Mandy Winters and David Wood of Oxford Brookes University describe how their university is working with Redborne Upper School and Samuel Whitbread Community College in Bedfordshire.

The training partnership

The DfES five-year strategy for children and learners places particular emphasis on a new professionalism for teachers. An element of this emerging concept is that the modern teacher will be continually and routinely involved in professional development. The importance which the UK government now attaches to teacher professional development is matched by substantial funding for professional development courses linked to postgraduate awards.

The availability of substantial funds is acting as a catalyst for innovative and flexible arrangements for providing professional development. One such example is the partnership between Bedfordshire’s training schools and Oxford Brookes University.

Bedfordshire is a partner authority with Oxford Brookes in securing one of the largest Training and Development Agency-funded contracts for postgraduate professional development. Over the years of the partnership, the local authority developed with Oxford Brookes a postgraduate programme, Professional Leadership and Facilitation, designed for the experienced school and advisory staff coordinating Bedfordshire’s network of cross-phase school learning communities. Over 50 individuals undertook the programme.

In 2005 Bedfordshire developed an extended strategy for its training schools to include the innovative concept of the associate training school. One of the ideas within the strategy was to find a way of linking the existing activities of the training schools to a postgraduate award. In a meeting which was conducted via video conferencing to save travelling time between Oxford and Bedford, John Gunn, training school coordinator at Redborne Upper School provided a detailed insight into the school’s programme of events. Oxford Brookes staff then matched these activities to appropriate learning outcomes at postgraduate level and proposed a programme to link these activities to a postgraduate award, adding new elements by negotiation to ensure that the programme would be worth the standard tariff for a postgraduate certificate, namely 60 credits at Master’s level.

The project was then developed with John Gunn, Dave Goode and James Birkett, lead training staff at the two training schools, Redborne Upper and Samuel Whitbread Upper. Planning drew on a pilot scheme for teacher learning already established at the training schools, and which used the links within the learning network. In recent years, Bedfordshire has developed professional learning through the regional learning networks, which have training schools at the centre. Both the training schools involved in this pilot have a successful history of developing and delivering comprehensive professional development programmes for staff and were keen to take this further by offering school-based opportunities for accreditation at Master’s level. The schools also wished for greater rigour in their programmes. This was felt to be the next step in the development and aspirations of the training schools.

The Bedfordshire model

The model Oxford Brookes developed with Bedfordshire has many of the features which, research suggests, are associated with successful and effective professional development for teachers:

  • the commitment and active support of the head
  • the link between professional development, career planning and performance development
  • and a programme which is both intellectually stretching and focused on practice.

These are all features of longer courses which Soulsby and Swain (2003) argue make a difference to schools.

The Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) published two comprehensive and influential international research surveys (Cordingleyet al, 2003, 2005) which have attempted to answer questions about what factors lead to effective CPD and have an impact on teaching and learning. Again several factors in the Bedfordshire model are advocated by CUREE:

  • teachers using external expertise, in this case Oxford Brookes
  • enabling staff to be reflective
  • embedding learning into classroom practice over a period of time
  • enabling participants to identify their own focus (Cordingley et al 2003:4).

Personalised professional learning

Oxford Brookes University has been developing school and regional delivery of professional development programmes and was interested in devising another model which had at its starting point priorities/themes from school development plans, namely personalised professional learning. OBU was also interested in exploring closer working relationships between professionals from the schools and from our HE institution.

Initial discussions with the schools centred on establishing three key professional development themes around which planning for accredited modules would take place. These themes emerged from school self-evaluation activities and a consideration of the training in progress. The themes are mentoring new teachers; coaching for improvement; leadership and management (middle management focus). In addition, a fourth supporting module was added which supports school-based enquiry activities.

The second stage involved gathering the materials and activities already in use at the schools to map and audit activities and content against postgraduate learning outcomes. The revised programme, which included Master’s level enhancement sessions and tasks, was then constructed. As noted earlier, content was selected from the OBU validated postgraduate certificate in advanced educational practice courses.

The new programme contains a series of activities/sessions divided into 20 credit blocks, alongside an assessment portfolio requirement. The programme was organised via a video-conferenced meeting as well as on-site meetings.

