Introduction to the series:
getting the most out of your Inset time

The organisation of INSET days can be one of the most daunting and challenging aspects of the role of the CPD leader / co-ordinator in a school.

“Research into the use of these five (INSET) days suggests that, initially they had not always been used productively by schools (Harland et al., 1999). Although matters have improved, there is still much variation in how effectively these training days are being used for development purposes, an area of interest to the TTA and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES)”
Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development – Earley and Bubb

With large numbers of staff to provide for in some schools– over 90 teaching staff in my school alone plus in excess of 80 support staff – it can be an anxious time for even more experienced co-ordinators as we desperately try to match the provision on the day to the needs of large numbers of discerning professionals who bring with them a huge range of skills, experiences and levels of expertise. Add to this the need to provide value for money and to lead the way in modelling fundamental principles of effective CPD at the same time (i.e. practising what we preach!) – and it isn’t difficult to understand why a forthcoming Inset day can seriously affect the sleep patterns of even the most robust CPD leaders. This series of short articles is designed to provide some practical ideas for creative, imaginative and cost effective approaches to planning effective Inset days in your school; ones that will also have real impact.

Creating the right culture in your school for effective inset in your school.

(i) Getting started

The School Improvement Plan is an obvious place to begin when planning whole school inset provision but there are other practical ways to assess the needs of staff with a view to tailoring the day to meet individual, departmental and whole school needs. Throughout this series I will outline some of the ways in which Inset time has been used effectively in my school to match identified needs, rather than being merely an ad hoc process with activities which fill up the time. In addition, I will also try to illustrate some “best practice” principles along the way, in an attempt to model just how much fun we co-ordinators can have as we demonstrate an imaginative and creative approach to delivering CPD. By modelling good practices, we can in turn hopefully inspire other leaders in the school to manage and lead CPD practices in an increasingly innovative way for their own teams. Collaborative approaches, the identification and sharing of expertise, cost effective practices, targeting provision to meet identified needs, coaching, learning, leading learning, monitoring impact and setting ourselves new challenges are all on the agenda for the day, as is the need to celebrate and demonstrate a commitment to our own learning and that of other colleagues. And we must not forget the main purpose of our ongoing development – the drive we all share to impact positively on the learning of those students in our care, firstly by improving our own classroom skills, knowledge and practices and secondly by fostering a love of life-long learning.

(ii) Creating the right environment

I have found in my work as CPD co-ordinator that small steps can so often lead to quite dramatic changes without staff feeling uncomfortable or threatened. Listening to colleagues in the early days of my post, it soon became clear that departmental and pastoral leaders and their teams felt that there just wasn’t enough time for staff development or training which you may hear in your own school context too. This is a common complaint I know and may well be true to a certain extent; we would all love more hours in the day to dedicate to our own learning. Nevertheless you may feel as I did that often the time available is used unimaginatively or for administrative rather than developmental activities. For your Inset days to be productive it is so important to have the right culture of CPD practices within your school . Consider how far you feel that you have a vibrant and dynamic learning culture amongst staff; are your staff committed to their own learning and that of other colleagues? If you are not convinced then there are some simple steps you can take to increase the “feel-good factor” amongst staff and raise awareness of what constitutes effect CPD. Without this foundation you may find it difficult to transform your Inset days beyond the “run of the mill”.

(iii) Challenging mindset

Do you need to challenge the mindset of what activities constitute effective CPD amongst the staff in your school? Are you confident that resources of time and money available are used creatively? Great Inset days are based on a culture of outstanding CPD and commitment to learning by each and every member of staff. Use the list based on the DfES (as was) list of “Examples of CPD other than external courses” and ask staff to identify which CPD activities they have been involved in during the previous year (feel-good factor begins to kick in !) and which they would like to be involved in. (There is one in my book for you to use / adapt to save you time if you wish.) Choose an Inset day to launch this by engaging every member of staff in the process. Not only will it help your colleagues to recognise the myriad opportunities for CPD which occur on a daily basis ( “no-one ever sends me on a course!”) but also that there is a wealth of expertise already available in school through the sharing of skills, good practice and ideas. The message is that we should all place more value on these everyday exchanges and activities as priceless CPD, at little or no cost and without even leaving the building! Your quest to exploit Inset days to the full needs to be built on this solid foundation.

Distributed leadership approaches to target provision of Inset time to team needs

You can still use the old National Standards for subject leaders in the area of “Working with others” to empower middle leaders to create exciting CPD opportunities for their departmental or year group teams – what a privilege! Support subject and pastoral leaders to consult with their teams in a meeting and to come up with ideas for how more imaginative opportunities for CPD can be created. Encourage them to focus on recognising existing expertise in their teams and how this can be deployed as well as thinking up some innovative approaches to staff development designed to involve and meet the needs of everyone. With this shift in culture and CPD very much on the agenda, why not allow one of the Inset days for that year to be purely for departmental CPD. Encourage and empower your middle leaders to put together a day of CPD activities which match a range of individual, departmental and whole school targets. Show your colleagues that you are listening to their requests for more time whilst feeling confident that middle leaders are now in a position to use the time more effectively. Your role from this point is to support and encourage heads of department and subject leaders to plan effectively for the day.

Request agendas well in advance so you have the opportunity to guide, coach and in some cases help colleagues to come up with ideas, for effective planning, I’m sure you will find the feedback from the day is extremely positive, with staff engaged in a wide range of CPD activities. What’s more without doubt these will tap into existing departmental expertise and spread opportunities more fairly amongst departmental members. I guarantee that staff will find the day extremely relevant to their individual and departmental needs which means greater impact on skills and students’ learning in classrooms!

Sue Kelly is assistant Headteacher with responsibility for CPD. She has written articles for CPD Update and Professional Development Today magazine and is on the editorial board of PDT. Sue talks about the importance of having a vision for CPD, and the confidence needed to make this a reality. She rightly perceives that although theories of CPD are important, the co-ordinator’s job is very much about practicalities.