Training Teachers: Obstacles and Opportunities in 2017

As we rush headlong into 2017, with the excesses of Christmas slowly receding into memory, we all enter that period of committing to best-laid plans and hope-fuelled resolutions. Crucially, however, our resolutions are quickly hidden under shouty to-do lists and piles of marking. For most teachers, we want to get better and make improvements on the year before, but the necessary support and school structures can too often prove lacking.

As we admit our obstacles, we can angrily bemoan our workload (hey, it is the God-given right of every teacher) and complain about excess accountability and wrongheaded testing, but we should also recognise that many of the solutions to improving workload and to enhancing the quality of teacher training are within our grasp too.

Schools across the country are creating a regular rhythm of professional training that finds meaningful time and tools for teachers to reflect on their practice. In many schools, there are weekly or fortnightly training slots that allow teachers the time and tools to collaborate and plan together. It may require schools finishing early on a given day (with an inevitable wrangle over school buses), or schools being creative with collapsed timetable days etc., but it is doable and there are examples across the country.

Regular, high-quality CPD and planning time allows teachers time to get their head around the new curriculum and assessment model that has seemingly crashed into our working lives with force. Teacher training should not be an added burden to workload, ticking off boxes for performance management purposes, but instead a meaningful way to share our resources and lower the burden of all recreating our own resources and approaches to the new curriculum.

Many schools are harnessing the greater capacity of local collaboration, be it Multi-Academy Trusts or TSA partnerships, so that they can afford to budget for external expertise and challenge one another with their respective teacher expertise. Though our school system may be more fractured that in other countries, there is an appetite for better training and a fast increasing awareness of evidence in education and the useful science of learning.

With emergent organisations, like Research Schools (run by the ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ and the ‘Institute for Effective Education’), The College of Teaching, The Institute for Teaching and others, supporting established organisations like Teaching Schools, the Teaching School Council, The Teacher Development Trust, the National College, and the National Educational Trust, we have a great deal of deep expertise in our school system to help guide professional development.

What we must do is reject the deficit model of teachers and teaching that sees CPD as a compliance exercise, with teachers punching in yet more data to feed the tracking monster. We need training that allows the requisite time and space for subject specific knowledge and learning (along with any equivalent school phase). This should be supported by robust evidence about how children learn and the most impactful ways to teach.

With the new Chief Inspector for schools, Amanda Spielman, taking over the reins at OFSTED, there is the promise of accountability reform to help us further. As an entirely new curriculum and assessment model has been initiated, we can rightly consider that we have a few years to teach, train and develop upon our expertise. Hey, we can hope – 2016 is over; 2017 promises us better, surely!

With our newly coined resolutions pristine and fragile in our hands, we can, as teachers and school leaders, resolve to initiate the developments to our continuous professional development that best support our teachers who are working to manage their workload and grasp a new curriculum.

The DfE Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537031/160712_-_PD_Expert_Group_Guidance.pdf) is a helpful place to start to evaluate your existing CPD provision so that you can ensure that 2017 is the year that best supports teachers with great training.

 

Alex Quigley is Director of Huntington Research School – find out more about their work here: https://huntington.researchschool.org.uk.

His recent book, “The Confident Teacher”, can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Confident-Teacher-Developing-successful-pedagogy/dp/1138832340/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

3 ways CPD can support the most vulnerable pupils

This blog gives a flavour of some of the ideas you will hear at the joint TDT/NET event – Developing Teachers to Meet the Needs of Vulnerable Learners – January 17th, London. Book your tickets here.

As teachers improve, the most at-risk children benefit. School is much tougher when you have to deal with ongoing mental, physical and emotional challenges. For these children the impact of the teacher can be much greater. If we improve the way we support and develop teachers then we can make a real difference for our most vulnerable pupils.

Target your CPD

Before you engage in some learning, do some preparation. Spend a short time identifying two or three vulnerable pupils that you teach. Consider what you might need to learn or improve to help them.

During the process – whether one-off training or something more extended – keep a page of notes with columns ruled for each pupil. Jot down:

  • Ideas you’ve heard that could help that pupil;
  • How you might assess whether the idea is really working;
  • How you might uncover more information about the issues; and
  • Who you could contact to get support & challenge.

Collect feedback constantly

Back in the classroom, you will want to try out new ideas. When you plan your lesson, make sure you plan ways to collect feedback. You want to constantly check: “am I making a difference yet?”

You are looking to collect information to help you understand your progress. You also want to uncover as much information as possible about the pupils’ learning. Feedback could include:

  • One-to-one interviews – you could record the audio or video if you have the correct permissions;
  • Asking pupils to write down responses to a carefully-designed question or task;
  • An informal multiple-choice test (there’s good guidance on these here);
  • Whole-class questioning using mini whiteboards; and
  • Mock examinations.