The two lead training schools recruited over 80 teacher participants from their own learning network as well as from other schools in their area. Recruitment was effected in a number of ways. First, Teresa Farrow, the learning network coordinator has primarily been responsible for contacting schools within the learning network, has answered personal queries and has more generally advocated enrolment. Secondly, the training school managers have recruited staff on a one-to-one basis as part of discussions concerning personal and school targets, as well as highlighting the pursuit of personal aspirations through this opportunity. This approach was successful not only because these senior teachers knew the staff well but also because they positively championed the initiative.

In addition, the teachers have commented that once a ‘critical mass’ had committed to the training, many other teachers came forward themselves. Thirdly, a joint social and information session was held after school so that the teachers could meet university and school tutors. This was well attended.

Delivering the ‘blended and bespoke’ programme

  • The training is delivered mainly by the lead trainers in school, each of whom have a Master’s level qualification or who are actively pursuing one. Since these teachers are providing what amounts to an off-campus OBU programme, they undertake a formal process leading to the status of OBU associate tutor. As a key element of this recognition of their expertise in providing a postgraduate programme on behalf of the University, they follow OBU’s programme of induction and training for ATs.
  • The HEI link tutors work closely with the lead trainers in each school, teaching enhanced sessions, organising an alternative tutor for a session, team teaching with the lead trainers, monitoring the quality of the sessions/activities, and developing the M-levelness of the professional development.
  • The HEI link tutor has a ‘hot desk’ at Redborne Upper School to cement the close relationship and for tutorial purposes with individual teachers. Initial comments from the teachers indicate that this facility is very attractive to them, and they welcome the opportunity to have personal tutorial time at school. In effect a learning ‘hub’ has been created.
  • HEI link tutors will meet regularly with the lead trainers to evaluate progress, amend the programme if necessary and to contribute to the development of the lead trainers.
  • In addition to the sessions in school, there is a facility for a video-conferencing link to Oxford Brookes. This gives the programme participants access to seminars from a range of university staff without the need for travelling. Teachers see the convenience of local programme delivery as a key benefit of the programme. A virtual learning platform provides further opportunities for networking between schools and with university staff in Oxford. By contrast there are also plans for an occasional residential event at the university.

Looking ahead

Teachers have already enquired about continuing their studies via a distanced learning/part-time residential MA course with OBU after the programme at the training schools has been completed. As this programme develops, further M-level modules within these training networks may be available according to staff and school needs. The aim is to continue to develop the programme as part of a personalised professional development approach which meets teacher, school and regional network objectives.

References

  • Soulsby, D and Swain, D, (2003), A Report on the Award-Bearing INSET Scheme, London: Ofsted.
  • Cordingley, P, et al (2003), The Impact of Collaborative Continuing Professional Development on Classroom Teaching and Learning, London: Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education

The professional doctorate in education

Steve Lerman describes a course for those who want to go beyond M-level study

The first cohort of London South Bank University’s professional doctorate in Education (EdD) is reaching the end of its first year. The course is designed for school teachers with an MEd or an MA or MSc in education. Teachers with a Master’s in another subject can take a distance learning unit on educational research methods alongside the EdD. The course is also for university staff who have become interested in teaching and learning their subject, graduates of the university’s MSc in education for sustainability and other interested professionals. It has a particular orientation towards equality, diversity and sustainability, and a strong focus on linking research and practice in professional contexts.
Current students have found the range of professional interests of the participants to be one of the particularly enriching elements.

The EdD consists of two years of a part-time taught course followed by independent research that usually will take between two and four years, the dissertation being 40,000 words. The coursework from the two taught years is submitted with the dissertation, making 80,000 words in total. The taught part of the course takes place on two short weekends and five Fridays across each of the two years.

Here are some quotes from people in the first cohort:

‘The EdD course has for me represented an excellent return on investment. For all the effort needed to engage with the course the rewards are great including reflection that leads to action in professional practice, a strong community of learning, an holistic view of student-lecturer mediated learning space, a supportive forum for the complex subject of the philosophy of education, a challenging and diverse research reading list, a personal learning agenda, peer support, enhanced pedagogical vocabulary and discourse, increased professional confidence and many more.’

‘The course delivery is flexible, consistently loaded and fits in with the busy schedule of the course students who come from many areas of education.’

‘The diversity of the EdD cohort has really helped in providing a wide range of perspectives in the discussion of ideas and philosophies. Some of the readings have me re-evaluate my thinking. The weekend residentials give time and opportunity to get really immersed in EdD content and concepts.’

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