The ‘New Professionalism’ – rhetoric and reality?
A view from the quagmire
Dr Sandra Leaton Gray
Dr Paul Denley
Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14-17 September 2005
In 2003, the Teaching Awards Trust ran training sessions, aimed at sharing best practice, through a series of Teaching Awards Seminars. These launched the day’s proceedings at each of the 13 regional Teaching Awards Ceremonies. In Cornwall, the Trust ran the ‘Creative Minds – The Perfect Learning Environment’ activity. Nominees were challenged to build the perfect learning environment from everyday scraps.
It is extremely difficult to imagine this activity taking place at any other industry awards ceremony. It is particularly puzzling to find it taking place at the Teaching Awards, which was originally conceptualised as a means of raising the status of teachers within society. This raises several interesting areas of enquiry. How far do current professional development activities in the UK align to the stated desire on the part of the Government for teaching to be reformed and remodelled as a profession? Are teachers truly being developed as professionals, or are they simply being trained to deliver Government policy and meet the requirements of examination syllabi? What are the implications for the status of the profession over the medium to long term, in the light of current CPD practices?
Two related but independent studies, carried out between 2003-2004 at Cambridge University and the University of Bath, addressed this issue. The initial aim of each study was to carry out an audit of CPD opportunities available to teachers nationally, and then to survey attitudes amongst education professionals relating to their personal experiences of CPD throughout their careers. This was to be carried out against a background of change within the teaching profession, and across the public sector as a whole. It soon became apparent, during the course of both research projects, that while CPD activities might on one level appear to be numerous and relatively benign, there was a darker side to such activities, that appeared to reflect the current status of teachers within society as a whole.
In order to explain this somewhat sinister view of professional development, it is necessary at first to place it into a historical context. During the Conservative administration, from 1979-1997, there were significant changes in the conceptualisation of teacher professionalism at Governmental level (Whitty, 2002). This was born out of a dissatisfaction with teaching standards in schools. One of the main manifestations of this was a stated desire to move teacher training away from Universities and Higher Education institutions (Furlong, 2005). Existing training structures were to be replaced with on-the-job training. This led to the development of courses such as the Graduate Teacher Programme, in which teachers were placed in particular schools, as a kind of postgraduate apprentice. Other manifestations including the introduction of the 1988 Education Reform Act, which introduced the marketisation of education via parental choice mechanisms, standardised assessment techniques, league tables, and local management of schools. This was to play a significant role in the haphazard development of CPD provision in the UK, which will be discussed later.
After 1997, the new Labour administration grew increasingly concerned about recruitment and retention issues in the teaching profession. These issues were not new; indeed, as far back as 1991 it was felt necessary to raise teacher salaries and find novel ways of attracting recruits to the profession. However the Labour Government felt it to be essential that teaching was remodelled as a profession, for a new age in which the ‘knowledge economy’, in all its incarnations, was regarded as playing an increasingly important role (Leaton Gray, pending)
The rebranding of teaching was to take many forms. These included advertising campaigns built around slogans such as ‘Nobody forgets a good teacher’ and ‘Use your head’. There were golden handshakes for new recruits in shortage subjects, such as the sciences, information and communications technology, and modern foreign languages. There was also the introduction of the Teaching Awards ceremony referred to earlier. However there was a darker side to this rebranding. The Labour Government introduced performance related pay via the introduction of an upper pay spine linked to performance appraisal, which was a concept that had last existed as part of the payment by results measures used by the Victorians. It also introduced considerable numbers of initiatives, to encourage improved standards within particular social groups, geographical areas, or other sub sections of UK society, according to particular Governmental priorities at any time. The introduction of such ‘initiatives’ allowed the Government to create a sense of a ‘hot chronology’ (Lévi-Strauss, 1966) in which there was a true sense of momentum, with ‘Education, Education, Education’ being given a sufficiently high priority for its political ends.
Both the Cambridge and Bath studies uncovered a situation in which CPD played little or no useful role in the lives of teachers, beyond delivering Government policy edicts, or the clarification of examination syllabi. A combination of financial constraints within schools, and poor management in some instances, had led to chaotic and unrelated allocation in many circumstances. Teachers were highly critical of a system in which their time was wasted by poorly structured, irrelevant training. The lack of an adequate quality control mechanism was the source of particular regret within the profession. There were accusations of discrimination in the allocation of resources, with particular demographic groups or geographical areas being allocated preferential funding. Head teachers were critical of Government systems in which funds were given with one hand and taken away with another, and in which they were required to divide their budgets into increasingly numerous slices. It was clear that the existing national framework for CPD was failing badly on many levels.
