|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|
Teachers' centres were supposed to have a major role in addressing teachers' needs. However, most writers comment on the problems associated with analysis of such needs. Lee (1997: 16) found "needs", in this context, described by Reti (1980) as 'the vaguest and most loosely used of expressions'. Weindling et al's survey (1983) found that although teachers' centres were trying to address needs, it was very difficult to actually establish what these were. It found that various methods were used: sending questionnaires to the schools, setting up systems of teacher representatives, using information the LEA advisers picked up on visits to schools and from their 'teacher groups' and through the warden talking informally with teachers who were attending activities at the centre. However, no one method was found to be reliably successful. Wilson and Easen (1995) point out that teachers' needs were not always 'self-evident' in the way it is often assumed.
Several writers also discuss the difference between teachers' perceived needs or 'wants' and what are found by outside agents to be their 'actual needs'. Kinder and Harland (1991), reporting on a scheme which involved advisory teachers, found that different parties in the scheme were working to different goals and this was partly because the 'real needs' of the teachers were not 'synonymous with teacher-only perceptions of "wants'". Henderson (1976: 10), looking at outcomes of in-service training, found that teachers who were attending the courses investigated had very diverse 'perceived professional needs' which tended to relate more to the school in which they were working than to any personal characteristics. However, it was found that what these teachers actually gained from the course was different to what they had expected, in that it often did not relate to the needs they had identified in advance. Henderson suggests that 'certain types of inSET may, therefore, in themselves assist teachers to identify needs', which he says 'calls into question the proposition that in-service training should be primarily a teacher-centred, problem-solving exercise'. Kinder and Harland (1991: 45) similarly found that, although teachers expressed wants, many of them were not aware of real needs 'until the advisory teacher and the scheme opened up their eyes to the new possibilities'.
The process of needs analysis assumes that teachers have needs or wants which they will readily express in response to probes such as questionnaires. In Kinder and Harland's (1991) study some teachers were unable, or reluctant, to express either needs or even wants. In circumstances where teachers have established a routine which they feel secure with; teaching the same subject or level for several years and using the same materials, perhaps with other priorities for their attention and time, it seems quite likely that they might be blind to a range of needs which experts from outside of the school would immediately seize on. Lee (1997: 280) found that a number of writers commented on the reaction of teachers to needs analysis. Williams (1991) claims that it cannot be thought of as a 'neutral' activity while Nixon (1989) sees it as possibly being 'extremely threatening'. Some teachers may see expressing needs as an admission of failings and feel concerned that the process involves loss of face. According to Williams (op.cit), it might even be used 'as a backdoor method of staff appraisal', particularly where senior management at a school or where LEA advisers are party to the process (Maclure 1989).
Gough (1997) claims that from the late 1970s there has been considerable debate about the issue of needs and its influence on training. Although the teachers' needs were said to be the focus of attention at the teachers' centre, the DES also had needs, as did the LEAs and the schools. Gough observes that needs will depend on who defines them, while Lee (1997) also notes the relevance of the context in which they are defined, particularly if this involves the imposition of a major educational reform. Lee claims that by the early 1980s it was becoming evident that 'LEAs would tend to give priority (and hence resources) to those things which were likely to meet "their" needs; similarly central government was beginning to designate educational areas for which particular "training grants" would be made available. Teachers' needs were increasingly being identified from above rather than below which was to have major implications for the survival of teachers' centres.
A further area identified as problematic was how teachers could disseminate information gathered from activities at teachers' centres to other colleagues back at school. Weindling et al's research confirmed other findings that 'the most difficult inSET stages were the initial problems of diagnosis and the later dissemination and implementation stages'. It also found that 'most of the centre leaders' time and effort was devoted to the organisation of courses and other activities rather than the beginning and end of the inSET sequence' (pi 48).