|The Effectiveness of Teacher Resource Centre Strategy - Education research paper No. 34 (DFID, 1999, 257 p.)|
|CHAPTER TWO : The British Teachers' Centre - Its Rise and Fall: A Review of the Literature|
1.8.1 Apparent success.
Teachers' centres expanded and proliferated and gave the appearance, it seems of working well. Thornbury (1973: 1-2) claims that 'the idea was so psychologically sound that it is a puzzle to know why they have not dotted the educational landscape for decades.' He suggests they 'met the felt needs of teachers and show the futility of attempting educational reform without teachers being directly and importantly involved'. He believed that they had achieved a 'silent educational revolution' (ibid). Weindling et al (1983: 153) felt that centres could 'fulfill an important role in supporting the professional development of teachers and providing an environment in which teachers feel able to make a critical analysis of their teaching.' They both found that teachers' centres had become important and sometimes major providers of in-service education, and that teachers' comments were overwhelmingly in favour of them. Weindling et al note that in 1982, at a time when 'every aspect of local authority expenditure' was being scrutinised, almost nine out of ten centres was still receiving the support of LEAs because they claim they 'provide professional support for substantial numbers of teachers at relatively low cost' (p149).
Commentators at the time attributed a number of strengths and advantages to the teachers' centre phenomenon. While Gough (1974: 12) emphasised that the contribution teachers' centres made to inSET should only be seen as complementary to that provided elsewhere, he did attribute certain 'unique qualities' to teachers' centres. He highlights their local nature, the freedom they provide from the normal hierarchies of school or local authority systems and the 'tendency they have to involve the teachers themselves in the decision making, the design and the implementation of their in-service programmes'. He claims they are characterised by being both accessible and acceptable. Newman et al (1981) pointed to the advantages teachers' centres had of offering opportunities for:
a. the diagnosis and provision of inSET which was local in nature,
b. swift response to needs,
c. a secure environment,
d. professional esteem - arising from a sense of involvement. (cited Gough 1989: 51)
The following strengths of teacher's centres were considered as well known by Morant (p.202):
1. Teachers' centres are accessible geographically to many teachers.
2. Control by teachers is exercised through teacher-dominated steering committees.
3. Short term professional needs of teachers can be responded to rapidly by teachers' centres.
4. Teachers' centre premises provide a neutral meeting ground for teachers, advisers and other members of the education service.
5. Wardens of teachers' centres are able to draw on the expertise of tutors selected for their subject or interest skill or knowledge, rather than because of their institutional background.
1.8.2 Need for more stringent criteria.
However, these assessments were mainly based on the views of three wardens of teachers' centres who had written quite extensively on the subject, Thornbury (1973), Kahn (1976) and Gough (1975). Thornbury fact makes the point that during the rapid expansion of teachers' centres, actively encouraged by the Schools Council, the evaluation of success seemed to involve 'the click of the turnstile' more than anything else. This was not a very illuminating criteria. Thornbury suggested that a 'concept' like 'teachers' centre' needed to be evaluated more critically than it had been so far, by looking to schools to identify any impact.
Bolam (1980: 95) claims the increased interest and commitment to inSET was 'to a worrying extent, built on an act of faith'. Henderson (1977: 4) points out that James admitted that his belief the effectiveness of in-service education had to be something of 'an act of faith' because 'surprisingly little hard information exists as to what effect various kinds of post-experience training actually have on teaching and the teacher'. The seemingly widely accepted assumption that the new methods being advocated by teachers centres would be effective because they 'accorded with current notions of good practice' was criticised by Topping and Brindle (1978), who believed that 'observable and measurable changes the children are the crucial criteria of the effectiveness of an in-service course'. Natham (1990) in particular notes the lack of systematic monitoring or evaluation of the effectiveness inSET prior to 1987; an effectiveness which was likely to be limited anyway by the facts that in-service in the 1970s was uncoordinated, and that it was left to individuals to 'undertake some form of education that might influence their teaching or enhance their prospects of promotion' (Lee 1997: 9). As Milroy (1974: 35) concludes 'all in-service could be said to be desirable but it was more difficult to assess its real impact not only on the individual teacher but on the quality of education'.
1.8.3 Increased interest in evaluation
Attention began to focus increasingly on evaluation from the late 1970s. This can clearly be seen from the growing number of articles the British Journal of In-service Education the 1980s, which reported the evaluation of various aspects of teacher education. The purpose of much of the early evaluation, mainly carried out by teachers' centre leaders or course directors, was to look at how courses could be modified for use with future groups. Some studies did also look at the long term effectiveness provided by in-service education though Henderson (1977: 5) points to the often subjective nature of such evaluation which generally lacked clear objectives and 'appropriate judgmental criteria'. (Interestingly, however, despite the many claims for its 'importance', the impact of local curriculum development does not seem to have been thoroughly investigated.)
By the end of the eighties research into the effectiveness of inSET was gathering 'momentum'. According to Kinder and Harland (1991: 2) this was mainly response to new funding and to requests for such lines of enquiry from the DES. The call for more thorough investigation into the effectiveness of inSET probably reflected as much as anything the cuts in education at the time, a factor which was noted as influential by all the studies mentioned here. Topping and Brindle (1978) point out that 'as purse strings tightened' it had become more necessary to question the effectiveness of inSET activities. According to Henderson (1977) economic factors suddenly 'required administrators, at both DES and LEA levels, to ask more searching questions about "value for money'". Milroy (1974) suggests that a more coherent policy was necessary, the ad hoc growth of in-service and teachers' centres had to be made more cost effective and coordinated and had to relate more effectively to a range of specific needs. If money was to be spent on educating teachers it had to be money well spent.
1.8.4 Problems related to assessing effectiveness.
Kinder and Harland (1991) attribute the lack of evaluation studies before this time to the constraints of time, money and probably most importantly the very real problem of the technical difficulties associated with attempting to identify the impact of particular strategies on classrooms. In a study by Bolem (1981 cited in Bolam 1983) into the effectiveness of inSET in OECD countries, he points out that this type of research is generally inconclusive for a number reasons. One major difficulty is the problem of finding an appropriate methodology which would give reliable information on the impact of courses on teacher behaviour and, even more problematic, which would identify change in student behaviour directly attributable to a particular experience of teacher education. English (1995: 295) asserted that ' the notion of attributing changes in classroom practice to in-service training activities in the past is fraught with difficulties regardless of the investigative approach that is adopted. '