|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|
1.2.1 Local groups
Weindling et al (1983: 9) in his 1979-81 survey found that the most common type of group found at the teachers' centres consisted of discussion groups for local teachers with similar curricular interests. The Plowden Report (vol 1: 359) gives its blessing to the idea of local teachers meeting together and suggests the benefit to teachers of opportunities 'to meet others who are a little ahead of themselves but whose practice is within their reach' (a condition for successful learning which is mentioned throughout the literature on achieving change in teaching). In a survey of wardens McKeegan (1974, cited in Gough 1975: 13) found that teachers' centre wardens 'saw themselves involved in curriculum development that was school based or individual teacher based, rather than involved in dissemination or modification of national projects - and preferred it that way'.
These local groups were set up in a variety of ways, sometimes by the teachers themselves, or by particular advisers or sometimes by subject associations. According to Weindling et al (1983), it became common for LEAs to produce sets of curriculum guidelines for their schools. The ideas for these were generated in the curriculum groups and then collated and edited by the advisory service. Each authority targeted the curricular subjects in different ways and most just issued the guidelines as LEA policy. There was little time and energy devoted to a dissemination stage, during which time teachers might develop the skills to use the ideas presented. Weindling et al (ibid.) found that some of the schools his sample felt overwhelmed by this sudden deluge of papers. One strategy to cope with it was to delegate teachers to certain curriculum areas and make them responsible for reporting back to the staff on the contents and implications of the guidelines. However, there was no prescribed or even widely agreed way for schools to make use of these documents.
1.2.2 Materials development.
The other type of group had a more ambitious intent. Their aim was to produce curriculum material for use in classrooms. It was found that this type of group required considerably more time and commitment from the teacher. Weindling et al (1983) found the work typically progressed through a number of stages: extensive discussion to define the task; delegation of different topics to different individuals or groups; thorough investigation often involving meetings with experts, visits, courses and exploration of existing materials; drafting by individuals; trialing; critical analysis by the group; editing by selected individuals and finally production. Weindling et al explain that in some cases the groups were also then involved disseminating the material (op.cit). This was done in a range of ways including teaching packs distributed to schools, short courses, conferences or exhibitions.
Weindling et al suggested that the quality of the materials these groups produced varied considerably (1983). Much of the work was done in teachers' own time, which obviously slowed the process down. However, some authorities found it was more effective to second teachers in the final stages so that they could concentrate on production of the final copy. Quality also varied according to the back-up facilities the centre was able to provide and this improved with time. Eventually some centres were producing materials of impressive quality and the process was seen as a very cost effective way of getting materials into the classroom (Weindling et al 1983). Weindling et al quote a similar study of curriculum material groups in America, in which McLaughlin (1976) claims that this process is also very good for a group member's sense of professionalism. They suggest that 'reinventing the wheel', which much of teacher produced materials do, appeared to be 'a critical part of the individual learning and development necessary for significant change' (Weindling et al op.cit p.74).
According to Thornbury (1973) this kind of group did run into a range of problems. Very few teachers felt able to give such long term commitment to this type and quantity of work on top of their normal job. As a result the membership was rather unrepresentative of the teaching body. Weindling et al (ibid.) found that many of the members of such groups were working hard at improving their own professional qualifications, and had already been involved a number of similar projects. Weindling et al do not comment on this, but involvement in either of these types of groups was probably very sensible for the career minded, in that it got one noticed by those with influence - head teachers, advisers and the centre warden. Also, many were primary head teachers most of whom had on-going close relationships with the centre and presumably more time to give to such projects. Weindling et al's survey found many instances where groups faced difficulties or collapsed when members left, or when poor leadership or group dynamics interfered with progress. Also, Gough pointed out that tinkering with the curriculum does not necessarily impinge on practice in the classroom. He claims that 'much of the "curriculum development" in this country....has little impact on classrooms' (1975: 13).