Many terms and concepts are in the air as the new CPD strategy emerges. Cliff Jones offers some definitions and poses some questions to stimulate discussion, and Ken Jones of the Swansea Institute responds

In the spring of 2007 there were lots of speeches and statements emerging from ministers, inspectors and other agents of government policy telling us what education is for and how teachers and related professionals should do their jobs.

In England we seemed to be promised more tests, differentiated by task and level rather than by outcome, and different targets for Key Stage 4, as well as a big push by Lord Adonis telling us how we should teach children to read. There was also the excitement of 14-19 and the new diplomas to come.

I guess that you will be familiar with lots of the new documentation and are already aware of the new National Standards and how performance management is to be made to happen. To go with this a new CPD strategy is emerging with a set of national priorities full of pedagogy and personalisation that will take us to 2010. I cannot hope to cover here all of the words, terms, concepts and policies that seem to be whirling around at the moment but I thought that it was about time that I had a go at selecting some of the ones that you might use as the basis for discussion with colleagues. You will no doubt detect a bias towards critical professional learning evidenced by my attempt to promote the use of phrases such as ‘critical reflection’ and to present ‘theory’ as a friend. My plan is to keep adding to this collection in future issues.

The definitions offered below are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive and they will be subject to change and interpretation as professional knowledge and understanding develops. I have not chased after any spurious sense of objectivity. My subjective comments and judgements are intended to be useful to you as a basis for your professional learning and that of your colleagues. I hope that they are clear.

They are certainly not the last word on the subject of the language of professional learning. I believe very strongly that if educators are to progress as professionals their voice must be developed, heard and responded to. The alternative is that professional educators always receive and respond to the definitions of others. I have left out much but I begin with two definitions to stimulate discussion. And, please note, if you wish to add, dispute, re-interpret or agree to any of what follows I shall be very happy to hear from you.

So, here are two starter definitions for you to dispute:

‘Continuing professional development should be re-defined as continuing professional learning and, if it is to become part of the voice of educators, it should move up a level to become critical professional learning.

‘Orthodox definitions make use of terms such as “improved pupil performance” to define the focus of CPD. This is to constrain professional learning so that it stays within the areas defined by government and also becomes closely aligned with government decisions about what should be measured and how.

‘The word “development” is in danger of being used for educators in the same way that it is being used for countries. That is to say, you are required to develop into the roles and models chosen for you by those that have more power than you.’

‘Critical professional learning implies that dispute of and challenge to the official and orthodox forms and values of education should be allowed: that educators should not simply measure themselves by the extent to which they approach externally imposed or derived targets: that it is important to create circumstances in which professionals are permitted to reveal and discuss matters of concern, even failure, and to work in a blame-free culture that encourages learning from them. It also implies that professionals engage with policy rather than simply work out better ways of implementing it.’

These definitions/assertions can be found (very slightly differently) in ‘Accommodating Professional Duality in CPD in the PCET Sector’ presented at the recent IPDA conference by Rania Hafez of the University of East London. As she was writing her paper Rania emailed me to ask me to explain/justify my use of these terms in various articles in CPD Update. I offer the definitions here simply to stimulate thinking before you read what follows.

Q1. How far do these definitions reflect your own thinking or that of your colleagues?

Accessibility – This concept was prominent during the early days of GCSE. It meant that examination questions had to be clear: that there should be no linguistic obstacle courses for candidates and nothing should get in the way of a student being able to demonstrate what they knew, understood and could do. Without accessibility, differentiation, whether by task or by outcome, would be unfair and more like discrimination which, at its worst, is simply a means of establishing a rank order irrespective of the value of the learning. The consequence of adopting accessibility as a desirable conceptual underpinning of examinations was that learning also had to be made more accessible. 

In terms of professional learning try to imagine a wall with a door that can be opened both ways. On one side is a professional trying or expected to learn. On the other side is the person with the power to make the learning happen. Who should open the door? I guess that you might say that ‘it all depends’. But clearly it will help if they each talk to the other. And, even more clearly, if there is a difference in the power of these two people the person with the more power has to take responsibility for opening the door first and not trying to close it in the face of the learner.

Q2. To what extent, if any, do you or your colleagues feel that the door to professional learning is opened for you? Or is it kept shut and do you have to struggle to open it?

Accountability – You will find this concept being used in all aspects of social and political life. Even before the advent of the National Curriculum 20 years ago and the assessment orders that went with it teachers and schools often had to bear the brunt of criticism for failing to create the kind of society that a succession of politicians, industrialists, church leaders and journalists claimed that they wished to see. Now we have Ofsted inspections and league tables and clear ways in which schools and teachers can be measured, found wanting and held accountable.

