The Teacher Learning Academy provides a structure for rigorous professional development. Dr Anne Jasman, policy adviser with the GTCE and her colleague Sara Morgan, head of professional learning, national partnerships and quality, describe the opportunities available.

It’s hard to believe but in 2000, the General Teaching Council for England was viewed as a radical voice, when we argued that investment in teachers’ learning and professional development was crucial if standards were to rise further.

Today, there’s widespread agreement that when the quality of teaching improves, as teachers are encouraged to develop their professional expertise, there’s a positive impact on the learning and achievement of children and young people. Moreover, teaching colleagues and schools feel the benefits too. But what’s not quite so clear is gaining consensus on how best to achieve CPD that’s relevant to an individual teacher’s needs and circumstances, and is a sustained commitment.

The concept of personalised learning remains a buzzword for teachers. In today’s classrooms, there’s an expectation that learning opportunities will be tailored to meet the individual needs of a diverse population of students. Research reveals that teachers also need a differentiated approach if the impact of their professional development is to be maximised. 

The GTC believes that further improvement in teaching quality and raising standards for all will be achieved through the implementation of a more personalised and tailored approach to CPD. One size never fits all. In our advice to government, we argued that this must be supported financially and through the development of appropriate knowledge and infrastructure sustaining the sharing of expertise and the effective management of professional knowledge.  

A crucial component of sustainable professional development is the creation of time for teachers to enable them to learn, practice, develop, evaluate and reflect upon the impact of new professional knowledge, skills and understandings.

But the starting point must be equity of access. Increasingly, CPD is regarded as something in which every member of staff should have the chance to participate. Several recent initiatives are designed to stimulate the demand for professional development opportunities. These include revising performance management arrangements and developing a coherent professional standards framework.

Yet according to the findings of the GTC’s most recent annual survey, many teachers are still reporting inequity of opportunity, with results varying by role and phase. For example, schools’ heads, assistant heads and deputy heads indicate the highest levels of satisfaction. Meanwhile supply teachers report the lowest, with less than half of those quizzed saying that their needs had been met to any extent.    

To help address these inequities, as far back as December 2003 the GTC recommended that the government place a statutory duty on governors to ensure every teacher had a guaranteed entitlement to CPD. Currently, while performance management regulations of 2006 legislate for procedures enabling teachers to identify their CPD and learning objectives, as yet there’s no legislation that secures their access to and participation in CPD.

Clearly it’s an area ripe for further policy refinement. Initially we suggest that further guidance is offered to governors and headteachers to supplement performance management guidelines from September. This should emphasise the critical importance of enabling and supporting access for all teachers to engage in relevant, sustained and effective CPD. 

Many of those who lead CPD in schools find the GTC’s Connect network a valuable source of support and guidance. Established in 2003, Connect helps teachers leading CPD to link up with and mutually support their colleagues around the country. Through a regular online newsletter, workshops and conferences, CPD leaders pool their knowledge to discover how to progress professional development.

Other benefits of joining Connect include being able to influence the GTC’s policies and practices on CPD, and receiving a half-termly email highlighting an example of best practice. There’s also the opportunity to participate in project groups. This year, Connect will focus some of its work on finding ways to help each teacher to develop a CPD programme that is tailored to their own needs. To find out more about Connect, visit: www.gtce.org.uk/networks/connect.

Making a significant and rapidly growing contribution to teachers’ professional development is the GTC’s pioneering Teacher Learning Academy (TLA). Launched in January 2004, the TLA is the first national system that both recognises and celebrates the learning that takes place every day in the professional lives of teachers.

Underpinned by a four-stage framework, the TLA sets out a clear systematic structure, with rigorous processes, to help teachers to plan and carry out their professional development. By participating in the TLA, teachers can demonstrate their commitment to improving and evaluating their practice. The overall aim is to stimulate relevant learning experiences that are effective for teachers at all stages of their career – from those who are newly qualified to headteachers with many years of experience. In some schools, headteachers are opting to include TLA participation as part of an individual teacher’s targets for their professional development.

All teachers who have QTS and are registered with the GTC are eligible to participate in one of the following ways:

  • Through a school, hub of schools or local authority partnership. Originally piloted in partnership with three local education authorities, today the TLA is working with nearly half of all English local authorities, linking local schools into ‘hubs’. Here, groups of schools collaborate, sharing their learning with colleagues, while receiving support from a trained school-based TLA leader, GTC advisers and others.
  • By taking advantage of opportunities offered through the GTC’s professional networks. In addition to Connect, there is Achieve – set up to promote racial equality in schools – and Engage – for NQTs and those who support them.
  • Via a national partnership programme that offers professional recognition from the TLA. For example, the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) has a programme to provide professional recognition through the TLA for initial teacher training mentors, while the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) runs the Leading from the Middle and Leadership Pathways programmes. More recently, our partnership with the Specialist Schools’ and Academies Trust has added another 100 TLA leaders and hubs of schools to the 400 already involved around the country. Meanwhile the National Science Learning Centre has just announced that it will offer TLA recognition on all its courses in 2007.

