Education CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by Professor Chris Robertson, Institute of Education, University of Worcester, following evidence session of Wednesday 25 January 2012

Panel member, Tessa Munt, requested further written evidence in response to her questions around teachers potentially having a sabbatical period as part of their continuing professional development; how this might work and what it might look like.

A framework for teachers’ CPD would contain several inter-related elements which individually would have considerable impact but which, when taken as a whole package, would have considerably more. It would also provide teachers with a coherent and progressive programme of development which could be tailored to meet their individual profile of strengths and weaknesses as well as to those of the school and to the wider and ever evolving educational context. It is not linear or sequential but inter connected.

A 3D rather than 2D image would better reflect the model but the diagram below attempts to portray the model in response to the question “what does it look like?”.

The whole package would be an entitlement for all teachers. In order to work within current economic constraints, however, some elements such as sabbaticals could be phased according to a number of factors and/or achievements including for example:

length of service;

achieving and going beyond identified milestones, such as appraisal targets;

significant achievements in terms of pupil learning/attainment, raising quality measures, or school development targets;

recognising exceptional and/or innovative professional practice;

contributing to deepening the knowledge-base in pedagogy or subject specialism;

contributing to the future development of the profession—training new teachers, developing other teachers within or across schools;

leading learning and progressing networked learning communities; and

undertaking school based research at a level which would benefit from an opportunity to take to a higher level and develop further.

The length of the sabbatical request could also vary according to what was being proposed by the teacher: from a month, for example, to a year. This flexibility in the time requested would also enable head teachers to plan for such periods of leave with proposals being agreed potentially by December for implementation in the following school year. This would ensure appropriate planning and approval systems where put in place within schools to enable smooth transition of teaching duties. It would also enable longer term planning regarding which time of year might be the least disruptive to the effective working of the school whilst being of benefit to the individual teacher requesting a sabbatical. A specified entitlement for teachers to negotiate within would also be required to encourage all head teachers to support actively such a scheme.

In terms of the inter-relationship of sabbaticals with other elements in the professional development package, these may be accessed when a teacher or his/her line-manager identifies a key point where a period of more intense study or learning would benefit the individual’s next phase of development. This may arise naturally through the appraisal and review process, through mentoring or it may be independent of existing processes and be determined through a competitive application process, or a mixture of both. However, an overarching entitlement would protect a teacher’s right to access at some point during a given period of say three to five years.

Sabbaticals seen as periods of study leave or in-depth focused learning activities could enable a teacher who has, for example, accrued some masters credits (from their PGCE, then by undertaking a government funded postgraduate accredited programme such as the SENCO national award) to progress straight to the dissertation/research phase of a Masters—having a sabbatical at this point and in this way could enable achievement and completion of a Masters. It could also take forward as the focus of the related research, some element identified by the school or the individual as a valuable contribution to professional knowledge in the school itself.

In addition, for teachers who already have a Masters, this could well be an opportunity to consider a doctoral study where a sabbatical would enable national or international comparative research to be undertaken to raise the level and quality of the research itself. Such support for PhD or EdD development would again raise the status and academic standing of the professional whilst providing teachers with opportunities to achieve increased understanding, knowledge and skills within their career progression. Its future impact on the profession and on pupils’ learning and achievement in the UK would be evident, exemplified from existing practice and research in Australia, USA and Finland.

Another type of example of how a sabbatical period could be undertaken in this model would be by a teacher employed in a school which is in challenging circumstances where an opportunity to explore, in depth, good practice in a different school over a more prolonged period of time would be seen to have huge benefits for the school’s continued improvement. Whilst teachers do sometimes have opportunities to “visit” other schools, these are often brief “tourist-type” visits with little opportunity to undertake deep or sustained learning during or after the experience, which in itself is usually very limited.

The inter-relationship in the elements of the model would be further enhanced by the teacher then, through the local networked communities and school-based CPD, disseminating the key learning taken from the experience, enabling further reflection on and embedding of the real learning achieved. In turn this might be the focus of Masters level accreditation or may contribute to further study and research, as well as improving the quality of teaching. Thus the model would be cyclical providing opportunities across and between elements in a coherent and meaningful way.

This model of professional development for teachers which reflects a close partnership model operating between schools and HEIs is a variety of forms is one which schools tell us that they want. As reflected in the TDA’s evaluation of the Postgraduate Professional Development programme teachers value academic study and “would strongly resist any devaluation of standards” (TDA, September 2009).

Providing, through the opportunity of sabbaticals, some conferred space and time for teachers to study practice and theory, both at home and internationally, would create a change in culture for the profession and enable teachers to take the profession forward in the way in which we all aspire. This of course has to be alongside the financial investment and support to raise the profession to a Masters level profession, again evidenced in Europe and USA as an important quality marker for successful schools. Such investment as indicated above will indeed support the training and retaining of the best teachers. Our children deserve nothing less.

February 2012

Prepared 30th April 2012