What’s good for teachers...

Written by: Jon Richards | Published:
Jon Richards, national secretary for education, UNISON

Times are tight, but schools that cut CPD for support staff are missing a huge trick, says Jon Richards

As school finances tighten, the Department for Education (DfE) is to be renamed the Department for Saving Money.

Ploughing through the volume of toolkits, benchmarking guides, metric tools, webinars and stilted YouTube presentations on the need to ensure efficiency (i.e. which staff to sack) does nothing to lessen managers’ workloads.

Training budgets have already taken a hit, with CPD squeezed and schools trying to work out what to do with the money being siphoned off into the Apprenticeship Levy.

Most schools will have seen the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (DfE, July 2016) and are using it to invest in the development of their teachers.

Many will have thought that even though it just says teachers, we ought to apply this to all staff in the school as everyone needs developing. Unfortunately some will only see the word “teachers” and focus their resources there.

A small number will say that we haven’t got enough cash for all staff and will restrict the budget accordingly, and a few will have missed/ignored it all together.

These latter schools will miss an enormous opportunity. The development of a school-wide culture of learning, which builds a team and improves collective morale, will feed into improved practice and better outcomes.

CPD needs time and resources, but it also needs to be relevant. So it is great that many support staff attend INSET days with teachers, but there is a need to identify if all sessions will be pertinent.

Far better to identify what is necessary for all staff, but also what separate training is needed for teachers and support staff. It is also worth considering context: the balance of theory and practice needed will vary between different staff groups and CPD should be based on both pupil needs and the job role.

Teacher and classroom-based staff relationship-building is also crucial, but it’s an area where ITT is sadly lacking. Effective support staff deployment is crucial, yet too often NQTs end up in a classroom with another adult who they have barely met (and who may be considerably more experienced) and are expected to get on with it.

An environment that encourages engagement and some support staff input into planning can be helpful in relationship-building. It also helps identify where support staff add value rather than under-utilising their skills. Skills that of course need to be constantly updated.

As UNISON nears its 25th birthday and we look back and ponder where the time (and my hair) went – we will also be planning for the next 25 years. One area that will remain central to our raison d’être will be the principle of lifelong learning for all.
Since the beginning, our Return to Learn scheme has been successful in reconnecting workers who have been away from learning or struggled when they were younger. A free, short and supportive course, it encourages staff to move on to more formal education.

As recent governments have backed away from producing resources for support staff we have stepped in. We have developed work-related training and development, such as one-day workshops with the Open University on topics such as managing behaviour, autism and mental health, which we can run jointly with schools.

Our Skills for Schools website is an online careers, training and development guide. It has a simple career planner, case studies and a library of useful resources, which will be even better in the autumn when it has been revamped.

It will then have all our CPD guidance in one place: the Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants and the Career Framework for Teaching Assistants, new e-learning programmes for exam officers, our work on the school food standards and professional standards for catering staff, the vital role of technicians (see our #Techognition campaign), and our championing of the work of office staff.

We have put our money where our mouth is, filling in CPD gaps and building the professional profile of support staff. At a time of financial stringencies we need to utilise every staff member effectively.

This means professional recognition and CPD for all staff to ensure that children and young people get the best education and support.

  • Jon Richards is the national secretary for education at UNISON.

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