So how does the TLA work in practice? First, a teacher must identify a project of relevance – in the classroom or school – through which they wish to bring about change and improvement, and decide at which TLA stage they would like to work and present their project. This may be a particular challenge to overcome or an area of interest to explore.
The TLA has four stages, representing an increasing depth of enquiry, reflection, analysis, a widening sphere of influence and differing presentation requirements. The timescale ranges from half-a-term for a Stage 1 submission, to three or more terms to successfully complete Stage 4.

Participation in the TLA is described as a ‘learning journey’, which is based upon six core dimensions. These are:

  • engaging with the knowledge base
  • coaching and mentoring
  • planning your learning
  • carrying out your plan
  • sharing your learning and influencing practice
  • evaluating your learning and its impact.

Throughout the journey, teachers use a learning journal to record key staging posts and highlight important outcomes. This may be audio, video or web-based, as well as written. School leaders authenticate Stage 1, while Stage 2 is verified by trained TLA verifiers.

Of course – as the two case studies we’ve included here aptly demonstrate – this highly personalised approach to learning and development doesn’t mean that the benefits begin and end with the individual teacher. With its emphasis on coaching and mentoring and sharing what is being learned with colleagues, every school can derive substantial benefits from active participation. Through the TLA, learning communities both within and beyond the school gates are actively supported. And as TLA projects are firmly rooted in classroom practice, teachers also have the chance to make changes that have a direct and tangible impact on pupils, enhancing their learning too.

To find out more about TLA opportunities for your school, including details of your regional link adviser, visit:www.gtce.org.uk/tla.

Case study: a Stage 1 project

When Sheila Poppa asked pupils to mark each other’s work, the end result delivered far more than she could have ever hoped to gain. ‘It went global,’ says the second year science and technology teacher. ‘So much broader than I thought it would – and that was my learning breakthrough.’

At Lawrence Sheriff voluntary-aided boys’ school in Rugby, there is already a well-established culture of sharing good teaching practice. This dates in part to a project set up in 2002, whereby departmental partnerships were formed to help reduce achievement gaps at GCSE. Using this work as her inspiration, Sheila decided to use peer assessment to determine if it might make a positive difference at Key Stage 3. The focus of the project was a piece of homework, where pupils were asked to write up an experiment plan – including the approach, method and what conclusions might be drawn from various results. In the next lesson, Sheila talked through the piece of work, highlighting specific points that they should be looking for – eg, could they follow the plan and successfully complete the experiment? Then pupils were asked to swap books and mark each other’s work.

‘Pupils found the whole experience overwhelmingly positive,’ says Sheila. Amongst the benefits it offered was the opportunity to discuss other important issues, such as confidentiality. ‘Privacy was a worry,’ she explains. ‘Some of the pupils had concerns about classmates seeing their work. We discussed how important it was to treat people respectfully, and agreed that anything we looked at should remain in the classroom and not be talked about outside.’

Others have reaped the benefits too. While some had used peer and self-assessment for more straightforward tests, which had clear right and wrong answers, there had been a reluctance to let pupils mark each other’s work in more subjective areas. But Sheila is adamant that: ‘The more that you trust pupils, the more they get out of it.’

The positive impact in the classroom continues. ‘The pupils approach to their work has improved, with their understanding of what the teacher expects,’ says Sheila. ‘Standards are up and although behaviour was never an issue, even low-level disruption, such as chatting, has disappeared. Everyone is very focused on their work.’ Now her project, carried out in October 2006, has gained recognition at Stage 1 of the TLA. Of the submissions process she says: ‘I found it really enjoyable – and not as time-consuming as I’d feared.’

Case study: A Stage 2 project

Mobile phones may be seen as a nuisance in most classrooms, but for pupils at Brinsworth comprehensive school in Rotherham they proved to be an invaluable resource. Year 10 pupils were encouraged to develop their French language skills in a project led by Fiona Hilton, which has successfully received recognition from the TLA at Stage 2. For over eight-weeks, pupils were invited to make creative use of ICT, with the aim of delivering group presentations in French on the subject of healthy living.

‘They came up with the idea of using their own mobile phones to take pictures,’ explains Fiona, who was encouraged to take part in the TLA by colleagues at the school. A qualified teacher for three years, she says: ‘For me, it shows that you don’t need stacks of expensive equipment to be able to do this sort of work – the pupils used the resources they had at their fingertips.’

Working in groups of mixed ability and of their own choosing, pupils were able to take responsibility for their own learning, says Fiona. ‘They could show their strengths – some were good at ICT, others better at using language – and there was a good mix of skills.’ As the pupils discovered new ways of getting their message across, their French language skills were improving. ‘It was a very real experience for them – and it was also fun.’

In the process, Fiona found her own understanding of ICT boosted. The results have been widely disseminated, both in the school and nationally, with other teachers coming into her classroom to observe. Now she is working on a Stage 3 TLA submission, which is along similar lines, but involves Year 9 pupils and more advanced software.

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