In service explosion

 

IN SERVICE training of teachers used to be regarded as the Cinderella of the educational system with miniscule resources. The low priority given to it was a source of constant complaint at the annual conferences. But with EU money coming on stream for in service training through the Human Resources Operational Programme (HROP) and the establishment of an In Career Development Unit (ICDU) in the Department of Education two years ago all that has changed.

Some £35 million of EU money will be spent on in career teacher training between 1994 and the end of this year. Last year alone, 28,090 teachers underwent in service training - so much so that second level schools began to complain of training disrupting teaching. Now, teachers are being seconded from schools as trainers, so that, for the first time, there are teams of full time trainers working throughout the year.

The ICDU was put in place two years ago with the aims of "facilitating the huge changes in curricula which are taking place and being planned, bringing together in a cohesive manner the training for teachers and moving the design, delivery and organisation of the programmes out of the Department itself, explains Paul Doyle, principal officer with the ICDU. He sees the ICDU as facilitating the empowerment of various bodies and organisations to provide in service.

The cornerstone of the Department's policy on the provision of in service would seem to be to provide it on a decentralised basis. The training is provided by a wide variety of bodies including the teachers' unions, the education centres, the universities, colleges of education, subject associations and the Departments of Education and Health.

The ICDU's list of programmes for 1996 focuses mainly on the post primary sector as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has not yet sent the revised primary school curriculum proposals to the Department.

Programmes for 1996 include the revised music and business studies curricula, management training for principals, the Leaving Certificate Applied and Vocational, relationships and sexuality education and the new civic, social and political education as well as remedial and special education initiatives. There are also programmes concerned with teachers' professional development and with school administration.

The White Paper is committed to formulating "a strategic framework for the in career professional development of teachers with explicit, achievable objectives, specified target groups and criteria for evaluating the impact of in career development programmes". A draft copy of this strategic framework has been circulated and is being discussed with the partners in education via the primary and post primary in career advisory committees.

The ICDU is headed by Paul Doyle and comprises one assistant principal officer, three inspectors including a senior psychologist, and a small number of administrative staff.

The provision of an expanded in career development programme has been made possible by the injection of that £35 million, over the years 1994 - 1999, from the EU's HROP. Priorities are therefore, largely being set by the need to keep within the parameters of the HROP. Targets set by the EU for primary and second level education include the delivery of 42,000 training days per annum. That target is currently being exceeded, with 126,000 days being provided through Department schemes in 1994 (the last year for which complete data is available).

ALL teachers must have access to relevant training in _ relation to the curricular reforms which impact on them under HROP targets. Other HROP priority objectives include training in the identification and remediation of learning difficulties, training in school planning, training for school principals, training for Youthreach staff in group facilitation and counselling skills and programmes for teachers of children with special needs.

Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the ICDU's approach has been the development of new models of in service. The Transition Year model, where experienced teachers are seconded to a support team (see panel), is generally agreed to be very successful and this model - will now be used in the implementation of the relationships and sexuality education programme.

A combination of distance education and school based training will be used in the implementation of the phase two Leaving Certificate subjects, business studies and music (see panel).

The ICDU also plays a major role in evaluating programmes. All participants on in service courses complete a standard evaluation form and certain courses are monitored on a sample basis by members of the inspectorate.

However, not everyone is happy with the pace of policy development. Catherine Byrne, assistant general secretary with the INTO, says that she is extremely concerned at the slow pace.

"We still don't have a national policy or strategy developed. It is our belief that a national director of in service should be appointed. We have a very small unit in the Department of Education trying to implement a totally disconnected system," she says.

Byrne describes the people in the unit as very supportive and professional. The INTO itself also provides - with Departmental financial support - a large in service programme with 8,700 participants in the period 1994 to 1996. But she says that the unit simply doesn't have sufficient people.

"I believe that an in service education system requires a very strong centre as well as a strong local base. What is needed is a national director and a technical team," she adds. She would like to see a structure similar to the National Council for Curriculum Assessment put in place.

John Mulcahy, vice president of the ASTI, says the union is generally happy with the Department's new approach to in service and notes that the old system was brought into disrepute last year when schools were disrupted as large numbers of teachers attended in service for the seven revised Leaving Certificate courses. He is enthusiastic about the new school based model of training and about the provision of helplines for teachers, an idea introduced with the Transition Year programme.

AS OUTLINED in the White Paper, the teacher centres are to play an expanded role in in service provision with the proposed regional education boards co ordinating activities for each area. The support teams for the various new in service projects are housed in the education centres with, for instance, RSE headquartered in Drumcondra, Transition Year in Blackrock, Co Dublin, and civics, social and political education in the West Dublin Teachers' Centre, Dublin.

There are nine education centres with full time directors and 17 centres operating on a part time basis. It is expected that 18 centres will eventually have full time directors. Mulcahy is pleased about the expanded role of education centres and says that "clearly they wilt be regional hubs," but he adds that the appointment of permanent directors to many centres is still awaited, making the efforts of the part time directors all the more laudable.

"Obviously there is a great spate of in service going ahead at the moment. This is tied into the EU and there are growing fears as to what will happen when the funds dry up. We would like to see the commitment is not just funds driven," says Mulcahy.