CPD is about taking teaching from the ‘parlour’ to the ‘kitchen’

9 Jul 2022, 6:00

A history of CPD in FE reveals huge changes in attitudes – but we still need to scrap mistrustful auditing, writes Alison Scott

I started out in FE back in 1979 as an English and liberal studies teacher, and the CPD I remember then was ad hoc and thin on the ground.

New teachers were expected to know how to apply the theories of their teacher training course to the challenges of day-to-day teaching. This was a lonely baptism of fire, and you struggled on your own unless you were lucky enough to have friendly colleagues with survival tips.

New standards from the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO) appeared in 1999, and it was all change post incorporation. 

Professional development monies, which were once held by colleges, were diverted to organisations such as LSIS, LLUK, IfL, ETF – each charged with developing and setting sector teaching standards in tandem with government policy agendas. 

Ofsted had a defining role, with successive inspection frameworks creating judgmental descriptors of teaching and learning practice. This led to teachers’ performance being graded with Ofsted’s crude numbering tool – now roundly discredited by researchers.

Something wasn’t right. Quality improvement teams sprang up. Good teachers were diverted away from teaching students to training colleagues.

An audit-driven approach to improving teachers’ performance ruled, which was top-down and demoralising for many.

It forced some teachers out of the sector and rewarded those who could pull a grade 1 lesson out of the bag when an inspector called.

In 2004, the city college I worked at received a grade 4 from Ofsted and the team I worked with was given the job of turning this around within a year.

An inspirational, experienced principal was helicoptered in and a whole organisational effort led to success. The next time Ofsted came to call we received grade 2s across the board.

I mention this transformation because much of what we did was based on an attitude to CPD that I have held ever since.

At the time, it felt like a radical bottom-up approach rooted in respect for the values and attitudes of the teachers themselves. Time was given for collaboration between peers and across curriculum areas, to share ideas around student success. 

It felt like a radical, bottom-up approach rooted in respect for values

A shared understanding of what needed to change grew exponentially with the determination to escape the shame of a grade 4 judgment. 

Yes, we had to instigate the improvements we knew Ofsted would value. Only after this process could genuine improvements begin. As a result, this powerful experience led me away from teaching students into teacher development.

My theory is that a great deal of teaching is in ‘the parlour’ – putting on a show for visitors.

At the other end is teaching in ‘the kitchen’ – the student-centred classrooms and workshops where real progress happened, with laughter, tears and hard struggle.

It is heartening to see that Ofsted’s latest inspection framework has dispensed with the emperor’s new clothes approach to teacher improvement. 

But going forward, sector CPD needs to focus on what we need to do our job better in meaningful ways.

For a start, Covid-19 prioritised digital skills professional development because of online teaching. Much was learned about digital tools in a very short space of time. So, we know that ‘just in time’ CPD can be highly effective. 

At the same time, we need to hold on to the basics of what teachers need to engage students.

I think it was the educator Ted Wragg who said that teachers need just two things to be successful: up-to-date subject knowledge and an ability to form productive relationships.

Let us focus CPD on what we know teachers need – subject and industry updates and a greater understanding of how to form supportive relationships with their students.

My research has also shown the pivotal role of leaders in effecting CPD improvement. We need to move the culture away from mistrustful audits.

We must facilitate and expect teachers to develop their ‘kitchen’ professionalism, enabling powerful peer networking and collaboration.

We can learn from the ‘kitchens’ of other sector organisations too. Inspiration is important.

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