Make Your School INSET Training Actionable and Sustainable

28 May 2021
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

It’s 1988 and Kenneth Baker, the then Education secretary launches his strategy, in line with the new national curriculum to “raise standards in teachers and schools”.

For five days a year, in addition to the 190 teaching days made available for children and young people, all teachers will be required to experience in-service training. Without the distraction of having to manage young people, educators throughout the country will come together to develop professionally, share best practices implement change initiatives and/or catch up on administrative tasks!

I’m not suggesting that administrative tasks are not a valuable use of time, certainly the catching up on them is a frustratingly essential part of the teaching role, regardless of how many extra hours given outside of ‘work hours’.

My attention here is placed squarely upon “training”, introduced during said INSET days that more often than not become a distant of memory of “didn’t someone come in and talk about that once” rather than a vehicle for real change.

Plenty of EduBlogs have been written on the phenomenon of a presenter talking through 80+ PowerPoint slides that could be just as easily be read over a glass of wine and, worryingly, have very little impact on affecting outcomes.

However, it isn’t just the varying and unpredictable range of quality from training delivery, some leadership decision making also needs to be pulled into consideration.

Five Core Principles

One end of term training session I delivered a few years ago springs to mind. On perhaps one of the hottest days that year, the session was a half day on whole school culture change and implementing the five core principles that are addressed in CPI’s new Classroom Culture programme.

The head teacher had decided this should be digested during the second half of the day where the morning was for staff to “tidy and organise their classrooms”.

After gifting a bag of ice creams to the staff at the start of my session, I think we left on good terms and yet I still wonder about the decision making that went on when arranging this session. Not so much about the forcing staff to arrange their rooms in the morning and then stay for my afternoon session, although I do have some thoughts on that, but about holding a whole school change initiative training on the last day of term before six weeks of sustained non-contact time with any learner.

Training needs to be engaging, insightful, accessible but most importantly it needs to be actionable and sustainable.

I’m not convinced that having these traditional five ‘Baker Days’ or INSET experienced in this way is ever going to be the most efficacious strategy to implement change.

INSET days

I would certainly question whether traditional INSET is now an outdated vehicle to deliver change initiatives within a whole school and is now the time to look at more robust ways to experience the upskilling and improved development of staff?

Even pre Covid, I had visited schools who had been developing innovative and progressive ways to better support staff development and now following an incredible period of rapid mobilisation among educators being forced to deliver a virtual teaching and learning experience we should be asking the question how best to implement change?

I’m not convinced filling a room full of all staff on the first, last or any one day of term and relying on the key messages from a presenter however enthusiastically delivered can ever be the best way to lead a change initiative. It may be a good start, but it certainly isn’t enough.

I would suggest schools be braver in demanding better outcomes from training. Look at the research into implementation science, acknowledge the value ‘flipped classrooms’ bring to INSET and welcome the benefits a blended approach, fusing the best of both virtual and face to face worlds together brings, so we can really add value to the way our teachers and school staff engage with continuous professional development.

It is the difference between allowing change to happen and making it happen.

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