There was a time, in the not too distant past, when teachers received next to no professional development. The cult of the martyred maverick who did things his or her own way but got cracking results was a common phenomenon in most schools. All too often respect was demanded rather than earned, and relationships were more often than not predicated upon fear rather than compassion.
I remember being pretty scared of certain teachers when I first went to primary school. Major Nigel ‘Lightning’ Grimshaw taught the Year 6 boys and he occupied the classroom next to ours – the one which smelt of chalk, whiskey, tobacco smoke and polish. A much decorated war hero, Major Grimshaw had single-handedly chased Rommel across the deserts of North Africa leaving a careless trail of blazing wreckage behind him. He took no prisoners – neither in Libya nor in Bagshot. I considered him utterly terrifying – especially given that I was a particularly timid and diminutive five-year-old. One day, upon being asked to run an errand to his classroom, I was so anxious that I went and hid in the toilet instead. Such cowardly behaviour would utterly have disgusted the Major. Above all else, I recall Major Grimshaw’s booming voice, threadbare tweed jackets and ruddy countenance. He carried a silver-topped cane which he used to bash wildly against doors and corridor walls. Consequently, you could hear him coming from quite some distance.
In the interests of avoiding a libel charge, it is important to point out that Major Grimshaw may not have actually smoked his pipe during lessons (although he probably did) but the firmly clasped pipe was an almost permanent fixture when conversing with colleagues or parents. Clouds of smoke would billow forth and temporarily obscure that scornful look of righteous indignation that he had honed to such perfection.
Having saved the British Empire from almost certain destruction, Major Grimshaw had no intention of kowtowing to anyone. I would imagine that readers in their forties and above will recall similar figures from their own schooldays. Invariably, they were colourful characters who treated the battlefield and the classroom with the same degree of alacrity. We might have constituted slightly less of a threat than a Panzer division but we were the enemy all the same, and we were to be treated as such.
If Major Grimshaw had been prevailed upon to attend a workshop on teenage mental health or invited to reflect upon the use of value added data, then I imagine that he would have exploded with rage and considered it a diabolical affront to his personal and professional dignity. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine him attending a seminar on mindfulness or wellbeing. ‘What poppycock!’ he would have roared.
Pity the youthful and gentle headteacher who had to manage these swashbuckling war heroes. Of course, some were great teachers but it was not a period given to critical reflection or professional growth. That is until the late 1980s, when the then Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Baker decided to introduce INSET days to accompany the launch of the National Curriculum. Despite a propensity to use vast quantities of Brylcreem and a rather unkind caricature on ‘Spitting Image’, Kenneth Baker was something of a visionary. ‘Baker Days’ as they became known were initially very unpopular with teachers because they were ‘stolen’ from their holidays and, in any case, most school leadership teams had no idea what to do with them. Still the legal requirement to focus at least some attention on professional development did pay dividends….eventually.
Fast forward to 2014 and the then Secretary of State for Education, Tristam Hunt, observed that parents still had no understanding of the purpose of staff INSET. No doubt seeking to court popularity, he suggested that these days were frittered away on trendy educational fads and pointless team building tasks. Undoubtedly, at the outset of my career, I attended some courses which were achingly dull. More often than not, such sessions were delivered by ‘advanced skills’ teachers whose didactic approach and monotone mode of delivery left you questioning why they were ever considered to be such pedagogical hotshots.
We do expect staff to develop an excellent working knowledge of a wide range of issues. All schools have a statutory and moral duty to deliver regular training in areas such as safeguarding, first aid and fire protection and yet professional development should be about so much more than this.
In recent years, continuous professional development (CPD) has been driven by the need to embrace digital technology and this has resulted in a much more interactive and collaborative approach. Furthermore, there is now a real emphasis upon utilising action research instead of simply spouting educational theory which can so often be impractical and entirely divorced from what actually happens in a classroom on any given day.
Most importantly, and quite rightly, younger teachers now expect schools to nurture their careers and offer meaningful opportunities for professional development and career advancement.
Here at Rossall School, we actively promote a culture which encourages all teachers to become part of a meaningful professional dialogue. Sharing good practice is at the heart of this culture and the introduction of Google Apps for Education and iPads is just one example of an initiative where we have learned a good deal from each other and shared our individual knowledge and expertise. Our Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning which was established in 2019, is superbly well led by David Clarke (our Head of Professional Development). David has made a tremendous contribution by modelling a culture that is innovative, progressive and reflective. Indeed, David has a wonderful ability to coach colleagues effectively and he has played a pivotal role in ensuring that Rossall now trains outstanding young teachers in partnership with institutions such as the University of Buckingham. Every Monday afternoon, teachers participate in CPD sessions and this is supplemented by additional workshops and seminars throughout the year. The Leadership Academy which meets at 7:45am on Tuesday mornings provides an excellent opportunity for members of staff to share their experiences of leading academic departments and reflect upon some of the challenges that senior leaders within schools routinely face.
All of our professional development initiatives are underpinned by a collegiate spirit of sharing. We are lifelong learners and we have the humility to share our reflections upon those circumstances when we have simply got it wrong or know that we could have done better. This desire to reflect and improve is modelled by staff but is also reflected in whole School initiatives such as REACT marking which serves to challenge our pupils to redraft work in response to constructive feedback from their teachers.
Over the last eighteen months, a critically reflective culture has emerged and I have no doubt that this has contributed to the real sense of focus within the Senior School. Our children are motivated and ambitious. Most importantly they have committed to a culture which has been modelled effectively by their teachers.