Sending staff out on external training can be costly. Course fees, supply costs and expensive train fares can all eat into your school’s budget. You need to make sure a day’s training in London makes a big impact on the teacher’s classroom practice, and that it ends up being an effective learning experience – not an excuse for a day away from the classroom and a chance to check out new shops.

Arranging a whole-school Inset with an external speaker can be very daunting for the school’s CPD leader – but get it right and you have all school staff enthused and excited about what they have heard and ready to implement new ideas with resolved vigour and confidence. This can also be more cost-effective for a school than sending lots of staff on similar training courses. It is easier to win hearts and minds if you have a charismatic trainer who can speak with authority, providing useful examples of effective practice, and who is skilled at answering those very tricky questions some staff always seem to ask.

I run a wide range of commercial training courses and this work has given me a real insight into why some schools are more effective than others at getting the most out of their school’s training budgets and how they make training really work for them.

Whole-staff training: Inset days

What is your priority?
First, think carefully about what you want the training to be on. Outstanding CPD leaders plan this thoughtfully so that any whole-staff training links in with the whole school’s development plan and its priorities. Schools that are less focused leave things to the last minute, believing they have a ‘training day to fill’ rather than thinking about the real purpose of such professional development.

Looking at your school’s most recent Ofsted report also gives a clear indication about the school’s priorities. Usually during the first few pages there are some bullet points that specify what the school needs to work on – bear in mind that the school’s effectiveness will be partly judged on its progress in implementing improvements from the previous inspection, so if you are suddenly asked to ‘sort out a training day’ by a harried member of the senior leadership team you could do no better than look to this for guidance.

How far has your school tackled these issues? Which of these could be developed into a focus for a whole-school training day? How can the training improve teachers’ practice?

Many whole-school Insets actually focus on a range of popular training areas, including, for instance, teaching outstanding lessons, improving assessment for learning, strategies for improving classroom behaviour and raising pupil motivation. Training is also successful if it accompanies any changes the school is planning to adopt in areas such as vertical tutoring, study skills, personal, learning and thinking skills, whole-school literacy, staff peer coaching and so on.

One of the main reasons that changes in schools tend to fail is because staff don’t see the rationale for the change, or they fail to buy in to it because they feel unsupported and insecure about what they need to do. This is why high-quality professional development can be a powerful influencer – if staff have received quality training they will be empowered to alter and change their practice for the better.

Using in-school experts

There can be many benefits to having staff run training for their school. It gives these individuals valuable self-development and, importantly, it spreads good practice. It shows what some staff can do and demonstrates how that can be translated into good practice across the whole school. Schools should be encouraged to adopt this more often, because opportunities to see and hear what other staff are doing can be too few and far between.

Thirty-minute training sessions sharing good practice at whole-staff meetings, or a training carousel of activities manned by different staff on an Inset day, can be a useful way of sharing good teaching practice. All too often, in-house expertise can remain undetected, and many more heads of department meetings would be improved if the occasional 20-minute slot was given over for the head of history to train others in best practice, for example, in how they use thinking skills to help Year 11 pupils revise more effectively.

One thing to be mindful of is repeatedly using the same members of staff – this can create an unfair workload for those individuals, and others may ‘tune out’ messages if they feel they are being delivered by the same people yet again. It is also important to keep such ‘experts’ fresh themselves; some teachers I have spoken to are so busy helping, demonstrating and giving training themselves that, ironically, some of the latest teaching developments can pass them by. Make sure this doesn’t happen by ensuring they do have the opportunity to see good practice themselves within and beyond the school.

Using national experts or local authority advisers

Some schools can become myopic: having a good experience of running in-house training, they decide to do everything in-house. This can breed an insular atmosphere and the school can soon become very inward-looking. While it is good practice to share expertise within a school, it is also important occasionally to hear from the outside world.

Kicking off a training day and re-energising staff training with an expert speaker can be the best way of ensuring quality CPD. But there are some important things to bear in mind. Make sure you pick the right person. Running a whole-staff Inset to more than 100 people (and you can bet some of them don’t want to be there) demands confidence, skill and real training expertise. The right speaker will ensure that all your staff get the right messages, and he or she will offer an interesting and entertaining day with the right mix of pedagogy and interactive ideas that can be directly related to the classroom.

