The problem with INSET: the great training robbery

Good heavens, I have sat through some real rubbish over the past 16 years.  I have been obliged to attend some of the most irrelevant content, poorly applied concepts with the dullest delivery ever in the name of professional development.  Colleagues, this has to stop.  We have got to stop being so tolerant of poor quality inset.  I know it is a day off teaching with a free lunch and we might welcome the respite in a busy term but we need to stop this abuse of our professional development.  There is an opportunity cost to not spending the precious time we have set aside for training on real professional development.  As Shaun Allison describes in his class teaching blog, effective CPD should be subject specific, regular, collaborative and within the context of what is being taught.  The main purpose should be to support the quality and consistency of teaching and learning within teams rather than a tick box exercise for some corporate action plan.  We need to put CPD back into the context of subject areas, it needs to be teacher-led and based around the needs of the curriculum.  Subject teams need the time and space to plan high quality teaching and reflect on current practice.

What it should not be:

One-size fits all.  You know the type, all teaching staff in the hall for a session on AfL or behaviour management from some outside consultancy.  To be honest, general pedagogy sessions have probably had their day, they might spark a thought but where does it go?  How is it implemented?  Where is the time and space in the schedule to make this happen before we get dragged into the next big thing?

One-off inspirational speaker.  I actually quite like an engaging speaker but our task is not an after-dinner speech. It is to have the mental space to use the best evidence to evaluate our practice.  What is left behind after the raconteur leaves the building?  If we are to engage with a new evidenced-based practice it needs time to sow the seeds amongst the chaos of curriculum change.

Pretend accreditation.  I am a 40 year old man, I have little need or desire for your made up certificate, thank you.

Team-building activities.  This has to stop.  It is not right or fair to spend precious development time on building a raft or making a tower out of newspaper.  This madness has to stop.

Coloured sugar paper.  See above my comment about being a 40 year old man.

What it should be:


We are in such a period of curriculum change that our development needs must be focused on these new specifications, how to deliver the knowledge and skills and how to accurately assess the learning and use new mark schemes.  How do we embed the ideas of cognitive psychology about retrieval practice and spaced-learning?  My most valuable development activity of late has been our departmental attempts at joint planning.  This has been a real joy and a privilege to talk through ideas and build them together.


Does it all need to happen in the same place at the same time.  I have an active and supportive PLN on my twitter-feed, there are regular subject specific live chats that I participate in.  Tutor2U have been offering a range of webinars in the early evening that are preferable to a podcast as they allow questions and group support.  Does all development need to take place on the school premises in the same time slot?  I have rather enjoyed my recent sojourns to ResearchEd and teach-meets in London.  How I long for a more independent approach that allows me to be responsible for my 30 hours of professional development each year.  CPD should be a buffet not a set menu.


I can count on my hand the number of meaningful insets in the last 16 years.  Am I cynical and bitter?  I hope not, I would consider myself humble about my practice and open to new ideas I am just a bit tired of the same-old, same-old.  Actually, not tired but frustrated, angry, disappointed?  I want more from the valuable time set aside for this. I want to have the mental space to reflect and respond to new approaches.  I think both my students and I deserve more from the current diet on offer.

We need to return to a more streamlined and purest form of CPD, one which is teacher-led and where teachers can engage regularly to discuss ideas about how best to teach their subject.  The opportunity cost of poor professional development is too great.  Whose agenda is it anyway?  Colleagues, we have nothing to lose but our own professional development.  Let’s put away that sugar paper.