I recently took part in a number of INSET days, and during those days I had a little time to consider their effectiveness. At their best, these are an opportunity for us to reflect on our own practise, share best practise and bring in expertise from outside. Sometimes the new perspective an INSET day can provide can revitalise a school. At their worst they are a bunch of bored teachers, who would love to be planning lessons or marking books, listening to someone droning on for six hours about a topic completely unrelated to the majority of subject areas.
Why is this a problem? An INSET day means students are at home; they may well be learning, but we can’t ensure that they are. If we’re going to deprive students of a day of schooling, we need to be sure that they are receiving indirect benefits as a result. Also, at a school of 150 teachers, a day of INSET costs the school, including wages, support staff, food, site team etc, approximately £10,000. That is a huge amount of money to spend delivering ineffective training.
So what should we do? I think there are 3 crucial elements of good INSET:
Departmental – I think there’s an upper limit to how effective INSET can be when delivered en masse to all teachers. Imagine teaching a Geography lesson to all the students in a school at the same time, some of whom don’t even take the subject! Departmental practices are very different and techniques that work in one may not be at all useful in another. Highly targeted and well planned departmental INSET would be much more effective.
Output – Every session must result in something being produced, be it a set of guidelines, a pack of resources or a strategy to be implemented. This ensures that teachers have something tangible as a result of their day’s work, and also gives focus to the day.
Revisiting – Departmental leaders need to check, in the months following INSET, to ensure that whatever has been created is embedded into departmental practice. Otherwise, the time spent by those teachers will not translate into student outcomes.
INSET can be very valuable, but it must have these three elements to stop it becoming an expensive waste of time.