To gain a clearer understanding of the nature of the national framework, and the effect that its disorder has on CPD practices in general, the paper will now outline each report in more detail.
2 An Enquiry into Continuing Professional Development for Teachers
Design of the enquiry
This enquiry was carried out at Cambridge University, and was funded by two major education charities. The funders had become increasingly concerned at an apparent decline in subject-based professional development activities for teachers. They wished to undertake a review of current opportunities, identify gaps in provision, and make recommendations for future developments. The study was conceived as ranging across all subject areas, and was designed to engage with practitioners at a grass roots level.
The research used a sample of 181 participants, mainly but not exclusively drawn from two geographically and demographically representative databases of English schools and further education colleges, held at the offices of one of the sponsors. Additional research participants were selected to provide a purposive sample that represented different types of schools, in different geographical areas, across England and Wales.
Questionnaires were sent to 187 head teachers and principals, asking them a range of questions about CPD in their institutions. 43 replied, which gave a response rate of 23%. Questionnaires were also sent to 293 classroom teachers and lecturers, which asked them about their personal experiences of CPD within the current education system. 46 replied, giving a response rate of 16%. An online version of the questionnaire was also made available, attracting responses from 13 education professionals in total. In addition to this, 10 focus groups took place involving 56 teachers and further education college lecturers. Overall the institutions concerned represented urban, rural and suburban settings. The smallest institution had fewer than 100 pupils, and the largest over 2000. They dealt primarily with secondary-aged children, although a very small number were primary schools. 11 interviews also took place with head teachers, and 8 with representatives of professional organisations such as the Specialist Schools Trust, the General Teaching Council, the Secondary Heads Association, a leading examination board, and various LEAs. There were also informal discussions with a wide range of specialist subject association, and a review of their printed and online literature was carried out.
Data were analysed by a variety of means. Forms, transcripts and notes pertaining to questionnaires, interviews and focus groups were coded to give overarching themes that related to the original questions. Particular attention was given to comments that illuminated past and future situations, as it was felt that this could usefully inform policy development, in response to a request made by the sponsors.
The report began by outlining the range of CPD opportunities theoretically available to teachers, as a way of painting a general picture. Teachers engaged with CPD in different ways, according to their career stage, financial and personal circumstances. CPD also was reported as taking place both within school, and outside the school, and took a variety of forms. This ranged from short, one-day courses, to more complex accredited courses such as Masters’ degrees. Teachers also included networks and reflective practice within their understanding of professional development.
Even at this relatively early stage in the analysis, it soon became apparent that the path to CPD was by no means smooth. In the words of a classroom teacher in an inner-city secondary school:
Some people have the perception that you’re only really doing your job if you’re in front of the class teaching and so, therefore, if you were to [study for a Master’s degree] , there many be some people questioning your commitment if you were seen to be consistently trying to improve your career and taking time away from the classroom to do it.
This was the first of many comments that suggested a common conception of an ‘ideal type’ of teaching professional, for whom vocation is more important than career progression. This has precedents in the literature, for example Nias (1981) identifies a phenomenon in which some teachers perceive only those who work to the point of exhaustion as being effective and truly committed. In the Cambridge study, this seemed to offer one explanation as to why teachers and schools have a tendency to cut back on many kinds of CPD in times of uncertainty, in favour of classroom teaching activities. In particular, subject-based professional development appeared to be first to go. This raised important questions about what teachers were being required to do during their five compulsory days’ training.
Quality assurance issues
Further analysis of the data suggested that there had been considerable growth of a free market economy in CPD, which had happened as a consequence of various factors over the previous five to ten years. The most significant of these was the statement made by the TTA in 1997 that stated explicitly its commitment to working towards Government priorities for teachers’ professional development, via the introduction of a competitive bidding process for CPD activities. This process rewarded private providers that offered top-down, national priority-driven generic training, and penalised the more reflective, subject-based provision evident within the Higher Education sector (Bates, Gough and Stammers, 1999). With this, an apparent de-intellectualisation of professional development had begun.
The study had attempted to carry out a national audit of CPD, but it soon became apparent that this was an impossible task, as the market was growing and largely unregulated, which meant that there were no central records or databases that could be examined and collated, and few mechanisms for judging the standards of the CPD were provided. Consequently there seemed to be little control of quality within the market. It was, in the words of Riding (2001)
Fragmented, unproductive, inefficient, unregulated … and lacking in intensity and follow-up.
