Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Exhibiting new skills

Photo in a frame

Geoff Barton and Liz Meadows explain how the school's approach to CPD favours classroom craft over staff meetings and builds on support staff skills analyses.

International comparisons can, like the Eurovision Song Contest, leave us with a collective inferiority complex. However, when it comes to the training we do in schools, we ought to recognise that a lot of what is done in this country is very good.

Many of our leadership programmes are the envy of the world and we have developed a range of pathways into the profession - notably school-centred initial teacher training and the graduate teacher programme - which have made our training of new recruits more relevant to the job.

As a training school, we're interested in the changing face of training. We recognise that the school workforce is significantly different from the past; 30 per cent of the staff in our school aren't teachers, for example, and their training needs are just as important to a successful organisation. Here are three ways in which we're trying to develop the skills of our whole workforce.

Focus on micro-skills

We've all been taught by people who know a lot about their subject but made terrible teachers. The link between being a subject expert and a quality teacher isn't as direct as some people might assume.

Good teachers do things that lie outside subject knowledge. They know where to stand, how to stand, how to use eye-contact to scan and scour a room, how to use body language, when to pause, when to click their fingers and so on. They explain clearly, ask fewer but better questions and build in thinking time for pupils.

While sometimes, in the presence of a great teacher, it can seem as if these micro-skills are innate and mystical, we take the view that they are part of the craft of the classroom. They therefore form the backbone of our training and induction programmes. It's the most practical teacher training you can imagine.

It isn't about lectures or textbooks. It's about letting teachers watch other teachers - especially those who teach using an armoury of classroom management techniques rather than being able to rely on presence or charisma.

Backed by someone with a roving brief as teaching and learning mentor we open up the intricacies of classroom practice. We analyse the tiniest details of what effective teachers do, coach each other and develop a shared understanding of what works in the classroom.

Team training days

We know from experience and research that too many meetings attended by teachers have no effect on classroom practice. Our aim is a research-based culture in which teachers plan a topic or lesson collaboratively, teach it, and review its impact, where possible involving pupils in the process of giving feedback.

We believe that this process, rather than a sequence of one-off meetings, is the way to create the momentum that leads to continued improvement.

Our training days have become much more flexible with teams of staff working in various ways. We hold as few whole-staff sessions as possible and time is committed to professional dialogue.

We're particularly keen to break down the traditional silos of subject compartmentalisation. It may be that the best person to pair a history teacher with is a physics teacher, so that they can compare how they explain complicated ideas in a straightforward way.

The aim is to become a research community, working collaboratively to hone our shared teaching expertise and several of our teachers have published their work in pamphlets made available across our pyramid of schools.

Support staff skills analysis

One consequence of freeing teachers to focus on teaching is that the other jobs they may traditionally have done are now the domain of a larger team of support staff. We see this as hugely enriching.

To develop a comprehensive professional development programme for support staff, we started with a skills analysis: what are the explicit skills our support staff have and are there any hidden ones which may prove useful in a complex organisation like a school? Someone who speaks Portuguese or has a first aid qualification can prove invaluable.

We make sure support staff have the kind of training that prepares them for the distinctive culture of schools - safeguarding, of course, but also behaviour management, including our 'house style' on how we talk to students and respond if they are rude. We want consistency in this across all staff, not just teachers.

Support staff welcome the fact that professional reviews are a regular part of their work and that we talk with them about their aspirations.

Many have particularly appreciated joining networks, both within and between schools. This is especially empowering for staff like cover supervisors or those overseeing behaviour and attendance, for whom the day job can become an isolating, trouble-shooting one.

We also believe the succession planning agenda applies directly to support staff. We regularly reflect on whether we are developing the person who will be able to step into someone else's more senior role in the future. We know from Jim Collins' book Good to Great that the best organisations are constantly growing their next generation of leaders.

All these initiatives are creating a culture which is dynamic but also bracingly reflective. It doesn't mean that we smugly believe that we have got all our training right yet. But we have taken to heart some of the lessons from history and from overseas and set ourselves the challenge. The underpinning principle is that these should apply to all members of staff, whether they are working directly in the classroom or supporting it from outside.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Suffolk. Liz Meadows is the head's PA and the administration manager.

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders