The recent suggestion that teachers should be employed on "five-year fixed contracts" was the latest in a number of attempts to provide a solution to the need for staff to refresh their knowledge, keep up to date with educational developments, and ensure their classroom practice is a sharp as possible.
Such contracts have become very common in commerce, and especially in the media; in both these outlets such an arrangement gives flexibility of response to changing circumstances, and is an efficient way of keeping an organisation "lean and mean".
However, I don’t think this can be translated into the world of education, nor that it would be sensible to do so.
Of all the requirements in a school to promote effective teaching and learning, none is more crucial than the promotion of a positive ethos. And this, in turn, requires a certain continuity of staff, as does curriculum planning.
Nobody is suggesting that teachers should remain in the same school for ever, or have jobs for life if not up to the task, but the staffing merry-go-round that would be enabled by short-term contracts could seriously hinder the development of a school ethos, not to mention the difficulties for staff and pupils getting used to a new environment on a repeated basis.
In addition, a large amount of time would be needed to assess the professional development undertaken, and its classroom impact – assessments which are already made effectively through planned observation and initiatives like Learning Rounds
I’m not sure you can "force" staff to undertake professional development, even by using their teaching contract as a threat. It needs to be a personal desire, motivated by an openness to change and progress. However, you can provide the conditions in which such commitment can be encouraged.
In Australia, teachers have a professional development sabbatical opportunity every seven years. They can take a year to study, research, or experience an area of professional interest, and return to the chalk face, refreshed, updated, and ready to share their knowledge with colleagues.
Some return to college, others travel, and many adopt a new angle to the profession. Although an alternative offer gives them an additional year’s pay in lieu of the sabbatical, the vast majority choose the sabbatical and develop professionally in a meaningful way – without twilight classes, lost weekends or planned absences from the classroom during the term.
Continuity is preserved, albeit with a year’s interruption, and, of course, the scheme leads to additional teaching post opportunities.
Naturally, there is a sizeable cost implication for such a scheme, but there is also one in arranging cover for burnt-out teachers and those on long-term absence because of stress.
The sabbatical – available perhaps four or five times in a career, is a grown-up answer to the perennial questions: how do we ensure our teaching staff keep on developing professionally?
How do we encourage fresh reflection in the classroom? Where do we find the time to provide high level, effective, professional development?
The answer is out there, or possibly outback. What is needed is the will to provide it.
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