Riding (2001), p.283
This seemed to be confirmed by the views of teachers taking part in the study. As a classroom teacher in a maintained secondary school said during one of the focus groups:
It was all very posh. We had little notepads and pencils, and bottles of water on the tables. But I could have delivered a better course myself. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already.
We found during the course of the study that teachers, as educators themselves, were quick to criticise training providers who were disorganised, rambling, poor at public speaking, and those who failed to take into account different learning styles, levels of ability, and prior knowledge amongst the teachers attending the course. Private sector providers came under particular attack. The following comment came from a teacher in an inner-city secondary school, and was typical of the tone taken by many teachers during the focus group activities.
Some of those whole school INSETs are terrible. They got this guy in from Wigan once, who showed us the most useless internet site ever, and everyone was just in absolute shock that this guy was up telling us that it would be useful for us. He stood there and he lectured us all for an hour.
Although much of the time teachers were highly critical of the CPD activities they had experienced personally, they did express enthusiasm for some networking and learning opportunities that took place outside school. The activities that came into favour demonstrated characteristics that teachers perceived as high quality. Good quality provision was perceived as being carefully researched, was well-presented by someone with cutting-edge knowledge, achieved a good balance between information and reflection opportunities, had relevance for, and immediate impact on, classroom practice, offered scope for later follow-up, and offered scope for networking. Activities run by professional subject association were reported as demonstrating many of these desirable characteristics, at relatively low cost in terms of money and time.
Certain schools had difficulty in accessing high quality CPD, and there were various reasons for this. Rural areas and regions distant from London found it difficult to find the time and funding for travel. Schools left out of educational initiatives such as the Excellence in Cities programme, the Standards Fund, and Aim Higher programmes found that there could be considerable geographical and demographic inequities in funding. Subsequently, if there were problems with budgeting at Senior Management Team level, this could mean some teachers received little or no subject-based CPD. The following comment, which comes from a CPD co-ordinator and lecturer in an FE college, demonstrates how such a situation can develop.
There’s a big squeeze on in sixth form college funding looming. Other colleges are feeling the pinch this year, and it’ll be worse next year. It’s partly because of a salary initiative. It’s all to do with National Insurance contributions and so on, and CPD is the area that’s been cut most. So my budget was cut this year by about 20%, and I’m told it will be cut by the same next year again … In a college budget, there’s very little to play with, the staffing is most of it, and we abide by national agreements on staffing, on pay deals, and so on. The college has very little leeway over that.
Head teachers expressed bitter resentment at being forced to divide already stretched budgets into increasingly smaller slices, as described by on head teacher from a maintained secondary school with a tradition of effective CPD policies:
Where’s the money, please? The budgets are so stretched that one cannot keep employing these cover supervisors and these additional technicians without the funding … We are supposed to have "thinking time" but my "thinking time" is at night in the bath at 3 o’clock in the morning … I don’t see the average dentist worrying about when they are going to fit their CPD in.
Conclusions of the enquiry
It was clear throughout the research that the teachers who took part in the study were increasingly becoming directed towards highly directed professional development activities. These activities offer basic, instrumental training, aimed at communicating Government policy and delivering an understanding of examination syllabi. Highly personalised training was perceived as effectively a form of self-indulgence, as can be seen in the first quotation of this paper. This did not seem to address the issue of how teachers grow throughout their careers, and appears to do little to help teachers improve their status as professionals, both individually, as well as amongst other professions.
3 Continuing Professional Development of Science Teachers
Design of the enquiry
Research at the university of Bath was part of a study funded by a large biomedical charity to investigate CPD opportunities for science educators in the UK. One part of the study attempted an audit of CPD provision. Science teachers have a wide range of provision to choose from. This is arguably more varied than for any other curriculum area and possibly greater in quantity. There are the usual array of providers such as LEAs, universities, awarding bodies and commercial organisations, but on top of these are a number of industries who provide CPD maybe not through courses but through placement opportunities, visits, etc. Then there were other organisations which for the purposes of this study were called ENGOs (Educational Non-Governmental Organisations), a wide variety of organisations characterised by having some sort of 'mission' rather than a prime commercial interest. Examples include wildlife trusts and other environmental organisations, the network of interactive/hands-on science centres, charities in the fields of science, technology or medicine which all provide professional development for science teachers. Again, these are not always in the form of courses but they form part of the overall scene. A map generated by some earlier work for the Science Education Forum (Figure 1) illustrates not only the breadth and diversity of provision but also suggests the difficulty a science teacher might have in making sense of it all.
