shift was in response to the shifting nature of education, with the introduction of the National Curriculum, hand in hand with the new system of assessment, GCSEs, however, a commitment to teachers having the time and focus to develop these new ideas, seemed to be a positive move. Of course, this was controversial, with the five days coming not from the school year, but from the holidays teachers had, something which commentators often forget when they bemoan another INSET day and an supposed school closure, and something which parents often struggle to incorporate into their busy lives, especially those who may have children in different schools with the days spread out across the year. Indeed, it sometimes seems that those both inside and outside of schools don’t value these days and confusion as to what they are for seems to still be rife. We have work to do to communicate to parents as to why these are needed but I worry that those within the profession also are left wondering what they were all about.

In the early days these were often added to the start and ends of term, and most schools still make use of one or more of these days in order to allow a clear focus and development which they want to see embedded over the coming year. However, CPD clustered at the start, or the end of the year is unlikely to have the iterative rhythm which we know is so important to reflection and a significant change of habits, so many of these days are now spread across the year or divided into twilight sessions to allow teachers to have opportunities to respond to emerging needs or reflect on existing practices.

Holding training on key days in the year can be an effective way to disseminate information. Addressing a body of staff together and setting them off to work on common themes with a shared language is important. All too often though I hear of INSET days which have become information giving events and teachers are still left wondering what is it for them?

So, what happens outside of teaching?

I spoke to Clive Hill, who has both served in the military and worked as a leader in logistics before changing careers to train with Teach First. One of the key differences he has seen in working in these different sectors is the focus on bespoke training. Jobs outside of education are more often disparate in nature, with what someone needs when driving an articulated lorry obviously significantly different to the needs of someone in customer care. The same is true in terms of the military and the myriad of roles that people have there. What Clive noticed then was a real commitment to understanding the needs of all of those you lead. Taking time to really understand the intricacies of the job, and at the same time demonstrating that you are capable of enacting the changes required by getting down on the ground and doing it, was important here. This put me in mind of Nimish Lad’s case study in my book The CPD Curriculum, where he discusses how leaders in his context take the time to meet with all staff regularly on a one-to-one basis to ensure they understand their roles, their goals and what they need to get there. Coupled with regular involvement in the day-to-day working of the school (or the company), means leaders are in a much better position to design CPD that is suitable for all.

I also spoke to Hayley Hill, who has both worked in hospitality and is now working as a midwife. Some people bemoan the increasing medicalisation of teaching, believing that we are trying to seek absolutes where none exist, but as Hayley pointed out, learning is an ongoing process in her field and that really shouldn’t be a bad thing in the world of teaching. After all, an ideal outcome would be to have hoards of students leaving our buildings still eager to discover more and equipped with the tools to do so. The key difference again then between the CPD she receives as a medical professional and what I often see in teaching, is that she has a degree of autonomy to pursue areas that particularly interest her, as well as attending the mandatory training that is required for all. This increases her own passion for the role and allows her to develop her specialisms. There is still some repetition, especially of that mandatory training, and still some who may leave it thinking that it was not relevant to them, but there is an understanding that this is part of an ongoing process, new experiences may change the relevance of that learning over the year between those sessions, and that individual interests will still be embraced. Most importantly, learning is seen as continuous, alongside reflection, something that was a huge turning point for me in thinking about my own development.

Like other professions, including the legal one, there is a requirement for a certain number of hours to be devoted to development, and this is recorded formally. If these hours, especially those around the mandatory training, are not completed, then you would no longer be allowed to practice. I remember talking to someone who was a pharmacist, and they also had a similar system of logging training.

Whilst this might seem prescriptive and could lead to micromanagement for some, having a number of hours to cover and allowing people to decide on how and when they will approach this, again feeds into a more autonomous approach. Certainly, if you read Lucy Crehan’s excellent book Cleverlands, you will see this is a feature in the education system of other countries, with many having a much higher requirement than our five statutory days. However, a punitive approach is unlikely to work well in our country, with such issues with recruitment and retention, but encouraging people to explore their own areas of interest, and providing time for this to happen, wouldn’t be unwelcome.

As someone who has led CPD I am not convinced by total autonomy for all. Experienced teachers may well have a clear idea of exactly what they want to work on, whilst those new to the profession, or those struggling with a key aspect, may not know where to start. There is a wealth of CPD opportunities out there and it could be easy to be swamped by it or pursue interests which still end up having little impact back in the classroom, although a teacher who is excited by their subject and their practice will often seek out more learning which can only be a good thing for the students before them.

Setting the route

Having a clear shared aim and vision to give a structure to the CPD, alongside a curriculum planned to allow a range of opportunities, including highly bespoke one, is what I come back to all the time. We want everyone rowing in the same direction, but their position on the boat, the depth of their stroke, and the oar they are using, may well be a different one. Designing a curriculum, one which defines clear perimeters and direction of travel is key, with just enough space to allow response to the ever changing needs we encounter in schools, is essential if we are going to get things right. Knowing we are all working on achieving the same aims, with a well defined criteria for how we will do this, matters. Within that we need to also create space for people to explore, innovate and sometimes even make mistakes.

What this discussion really left me considering is how we move away from the one size fits all approach which seems to have plagued us to a one size fits one approach which may well allow us to make more efficient and significant progress. If even in the high stakes world of medicine, or the essential service that is logistics can find a way forward for this, so can we.

Zoe’s book The CPD Curriculum is available now.

One thought on “The World Outside

  1. Looking forward to reading the book. Definitely agree that total autonomy for all may not be effective, and that choice from a recognised framework (eg menu) of what is effective classroom practice would be more focused. Would much prefer that our systems focus on continuous collaboration and reflection to ensure impact and sustainability, as even the best ideas and practices get lost in the business of it all.

    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

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