Ensuring high standards of teaching

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The Government is committed to ensuring high standards of teaching. The professional development of teachers and other school staff remains central to realising the transformation agenda. A statutory induction period in 1999 for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) which enables NQTs to build on their initial teacher training, when strengths and training needs have been identified. This sets the pace and direction for their continued professional development (CPD) (Teachernet, n.d.). 

Continuing professional development is a term used to express the activities in which teachers engage during the course of a career which are designed to enhance their work. Yet, as Christopher Day (2004) explains, this is a deceivingly simple description of a massively complex intellectual and emotional endeavour which is at the heart of raising and maintaining standards of teaching, learning and achievement in a range of schools, each of which poses its own sets of special challenges. Moreover, because teachers, like the students they teach, think and feel, are influenced also by their biographies, social histories and working contexts, peer groups, teaching preferences, identities, phase of development and broader sociopolitical cultures, the purposes, design and processes of CPD will need to mirror these if it is to result in effective outcomes. This essay will explain and evaluate the role of the teacher and of other participants in the sector; and explain the importance of engagement in CPD.

In the rapidly changing world there is no longer such a thing as a 'job for life'. The sole focus of a person's career is no longer on the initial education and training, but on the need to keep up to date with learning and develop one's skills and knowledge throughout life. It would be a mistake to believe that our first post-secondary academic qualification would fit for our working life. In the knowledge society everyone has a responsibility to keep up to date. Professionalism, as all those involved in teaching surely recognise, relies increasingly on an ability to respond quickly and effectively to technological and organisational change, as well as to changing social and market conditions, student requirements, government policies, and national and international regulations. In the context of work, a key aspect of lifelong learning is continuing professional development (CPD). This is defined in the 'teacher expertise' website as "The systematic maintenance and improvement of knowledge, skills and competence, and the enhancement of learning, undertaken throughout an individual's working life".

"Continuing professional development (CPD) consists of reflective activity designed to improve an individual's attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills. It supports individual needs and improves professional practice" (Training and Development Agency for Schools, n.d.). Ther are many possible sources of CPD. Within school it can be eg. induction, coaching and mentoring, lesson observation and feedback, collaborative planning and teaching, shadowing, sharing good practice, whole school development events. Within school networks it can be cross-school or virtual networks. The third area, other external expertise, can be eg. external courses or further study or advice offered by local authorities, FE colleges, universities, subject associations and private providers (TDA, n.d). CPD, however, is not just a matter of attending training courses but its basis is learning. It can be formal or informal, structured or electric, job-centred or person-centred.

CPD today is no longer an optional extra to be undertaken but vital for survival and prosperity. Accoring to the teacher expertise website teachers should identify, measure and plan their own CPD by asking themselves the following five questions: Where have I been in the relation to my CPD? Where am I now? Where do I want and need to be? How will I get there? How will I know when I have arrived?

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has a strategy aimed at promoting the benefits of CPD to help teachers make the most of the opportunities and choices available to them. Although aimed primarily at school-teachers, the strategy, launched in March 2001, also has relevance to teachers in other areas, including adult learning. The aim is to create a climate in Local Education Authorities (LEAs) with the following features.

CPD is strategically focused and integrated with performance management and school improvement, to raise standards of teaching and learning.

Teachers expect to engage in CPD and in supporting the development of colleagues, and their performance management arrangements reflect that expectation.

Head teachers and teachers are knowledgeable about the wide range of experiences and opportunities that can contribute to strengthening informed professional practice, and the conditions in which professional development has greatest impact on performance.

Head teachers embrace their responsibility, working collaboratively with other schools, LEAs, providers of CPD and other stakeholders, to ensure that their staff have access to appropriate professional development, responsive both to local needs and to teachers' aspirations, and that their schools are professional learning communities which make a contribution to wider professional learning across appropriate networks.

LEAs make a strategic contribution to ensuring that high quality CPD opportunities are available, accessible, and known about, and that conditions are created and sustained in which outcomes of professional learning are widely shared and owned.

Governors are properly equipped to promote and monitor effective CPD in their schools (teacher expertise, n.d).

The issue can be summarised by the words of Christopher Day (2004) who explains that the impact of the changing economic, social and knowledge contexts upon the education service as a whole has caused a move from the traditional post-war model of the autonomous professional in which decisions about the curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment are the business of teachers. Now what students learn, what they must achieve as the outcome of learning and what standards apply are explicitly the everyday business of the state. Concerned with the need to raise standards of achievement, and improve their positions in the world economic league tables, governments over the last 20 years have intervened more actively to improve the system of schooling. Higher expectations for higher quality teaching demands teachers who are well qualified, highly motivated, knowledgeable and skilful, not only at the point of entry into teaching but also throughout their careers.

CPD takes place within the contexts of increasing governmental interventions for the purpose of 'accountability' and 'performativity'; and in some in context of raising standards of teaching where pre-service programs are inadequate to produce a sufficient supply of competent novice teachers. These political purposes embedded both in CPD content and CPD forms which imply particular conceptions of 'professionalism'. In the past, as Christopher Day () puts it, it was enough to describe professionals in a politically neutral way as 'restricted' or 'extended', in the twenty-first century, in which the struggle for the soul of professionalism is acute professionals no longer have that choice. Indeed, he argues that the new agenda is concerned with being compliant or 'activist' CPD is no longer an option but an expectation of all professionals.