Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Tailor made training

Rolls of material

Despite the distractions of inspections, changes to funding, the government's latest white paper and so on, school and college leaders are always keeping one eye firmly on the day job: the goal of improving teaching and learning so that all students achieve their full potential.

Schools and colleges are complex institutions and many things can impact on the improvement agenda.

One of the key components of improvement should be the way schools and colleges continually enhance their core resource: the people who work in the organisation.

It is interesting to see the different ways in which school leaders and governing bodies approach this task.

Made to order

Continuous professional development (CPD) training usually conjures up visions of a day in a room full of like-minded strangers, listening to presentations and discussing common issues. Short courses and conferences are useful particularly for keeping up with changes to legislation or funding, sharing good practice, networking and re-energising batteries.

However, for certain types of development, a tailor-made service delivered in-house may be the most effective solution, and it may not be as costly as you imagine.

This is a made to measure service. It can be designed for the leadership team, for the governing body, middle leaders, a particular department or any combination.

It works especially well when there is information to communicate to a large group, such as governor training, or an issue that is dependent on the institutional context, such as improving the existing self-evaluation process.

For example, one school, concerned about the fact that GCSE passes at A*-C had plateaued, decided to use a consultant to look at how the school evaluated performance. The main learning outcome was to equip heads of departments with the skills to enhance lesson observation.

In order to give the maximum amount of time, with the minimum of distraction, the school decided on a series of workshops. An unforeseen outcome was that, during a session on analysing the GCSE results, it became apparent that some option subjects were doing much better than the core subjects. This gave the school a sharper focus to their school improvement plan.

In another school, a colleague was sent on a one-day course on preparing for inspection. She was suitably impressed to persuade her leadership team to do a school-based version.

The core of the short course programme was tailored to fit the particular requirements. The school ran the course on one of its five training days and so avoided incurring supply costs.

Other schools have got together as clusters with a development plan for team leaders and, having decided that learning across institutions would be a useful aim, have booked pairs of facilitators for a series of twilight sessions.

Extra credit

An additional benefit of courses that take place over one or more terms is that a local university can sometimes accredit them, with credits going towards a master's degree. The organisation providing the consultant can help to facilitate this.

Of course, one consideration is cost. Usually attendance at a one-day course or conference can range from £150 to £400 and sometimes more. There will also be travel and subsistence expenses and supply cover. If two people attend - and quite often there are benefits to be gained by doing this - the cost doubles.

In-house training can be just as, or more, cost effective for large groups. Most consultants booked through reputable organisations cost about £600 per day plus expenses, say £700 in total. It is not unusual to have two facilitators for an average sized group. For a leadership team of seven, even with two facilitators, the cost works out at £200 per person.

The other advantage is that the institution gets precisely what it needs. Good providers will offer a pre-event diagnostic, to make sure that the content and the learning objectives are on target.

Just as importantly, the institution can devise a schedule that works, whether during the day, after school or a combination. Most organisations will be more than happy to meet your needs at a time to suit.

Cost-benefit analysis

In many large organisations in the commercial world, significant budgets are put aside for staff development and this is more often becoming the case in schools and colleges.

However, given competing demands for resources, leadership teams and in particular the CPD coordinator (who may already be in the leadership team) will want to get maximum benefit from the training budget.

If you historically have given a substantial chunk to the local authority, it might be useful to do a cost-benefit analysis to see what you actually get for your money. One school found that the cost of their IT support was to go up tenfold for the current year with very little increase in support. They quite rightly decided to go elsewhere.

If CPD planning is linked directly to the organisational improvement plan, it will be easier to assess what intervention will have the most impact across the school and thus where to prioritise spending. And this is where careful consideration is needed about what type of intervention, and when, will best meet the needs of the institution.

Good CPD coordinators should know what type and quality of training is offered in the locality, whether by the local authority directly, via the local leadership centres, or by the many national organisations, including professional associations such as ASCL. They will also be aware of local educational consultants who can offer their services.

Of course off the peg solutions sometimes are the best - they might provide the right information in a national context and they can be good value for money. But if it is the particular you are looking for, made to measure, consider contacting your preferred provider to see what they can do for you.

Terry Allcott is director of ASCL's Management and Professional Services. To find out more about the association's professional development programmes and consultancy service, visit the website at www.ascl.org.uk or call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the MAPS Office.

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