Fig. 1 Map of Science CPD Provision
As well as considering the 'supply side', another part of this study was to investigate the 'demand side' through a small survey of schools to look at teachers' perceptions - how do they find out about what opportunities are available? - how is funding allocated? - how are decisions made and priorities determined? This was investigated through a questionnaire survey to a sample of schools with separate questionnaires - three for secondary schools (one for the school's CPD co-ordinator, the Head of Science and a science teacher in the first two or three years of teaching), one for primary schools for the science co-ordinator. The questionnaire design was influenced not only by the initial brief for the research but also through discussions with focus group and interviews in five schools, which suggested areas to be probed in detail through the questionnaire. The focus groups and interviewees considered that it was particularly important to explore the problems of keeping track of all the opportunities available, as well as issues relating to the transparency (or lack of transparency) in school decision-making. Although the response rate to the main questionnaire was poor (about 10% return from 300 schools surveyed) the results of the survey reveal some common features which accord with other anecdotal evidence to suggest that these features are more broadly reflected. Data from the questionnaires were analysed to expose recurrent themes and then cross-referenced to the interview data. The findings presented here are mainly from the secondary school questionnaire data (but illuminated by the school interviews which provided the opportunity to explore some of the issues raised in greater depth) and by the comments from the focus groups.
At a whole school level, most schools claimed to have policies for CPD, and these policies did provide some statements of entitlement. However, even if criteria were given for decisions surrounding the CPD provision that teachers could realistically access, the reality seemed to be that the process was often lacking in transparency, and therefore not demonstrably fair. In the context of a low trust/high accountability atmosphere in schools, this does not add to the creation of a professional culture for professional development.
As far as funding is concerned, the schools in the study did not seem to differentiate between teachers of different subjects (as they do with regard to materials and resources, for example), so science teachers were not treated preferentially in any way. Science’s position as a major strand within the Key Stage 3 Strategy (now Secondary Strategy) means that many science teachers have been involved in the last two years in a lot of CPD activity in the last two years. However this has not cost the school as much as taking part in other CPD, as the courses run in connection with the strategy were free to schools.
However, the fact that different subject teachers are all treated the same does not mean that all teachers have identical involvement with CPD. A general view from the focus groups seemed to be that some members of staff were much more aware than others about the opportunities which were available to them, and how to ensure that they were able to benefit. In one school, inspection of the CPD records revealed that some staff, in terms of course attendance at least, were being disproportionately more developed professionally than others. It appeared that the actual decision-making process was taking place at the level of the CPD co-ordinator rather than the Head of Science.
At the departmental level, involvement of the Head of Science often meant making sure information was distributed to members of staff in the department. This distribution of information in the form of course flyers/advertising received through the post was often undertaken by putting them on a departmental noticeboard for everyone to see. However sometimes particular courses would be targeted at individual teachers. This is largely a reactive approach to managing CPD. There was little evidence of a more proactive approach where either CPD co-ordinators or Heads of Science would produce a professional development plan for staff and help them to seek out or construct appropriate CPD activities to meet their needs. Where there was some element of proactivity, it was associated with a departmental/school need rather than an individual one. An example of this might be a perception that a particular individual needed to go on a course about interactive whiteboards or assessment for learning.
This last observation links with an important point from the study about the balance between individual and institutional needs. The picture from the survey is that often the only individual needs which are addressed are those which are in line with the needs of the institution. Of course, it might be hard to justify the use of school funding to support individual CPD activity which did not have some link to the needs of the institution as well. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the new Science Learning Centres are reported as having in recruitment problems on subject knowledge courses. Individual science teachers might wish to attend such courses, but they are arguably less likely to appear as institutional priorities in the school. All of this threatens and undermines the professional identity of the science teacher. The new professionalism agenda reinforces the need to conform to government priorities rather than encouraging professional autonomy. As one teacher said …
"CPD tends to be reactive, depending on the latest initiative. Perhaps if teachers had more say concerning 'initiatives' they may value CPD more."
There is, of course, in England at least, a problem with linking CPD to performance management cycles. School are afraid to make commitments which they may not have budgets to meet and again performance management targets are more likely to be linked to institutional rather than personal professional development needs.
This lack of linkage between performance management and CPD activity also has an influence on the evaluation of impact of CPD. There were few examples of schools where there was a complete cycle of needs identification, identification of provision, activity, evaluation of impact and reflection, leading to further needs identification. This sort of systematic approach was rare, and its implementation might lead to raising of expectations from staff which schools might find it hard to meet.