How to find the right speaker is a different matter. Get it right and the whole term goes with a bang; get it wrong, on the other hand, and it can be a public disaster. Without doubt, the best way to find an excellent speaker is to go on personal recommendation – asking other schools who they have had in and how they rated them. Most speakers who run commercial training Inset days can also be booked for bespoke training courses, and actually hearing them speak by attending a single day’s training yourself ensures that you are able to pick the right person for your school. It often gives you the additional opportunity to talk to the trainer about your school’s specific needs and gives you a chance to see the flavour of their training materials.

Good trainers will have their own websites and should be able to show you examples of named delegates’ evaluations of their training. Although such speakers usually have a set package or agenda for a training day, they should be able to flex this for you to accommodate your school’s timings and make it either a half or whole day’s training.
Many schools are also opting for twilight training held directly after school, which allows staff to be updated on a specific topic but without the need for a lot of cover. When arranging such training, bear in mind that staff are likely to be very tired after a day’s teaching. Don’t make the session longer than 90 minutes and ensure there are plenty of refreshments and drinks available.

Some trainers are known for their particular area of expertise and it can be possible to book training for particular groups of staff such as NQTs, middle managers or teaching assistants. If, as CPD leader, you find several staff are keen to go on the same training event, you may find it much more cost-effective to book the trainer in your school to train a group of staff. Many trainers will also allow you to offer teachers from other schools places, and this can be one way of reducing the training cost and making your CPD budget go much further. Make sure you agree this with the trainer in advance, though.

Book them quick. Excellent trainers get booked up many months in advance – sometimes more than six months for key dates such as back-to-school Insets at the start of September and January. If you are after a very well-known trainer, you may find the person easier to book for a twilight session or make sure you give them plenty of advance notice. You may also find that if you have the opportunity to pick a date outside the most popular times, your trainer is able to offer a more competitive rate.

During the training and follow-up

Make sure that during the training there is some opportunity for staff to ask the trainer questions – it is important to budget time for this so the training does not overrun.

It is also important to build in some time during the training or in meetings afterwards to ensure that staff think about and, more importantly, act on the training they have received. After all, if you want to show that the training has had an impact it is necessary to plan and make steps to lead improvements.

During my training sessions I usually plan with the CPD coordinator how this will take place and offer a handy ‘CPD action plan’ or self-audit, depending on the training given, which will guide our planning and help staff reflect on the day. In some training days the last half-hour of the training is given over to this forward planning.

Make sure that all training you arrange is evaluated by delegates. Most schools have their own training forms for this, although trainers can provide their own. A key issue to think about is the impact of the training. It is important to ask staff about their next steps, and to read and act on these so you can be sure the delegates believe the training will have an impact, and to help you plan to follow up on this.

Some trainers will happily offer further contact and give all staff their email or other contact details. And it can be worth keeping in contact with your trainer yourself – sometimes they pass on other information or new training materials that might be of interest to you, answer questions or provide links to other successful schools.

Some will also work as local authority or independent consultants and they can provide follow-up visits, learning walks or lesson observations to help you measure the impact of your training.

Single-day courses

When dealing with staff requests for the one-day training course – often held in a swanky hotel in London, Manchester or Birmingham – bear in mind:

  • Is it clear why the member of staff wants to attend the training?
  • How will they benefit from it?
  • How will you ensure that they use and spread examples of the training afterwards?

Most staff do make good use of training – but sadly, there will always be a few teachers who see it as nothing more than a day out of the classroom. You can deter such individuals by the way you allocate training – for example, ensuring that CPD requests are linked to individuals’ performance management and ensuring that individuals make it clear how they will benefit from the training and how they will share ideas afterwards.

I have noticed that delegates who are expected to provide feedback or a summary of the training in a department or staff meeting – such as the five best resources from the day, a potted summary of the training or trialling an idea from it – are much more attentive and engaged than those who are not expected to do anything with the training.

Some schools are also sending paired delegates to training sessions – although I initially thought that this seemed to be a hefty investment of resources, it is noticeable that these delegates buzz with the opportunity to apply the training to their school and, because they have a like-minded person attending with them to forward-plan, they actually tend to act more on the training advice than the single delegate.

Most schools have a range of strategies for managing their staff’s CPD – the above should give you some food for thought. If you want to consider ideas further from this article, you can find out more.

Caroline Bentley-Davies is an independent adviser specialising in outstanding lessons, middle leader training and assessment for learning. Her latest book, How to be an Amazing Teacher, is available from Amazon and Crown House Publishing

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