The notion of an extra day added to the end of the weekend or another day on holiday was, to be honest, marvellous. Another day for me to possibly get that work done which I had obviously left far too late or – if I had already got the work finished off – go and see my mates and have a relaxing day in the sun. Overall, I think it’s safe to say I could never really complain.
For many parents however, inset days present a bit more of a challenge – not least because many parents don’t understand what the inset day is actually for. Nothing against parents here, but it seems to be the reality. I mean, even I can’t put my finger on what exactly goes on during these mysterious days off.
Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference in Manchester, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt argued that schools have a duty to explain to parents how inset days will actually improve the standard of education at schools.
He goes on to add that, whilst schools have said in the past they are for developing skills among teachers, schools should be clearer as to which skills are being developed.
Mr Hunt has certainly got the right idea here – I mean, is it so hard to describe what they’re up to? At my school, we were told it was a ‘Teacher Training Day’ and that we didn’t need to be there. My parents just accepted that fact and planned accordingly, but I bet they wondered what was actually going on. I certainly did.
Mr Hunt also made point that schools were more than willing to make demands about dinner money or hand out notices about school uniform or even about how much recycling they get up to.. but when it comes to holding themselves to account over what goes on during those mysterious inset days does seem to be a little bit of a – as Tristam puts it – ‘black hole.’
It could all just come down to prestige, couldn’t it? Schools want everyone looking ‘smart and uniform’ in their eyes and ensure that they are seen to be doing their bit for the environment, for example. OK, that’s fair enough – it’s very difficult to argue against recycling projects in schools (especially if the council drops you a warning letter for not – I guess we can call that a life skill) and so that’s one way of keeping up an image.
The trouble is, not actually having your kids in school? Well, parents are going to want a very good reason why – some will be satisfied with a list of staff activities for the day, for sure. Others, however, will not be happy. The idea that staff need to take a day off to keep training will have many parents asking ‘well, shouldn’t they be loaded with these skills anyhow?’
Ultimately, steering away from an argument or debate with parents has lead to a rather surprising fact – a recent survey of 1,000 teachers revealed that only 24% believed that parents were fully aware of the ‘professional development’ that went on during inset days. This research was carried out by the Teacher Development Trust, who said that Mr Hunt’s comments mirrored what their research was saying. I can definitely see why.
Tristram Hunt also earned the support of Netmums – founder Siobhan Freegard noted that inset days are difficult to plan for parents. Also, having such days planned after long weekends and holidays adds to the suspicion for parents.
Now, let’s not assume that all schools are angling for longer holidays for their staff by means of strategic inset-placement. However, it does open up a rather interesting point which is… What do teachers do during these days and why have them? Please note, this is all hypothesising – but it’s at least in the realms of possibility.
- It’s for skills development and this is all just a lack of communication – well, I’m sure that schools would like us to believe this one. Simple, really – the teachers go in and get refreshed on what they should be doing in class and how to manage their classes better. All fair enough. If that’s the case, though, why not make that clearer to parents – I’m sure all working parents have periods of time where they refresh their memories on particular professional skills.
- They’re catching up on marking – This is one definite possibility – we’re always hearing that teachers are too busy to get marking done in its entirety… Well, that would make perfect sense. I have experience of this: I can remember my old science teacher always returning marked work far later than he ever planned to – except when he had an inset day. No-one ever commented on this but it was noticeable and it could go some way as to explaining!
- Staff are all meeting to discuss lesson plans and the way forward – Internal communication could be a more ‘accepted’ way of getting this done, depending on your views, but this is one perfectly legitimate reason why there might be the odd inset day. Staff sickness, pupil absence, the realities of a different pace of working… all of this can alter plans. Maybe staff are regularly catching up to make sure they are actually on the same page and make adjustments as necessary. Seems perfectly reasonable.
The thing is though, we just have little idea what’s going on. I think parents wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about these days off and what it means for their kids’ education. Even if it isn’t the most impressive-sounding day ever for the parents to hear, at least they know – even if they unfortunately don’t agree with it.
If I was a Headteacher – I’d take a few minutes out to set the record straight. Go on, give us all a piece of mind.