Q3. To whom do you or your colleagues feel accountable and to whom do you feel you should be accountable? Are they the same?

Advanced skills teacher – For schools working in collaboration with other schools this role will be very significant. Within a single school, however, people holding such a position may be part of a team that includes an excellent teacher and others as appropriate, led by the leader of professional learning. The problem is that leading professional learning, particularly in an extended school working in collaboration with other schools and with the post-16 sector, is a considerable role that can only be carried out effectively if it is thought through systematically. If it is then perhaps ASTs and ETs can be deployed effectively. See also excellent teacher status below and go to www.tda.gov.uk for further information.

Excellent teacher status – This is regarded as one of the ‘pinnacle’ positions for teachers. As with ASTs, however, it should not be assumed that an excellent teacher is incapable of learning from colleagues who have not been awarded that status. It is easy but simple minded to assume that people at the ‘top’ do not need to learn from people at the ‘bottom’. Anyone who doubts this should just ask themselves if the children/students they have taught have ever taught them anything. Once again go to www.tda.gov.uk for further information.

Q4. Does the CPD policy of your school take these roles into account? Are they perceived to be part of a systematic approach to professional learning throughout the whole school? Have you got a leader or director of professional learning?

APEL – This usually stands for accreditation of prior experiential learning. And ‘experiential’ is usually taken to mean that the learning has not been part of a structured, certificated programme but based upon the experience gained while working. It can be just as acceptable but will probably need to be described very clearly. An APEL or APL conversation has great similarities to a performance management review.

Both APEL and APL (below) can be less than straightforward. If, for example, you are hoping that because of all of your APEL or APL evidence a university will accept you on a postgraduate professional development (PPD) programme without you having to do all of the normal work you might be missing out on the very part of the programme that is most useful to you. And universities are also very much aware that if they give too much prior credit they will be giving their name to an award that has been achieved with very little input from them.

APL usually stands for accreditation of prior learning and often it is the only set of initials that anyone bothers to use when they are talking or writing about giving credit for something achieved elsewhere. Sometimes it is called accreditation of prior certificated learning (APCL) because it is taken to refer to learning that is formal and endorsed by some form of certification.

Occasionally you will see AP(E)L because institutions have procedures that allow them to choose to between learning that is experience-based or learning that is certificated when deciding how much credit to allow to people joining programmes at a higher level than normal.

If you or your colleagues are working on NPQH, LPSH, LftM, the National Strategies or the GTCE’s Teacher Learning Academy you will find that many universities and other higher education institutions have special arrangements in place to make links with their postgraduate programmes. This is another kind of APEL or APL. For details contact info@ucet.ac.uk. Advanced standing is another phrase you might hear used for APL.

But perhaps the major point to make about APEL and APL is that in order to go through this procedure you have to be able to make sense of the professional learning you have undertaken up to this point. And this might mean an audit of the experience, expertise, values and interests of staff. This is not the same as checking to see if people are working to a relevant national standard.

Q5. Has an audit of experience and expertise been carried out in your school? Or is the performance management review process considered sufficient to discover what staff know, understand and can do? Is there any space in your school for people to talk about their professional values and interests?

Entitlement – This is a very interesting word. In the early 1980s we heard a lot about the ‘entitlement curriculum’. This was in the days before the National Curriculum and what, to people working in education at that time, now seems like non-stop interference by central government in what should be taught, how it should be taught, what should be assessed and how it should be assessed. In those days HMI were not unwilling to participate in discussion of such things and produced documents (the Red Books) designed to stimulate thinking about what should happen in schools. I remember that Wigan LEA responded to this by asking its teachers to think about what skills, knowledge and understanding children should all have when they left school at 16. The next question was ‘how are we to make it happen?’ Without the introduction of the National Curriculum this would have been the basis for an agreed entitlement curriculum; the key feature of all of this being that decision making was in the hands of the professionals.

When, however, Kenneth Baker, as secretary of state, introduced the National Curriculum he described it as every child’s entitlement. In other words, children were entitled to get what he was proposing to give them. This was an example of a word and a concept being captured by government and bent to its own purpose. Today there are many others.

The danger with applying this word to professional learning is that it becomes too easy to say that you are entitled to your, say, 30 hours and no more. In some professions this means that people insist upon having their ‘entitlement’ no matter how poor its quality or usefulness.

Another danger is that when you change from professional learning on the basis of enthusiasm to professional learning on the basis of an entitlement people sometimes also change from being volunteers to being conscripts: a totally different basis for professional learning.

Q6. Would you say that professional learning in your school is undertaken enthusiastically or reluctantly?