A crap experience of CPD – Action research

I once worked in a school that insisted that our internal  CPD was wholly, for a year, a piece of Action Research.

They hadn’t planned this properly, but it occupied all CPD for a year. Forget the best practitioners sharing, or even all practitioners sharing. We just had to do action research. In fact, I think it was because they didn’t know what to do that we had to do action research.

We had to find an area of our practice we weren’t very good at, and then research how to get good at it. I suppose this was a method of independent learning – more on that later – as if as professionals we had never considered improving our practice by finding out how to get better, or never read a book.

So what were we crap at? Well no-one really wanted to admit that they can’t get Johnny from Year 8 to sit down or Ezra from Year 9 to write the date. They don’t make very good action research projects. Most people agreed to research Independent Learning, partly because this is what was suggested by the SMT-conscripted facilitators.

Independent Learning is one of those phrases in education so bastardised no-one really knows what it means. To some, it means kids being independent enough to sit at their desks and actually work without talking to the person next to them. To others it means going and googling the title of a 6 week “homework” project and cut and pasting the first link – usually from wikipedia – and then the pupil pretending it’s their own and the teacher settling for having something handed in. The problem with independent learning is that it ignores that kids can’t learn much if they don’t know much, and that’s why the teacher is in the room. Independent learning happens at PHD level. It probably happens a bit below that. It doesn’t happen in Year 7, or at least not without significant opportunity cost.

No-one found out much. Independence is a great aim of education, but those who know little can’t learn much by being left to their own devices.

One of the reasons this whole year of internal CPD was useless is that action research is so small scale it means nothing. It’s about your class or single school. It’s manufacturing some edubollocks – usually for an MA – in order to pass whatever you’re supposed to be passing (NPQH or its bastardised Senior Leader or Middle Leader counterparts, for example). It’s usually something that better educational research – and sometimes worse – has already addressed and we just need to read and critique. Action research represents the vast majority of “educational research” and is the reason most educational research is therefore bollocks.

In our CPD sessions, teachers turned up, sat in groups and talked about anecdotal experiences. They agreed to go away and read up around whatever they’d talked about, but in reality they got on with planning their lessons, marking their books, and then the next CPD session turned up… and they sat around talking anecdotally. I heard later that the facilitators suggested holding it in a pub and I’m frankly not surprised, though the conversations you get in a pub when teachers talk are far better than the ones that are led by someone telling you to research something to improve something you’re crap at.

Most schools deliver terrible CPD. This wasn’t the worst I’ve experienced, in that aside from the time lost it wasn’t damaging to kids’ learning, but it was below average in that it was a complete waste of time. We were expected to write lots up. To my knowledge, no-one did. This whole CPD experience made no difference to the kids.

Action research belongs in the bin with brain gym. As does anyone promoting Independent Learning as an efficient strategy for kids who know little.

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