Investment in Teaching and Learning by John Dabell

Although there is no doubt that many schools could benefit from additional funding, the reality of funding is that some schools don’t put professional learning at the top of the list. In fact, for some schools, spending on CPD is pitifully low or non-existent.

According to recent research by the Teacher Development Trust (TDT),

“Just over 21,000 teachers are employed in schools which report zero or near-zero CPD budget.”

The TDT found that on average secondary schools spent 0.37% of their budgets on staff training and 0.65% in primary schools. In the world’s best school systems like Ontario, Canada, over 10% of school budgets and teacher time is spent on CPD.

Professor Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University notes,

“Research evidence is very clear that investing in high-quality support for teachers’ professional learning is not just one of the most effective things schools can do to raise standards, but one of the best-value choices they can make. Cutting spending on CPD, even in a time of tight budgets, would be one of the most counterproductive, short-sighted and evidence-averse things a school could do.”

Clearly, investing in professional development is an absolute priority as it is the main vehicle for improvement. Research by Bell and Cordingley in their report ‘Characteristics of High Performing Schools’ found that in high performing schools, leaders:

  • invest more systematically in professional learning
  • invest more heavily in mentoring and coaching cross-school
  • give subject knowledge a high priority
  • have a clear focus on cross-school explicit pedagogical strategies
  • make collaborative learning a big focus

Schools obviously have tough choices to make and the money they spend on resources, particularly technology resources is disproportionate to what they devote to training teachers how to use them and teacher training more generally. Technology for technology sake is an empty investment if they aren’t accessible and haven’t been given dedicated training and time to work with the technology, evaluate it and improve their approaches.  The inclusion of EdTech in CPD is important.

The key driver of progress is the investment schools make in teaching and learning. Students need teachers with up-to-date skills and research has shown that those schools that do invest in their staff are higher-achieving.

Why is so much spent on technology and so little on training teachers themselves? Shiny new tech makes a difference. It sends out a message that schools are state of the art, they have their finger on the pulse and they are meeting the needs of tech-savvy kids. Parents expect it and like it.

Unfortunately it’s commonplace for schools to invest in educational technology without having properly considered what the desired learning outcomes are. But technology does not improve results, teachers do. Sometimes schools dive into buying EdTech but this can often backfire and impede teaching and learning because of reliability issues, expensive tech support, ball and chain contracts, not to mention how quickly things date and age. If EdTech isn’t flexible, up-gradable and extendable then it is easily money down the drain. No school will want to admit having cupboards full of under-used or redundant equipment when the money could have been more judiciously spent on CPD addressing specific learning needs.

In a recent speech addressing the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Justine Greening said she believed that teacher professional development and school improvement “are one and the same thing” and strongly believed in a school-led system “taking what happens in the very best classrooms and schools in this country and spreading it, driving improvement through collaboration and school-to-school support.”

Teachers are the most important asset in a school so they should be professionally developed and nurtured. It is shockingly short-sighted for schools to spend significant sums on technology alone without ring-fencing funding for professional development opportunities. Spending on technology such as i-Pads in order to benefit the student learning experience is obviously important but schools need to match this spending and invest in their teaching staff to make the most impact. As David Weston, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust and Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Education says,

“School leaders should explicitly link technology purchases to learning needs, and ensure that a major portion of any budget is set aside for implementation (i.e. training and support) and on-going evaluation.”

Staff training and learning is possibly the most important element of any project and the good news is that it is possible to do spend on tech and teachers so that everyone benefits.

How? Schools don’t have to look far or spend a fortune to make significant changes. Professional development opportunities that have a strong focus on pupil outcomes and are carefully designed can have a significant impact on student achievement.

Using video lesson recording is an economical, efficient and highly effective way to drive standards in school and is an investment in teaching and learning and not just in technology. The technology is the training so schools get double value and builds a culture where evidence is at the very heart of school life.

Video observation technology is a very powerful CPD and reflection tool because it is shared peer-to-peer by practitioners who want to be the best that they possibly can be.  If schools invest in the knowledge and skills of their staff then they invest in better learning and improved outcomes for pupils.

If we can structure and focus CPD around technology then the teaching and learning process can be transformed. Consistent, outcomes-based CPD is vital and investing in video lesson technology where teachers can learn from each other means we can really get the most out of any classroom technology investment. Video is an affordable and sustainable intervention that can form a very valuable function for whole-school CPD so pupil, teachers and the school win, win, win.

Scarce funding being misspent on technology resources is a real issue. Okay its looks good and it can paint a picture of success to the outside world but is it necessary? Is it misplaced? Schools need to look long and hard at where the investment is really needed and what the implications are of prioritising tech over much needed teaching and learning CPD. Can we combine the two and level the playing field? We have to.

Video is a powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning. Staff, students, leaders and parents can now engage with video in ways that were unattainable several years ago.

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