Vic Goddard reflects on the changing nature of CPD events and the privileges of being a presenter – while pondering how today’s self-run training might shape the courses of tomorrow…
Conference season is now in full swing - just before it gets too close to exams for anyone to be released. There is no doubt that the way we engage with these as education professionals has changed almost beyond recognition over recent years, and will continue to do so as money gets tighter.
I remember the days when the process involved trawling through the big box of flyers that lived in the staffroom to find a course that I fancied going to, and which could be linked to an area of my school responsibility. It may have just been me, but I used five ranked criteria when making my selection:
1 – How far away is it?
2 – Does it link to my area of development?
3 – Has anyone else from school been to a course run by this company? If so was it any good?
4 – What time does it finish?
5 – How good is the lunch going to be?
If I’m honest, number 5 might have been a bit higher – but that’s beside the point now. The days of £350 day courses on being an ‘Outstanding head of department’ seem to be dying out, as the growth of Teaching Schools and self-run training such as TeachMeets and regional conferences increasingly takes hold.
I feel at this point I have to own up that since Educating was on TV I have, it seems, become considerably more interesting than I was before. As a consequence (definitely unintended), I’ve been asked to present at all kinds of CPD events and have really enjoyed the privilege of being able to do so.
However, I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ every time, as I am slightly amazed that anything I have to offer is of great interest. Besides, I have generally ‘borrowed’ my ideas from other, brilliant people – but still, my school benefits from the extra revenue, and I get to talk to excellent people in the hopes of ‘borrowing’ even more good ideas, so I keep on saying ‘yes’.
In fact, being asked to talk at conferences has given me a whole new insight into the murky world of the ‘evaluations’ we are all forced to do when we attend. I, like lots of you I’m sure, presumed that not a lot happened with them, apart from someone working out whether the course is worth running again. However, as a recipient, I can assure you they have a much bigger impact.
I was recently fortunate enough to be asked to talk at a deputy heads’ conference. I thought it went well; I managed to get a few nods and smiles, relatively few people used it as a convenient time to check emails, etc. I then got the evaluation results sent to me.
It was a fairly typical form with two positive responses, one neutral and two negative. It was great to see almost all of the responses in the two positive boxes, but there was one – yes, ONE – in one of the two negative choices.
I spent the next hour or so of my life trying to work out which member of the audience it could have been. Was it the gentleman in the bright red jumper? He didn’t smile much. Maybe it was that deputy from a local school near Passmores who’s never liked me? And so on – followed by another hour of trying to work out how to do it better next time. So don’t ever doubt that those forms have an impact, because I know otherwise!
Fear is persuasive
The other really interesting aspect of the courses and conferences offered to teachers and SLTs today is how much they reflect the current pressures on schools. That box of flyers has now been replaced by the daily email – and if you were to analyse these, you would be able directly to track what the latest ‘big thing’ is.
My inbox is therefore currently bursting with ‘Prevent’ training; everything imaginable to do with Ofsted preparation; and how to improve your recruitment (though this might be just me, having had a bit of rant on TV about this not so long ago). I do understand that those companies are responding to whatever the current climate is, because fear is very persuasive – and sadly. that is what is being played on.
However I think the reasons why TeachMeets have been so effective is that they are positive events; all about what we can do, rather than what we must do to tick certain boxes.
The big question, ultimately, is can we justify staff missing lessons to attend courses in these days of less money and more pressure than ever on our results? Well, it depends – but if we do invest that time and money on external CPD, then we have to see a clear, positive impact on the people we serve – at least one that definitely outweighs the cover lesson they’ve had to endure as a result of it!