There is some reporting back from teachers who have taken part in CPD, but it is clear that in many cases, there is little subsequent sharing of experience beyond that. This makes it hard to maximise the investment of sending an individual teacher on a course in terms of departmental policy.
The most common form of CPD still seems to be the off-site 'course' - this is a continuing legacy from the increasingly less frequently-used term INSET. The courses offered as part of the Key Stage 3 Strategy were seen as having more impact, in that they were developed out of a departmental audit in the first place. Additionally, the existence of post-course support in school from consultants acting in a similar capacity to advisory teachers, brought further benefits. Perhaps as a consequence of this experience, it is interesting to see the development of two-day or split programmes from the Science Learning Centres which consist of a course followed by a review session somewhat later. This is useful in allowing teachers to share experiences of applying professional learning in the classroom.
Heads of Science identified the lack of time as being their main concern about making CPD more effective in their departments. This was in relation to time to become familiar with and research the diverse range of provision, time to systematically identify CPD priorities in their departments and to monitor and evaluate the impact of CPD undertaken.
4 Overall conclusions
Although both studies had different aims and methodologies, there are many parallels in the findings. Both studies explored the provision and uptake of CPD in a climate of the 'new professionalism'. Whilst this concept is presented as forward-looking and challenging by those promoting it (DfEE, 1988), it is seen by others as valuing efficiency, competition, monitoring and accountability (Olssen, et al., 2004;) and being underpinned by a neo-liberal ideology. Control is exercised over teachers' professional practice through managerialist approaches that emphasise performativity over professional responsibility and autonomy (Ball, 2001). Despite the rhetoric, the reality of new professionalism reinforces a culture of low-trust. Hargreaves (2000) suggests we are in a fourth age of teacher professionalism where, despite attempts to raise the status of teachers, they are in effect being deprofessionalised through challenges to their professional autonomy and lack of emphasis on their personal development needs particularly in a subject-teaching context in favour of generic, institutionally-determined professional needs.
There will be few quick fixes in creating a high-trust culture in this socio-political context. Few teachers in either survey seemed to taking hold of the notion of professionalism meaning them taking more responsibility for their own development. Many seemed to see CPD as something 'done to them' - a necessary evil - rather than something which would enhance their practice.
Notwithstanding this rather bleak picture, there are some recommendations from these studies which might improve the current situation if not resulting in a dramatic culture shift.
There is a need for a more integrated approach to CPD with a greater diversity of provision. Much CPD is still of the 'event-delivery' type. Despite many criticisms of this approach (Knight, 2002), the link between the experience of off-site 'training' and impact on practice is left open and therefore runs the risk of not being made. Models for effective CPD (Bolam, 2000) suggest that the transfer of training requires more than a vague hope that teachers will return from a course and put what they have learned into practice. Twenty-five years ago Joyce and Showers (1980) stressed the value of on-site support (including demonstration and coaching) to complement off-site activity. It may seem odd that we should also suggest a greater diversity of provision after some of the earlier comments about the confusion an already diverse map of provision can cause. Here we are suggesting diversity not in terms of more providers or more content but in approaches to learning. The development of sophisticated systems for e-learning tend to be seen in higher education and business context rather than in schools but they could open up opportunities for teachers to take control of their own professional learning. There are other approaches for encouraging the establishment of professional learning communities within schools or between schools at a subject level.
Another issue for further debate is the role of and mechanisms for recognising and possibly accrediting professional learning. There was some division of opinion on this issue among teachers surveyed. In the Bath study, there seemed to be more support for a professional portfolio approach rather than some sort of credit-accumulation approach. The introduction of some sort of portfolio would need to be handled with care to avoid it being seen as a threat rather than a tool to enhance personal autonomy but it could provide a framework for CPD for the individual teacher.
This vision of a 'renewed professionalism' requires much better co-ordination of information about CPD so that individual teachers can have access to a range of opportunities. They also need time not only to take part in activities but to plan for them in advance and reflect on them afterwards. This requires a fairer and fuller allocation of resources. The introduction of non-contact time in primary schools and similar initiatives to reduce administrative burdens in secondary schools might be welcomed more openly if there was a clearer approach to supporting teachers to make use of any time gained effectively.
So, the view of professional development from these studies is one limited by the restricted conceptualisation of CPD evident from the school perspective. Without a genuine commitment to lifelong learning for teachers and the operationalisation of it through a well co-ordinated and properly funded system, they are likely continue to sink into the quagmire rather than being able to reach firmer ground.
Authors contact details:
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This document was added to the Education-Line database on 12 October 2005