Bring the information that you collect to a discussion with colleagues. Use the different perspectives within the group to explore different ways to view the findings.

Connect with expertise

Identify those who can help you find the best approaches. You need to find digests of research about why different issues appear and summaries of research about the most effective interventions. Ideally, you need assessment tools and approaches that can reveal more about underlying issues as well as track progress as you learn.

Examples of expertise could include:

Find out more

Find out more about effective teacher development:

David Weston is the Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust and Chair of the DfE CPD Expert Group. David will be speaking at the TDT/NET event on 17th January in London. Follow him on Twitter at @informed_edu

Vacuum at the top? by Dr Bernard Trafford

I fear that, whenever anyone sees my name at the top of a blog nowadays, they’ll assume I’m about to embark on a rant about the latest government initiative or policy. To be fair, I do it a lot.

But here I want to raise a slightly philosophical question about school leadership and, more specifically, headship: not about its nature, but about what happens when it becomes remote. The question concerns me, because we all too easily become so entangled in discussing structures and rationalisations that we risk overlooking an intensely human aspect of leadership.

The current government thrust is towards creating Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). A powerful driver behind the Academies programme was successive governments’ suspicion of Local Authorities: many ministers found them unresponsive to Westminster’s agenda for school improvement:  hence the move to so-called independent academies (not a description I like, since I run a private – genuinely independent – school).

Successive governments have quickly realised that single stand-alone academies can find themselves isolated and that schools tend to fare better when collaborating. Moreover, they were also swift to appreciate that academy chains – in effect, MATs – bring with them not only mutual support but economies of scale: administrative functions can be centralised, both streamlining the staffing and arguably giving them more muscle in keenly-priced procurement.

Critics of the growth of MATs might suggest wryly that they now resemble Local Authorities, but without the democratic accountability. Simultaneously the enormous salaries commanded by top executives in some large academy chains, whether they are called chief executives or executive principals, have attracted media opprobrium.

The economies of scale are undeniable. With an executive principal at the top (however highly paid), there’s no obvious need to pay heads’ salaries to those running the individual institutions: they receive support from the centre, and don’t carry the ultimate burden.

Many functions related to improvement, quality assurance, even recruitment and marketing that might have been taken by deputy heads are now handled at the centre, so Senior Leadership Teams in each academy can be slimmer – and thus cheaper.

I’m not questioning the logic of all this. But, as I said at the start, it leaves me with a philosophical dilemma about the nature of headship.

It’s always seemed to me that parents must have access to the head, the final arbiter, the person who has the last say (pace the Governing Body) and sets the tone in the school. In practice, I can’t claim that, in my fairly large independent school (1300 pupils), parents beat a path to my door. If they did, I couldn’t cope: but they can (and do) get to me almost immediately if they need to.

Moreover, in (you might say) the traditional style of education’s private sector, they know the head’s there, not out running a couple more schools. They like to see the head in the old-fashioned way – at the school gate, taking assembly, just being around. The head is supposed to articulate the vision of the school, to walk the talk: it’s a rare independent head who runs more than a single institution or site.

Parents relish that visible leader-figure. They know the head cannot possibly know the name of every child, nor personally guide his or her development, protecting each individual from whatever storms that may come. Nonetheless they enjoy a sense of reassurance: not promised by the school, certainly – but, well, assumed.

I’m not seeking to denigrate the excellent work done by heads in MATs where there is an executive principal above them. But in my traditional world, parents and students like to know where the buck stops: I wonder how the lack of clarity in multi-institution structures really sits with those vital constituencies.

Accountants won’t justify the expense of a highly-paid head in each constituent unit of a MAT. Yet as a model it has worked for a long time: Tony Blair insisted he could judge how good a school was just from meeting the head.

I’m not having a go at MATs: nor at those highly effective professionals running individual academies; nor at their bosses, the executive principals. But if my kids were starting school again, I suspect I’d want to know that the head really ran the school, and to be able to see him/her in their office if I needed to.

Education ministers in the Blair government used to talk about sectors of society that were “hard to reach”. Though we might easily picture who they had in mind, I loved the riposte from someone speaking for the dispossessed: “It’s not us who are hard to reach: it’s the b*ggers at the top!”

Whatever the prevailing structures and systems, schools are essentially neighbourhood institutions, located within and serving a community. They are all about people, reaching out to, and working with them.

If the real power in the school/academy is elsewhere – at the MAT’s offices, with the executive principal directing at arm’s-length and making periodic, if regular, visits – I wonder how the institution can claim really to operate on a human scale, to be immediately approachable, truly at the service of parents and children.

I’m sure some MATs manage it. I doubt whether all do. I fear that the question is rarely, if ever, asked.

Yet humanity must, surely, always come before efficiency. Or it should do.

Dr Bernard Trafford is headmaster of the Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School, a NET Leading Thinker and a former Chairman of HMC.

@bernardtrafford