Tuesday, November 03, 2009

INSET days – 7 reasons to scrap them

Parents get pretty annoyed every time an ‘INSET’ day comes along. What other organisation simply closes shop and refuses to deal with all of its customers or clients five days a year? Imagine phoning up the school and saying, ‘Listen, my work is having a training evening next week, could you look after my kid for me, until I get home?’

Here’s seven reasons to scrap them:
  1. Organisations don’t throw customers out of the door for an entire day of training
  2. Extra cost/load on parents in terms of childcare is significant
  3. Kids lose about a week of schooling a year
  4. No convincing research evidence that INSET days have any beneficial effects
  5. Some are not training and used as catch-ups for work
  6. Many are hotchpotches of faddish, non-empirical training
  7. Many are ill-planned, dull and irrelevant
Other organisations don’t throw customers out of the door for an entire day to do training
Imagine banks, hospitals, shops, police forces, fire services – almost every other service, closing down for five days a year with a simple notice saying ‘staff training’. It’s unimaginable.
The extra cost/load on parents in terms of childcare is significant
People don’t find it easy to cope with teacher training days. Additional childcare, often at a cost that huts people on low pay, is the cost to the community.
Kids lose about a week of schooling a year
Schools have 5 INSET days a year, resulting in a significant amount of lost teaching. Imagine the fuss if parents suggested that we should be allowed to take our kids out of school, for five separate days, of our choosing.
No research evidence that INSET days have any beneficial effects
Prof Dylan Wiliam, from the Institute of Education thinks that INSET days are largely a waste of time as there’s no real evaluation of their effect and no conving research showing they work.
Some are not training and used as catch-ups for work
INSET days are not supposed to be work catch-up days, but are often treated as such. This is clear from teacher forums.
Many are hotchpotches of faddish, non-empirical training
INSET days are used to introduce theories from outside ‘mom and pop’ training companies that are often out of date, untested and nothing short of snakeoil. Brain Gym, Mozart Effect, L/R brain theories, Gardner’s MI, Learning Styles….the list is huge.
Many are ill-planned, dull and irrelevant
We have to go to stupid, boring, meetings that last all day and often are a total waste of my time” (from teacher’s forum). This sort of reaction is not unusual from teachers.
And why not simply latch these days on to the start or end of holidays? Why pop them into the middle of terms? The problem here is that the timetabling is at the discretion of the school. What’s not generally known is that, the regulations state that attendance outside the regular required hours at INSET days is not obligatory. In other words, they needn’t attend at all!
Who knows? It seems to be a pretty scrappy affair but evidence from teacher’s forums is pretty disturbing. Here’s the first post on the subject from the TES and there’s lots like these in teacher forums:
I am just looking to get a feel for what other schools do with support staff on inset days. Until recently we were left to our own devices which was great as we were able to catch up on work but under a "Whole Staff" ethos we are "invited" to attend training. The problem is that we do not find the training offered to be relevant to our job roles and, at times, is completely incomprehensible to us! We are also informed that failure to attend our allocated training session is a disciplinary issue which does wonders for the morale. We would be happy to attend targetting training but curriculum INSET is a nonsense for us and we'd rather be clearing the decks!
Online CPD is the way forward. Encourage teachers to join professional networks, especially on social media. They'll see the flourishing communities of Teachmeets, ResearchEd and so on. Go one step further and do a MOOC - there's lots in this area. Anything but those awful round table and flipchart sessions.


Ros said...

1. State schools are not business and children/parents are not customers. Schools are education providers, not childcare providers.

2. See (1). Schools are not childcare providers. Parents are responsible for their own children.

3. Kids are in school too much, anyway. Especially the young ones.

4. This is the argument that actually holds up. Schools ought not to need to use INSET days for teachers to catch up on their work. If teachers had more reasonable workloads in the first place, this would not happen.

5 and 6. That's not an argument for not having them. It's an argument for having better INSET days, for example to give teachers a chance to catch up on the latest hundred new education laws that have been passed since their last INSET day.

7. What’s not generally known is that, the regulations state that attendance outside the regular required hours at INSET days is not obligatory.

The crucial words there are 'regular required hours'. The required hours of teachers always far exceed the number of hours of in-class time (rightly, to cover extra hours of preparation, marking and so on). But it does mean that INSET day attendance is effectively always required.

Donald Clark said...

I don't buy the 'overworked' teachers arguments. Teachers have among the fewest working days per year of any profession, good pay, and while agree that the job is tough, so are many other jobs.

I agree that schools are education providers. The problem is that much of that valuable time is wasted on e.g. INSET days, wandering from class to class at the end of every period, being settled, packing up etc. While at school, the school does have a duty of care, simply batting it back to parents during INSET days is not right.

The chances of INSET days getting better are slim, as the culture is one of poorly planned, poorly informed, scrappy training.

Your point on regularly required hours is wrong, as the number of hours does, always exceed class teaching time - it's in the contracts. Are you saying that teachers should simply bunk off during INSET days?

BunchberryFern said...


Off topic:
You're a recent discovery. And I find myself agreeing with most of what you say. I find myself Tweeting about the things you write. And taking notes. I guess I'm a fan.

But people I respect (and who I know would normally agree, or at least sympathise, with you) find you annoyingly abrasive. It appears there's a whiff of the ad hominem about your posts.

It's a whiff, though. I don't sense any personal attacks. And institutions are always fair game. (that means you CIPD).

I suppose I'm asking whether this is important, or not. I worry that your potential influence is unnecessarily limited. I wonder if you could be more effective by treading more carefully.

I also wonder whether this is any of my business. Please take this as a rhetorical observation rather than an assertive question - I'm a concerned fan, not your mum.

On topic:
@Ros - unfortunately, schools are childcare providers. Education and childcare are not mutually exclusive categories (as Ofsted will attest). If they weren't we'd have shorter days, shorter/more frequent holidays and a great deal more emphasis on self-directed learning outside the school grounds.

You're right, kids are in school too much. And teachers have too much admin to do. INSET days are the worst of both worlds, unfortunately. They're a sop to teachers and a pain for parents.

Donald Clark said...

Hi BunchberryFern
I suppose I simply write as I feel and not to any agenda. If people find it abrasive, well..... Contention, in my view, is often healthy, it gets people thinking. I don't come from a 'Middle England' culture and don't particularly like its dull, polite reserved tone.

I guess I feel that education and training are a bit lacklustre and relatively free of innovative and fresh thinking. It's also full of vested professional interests that seem to reject anything that doesn't fit their existing schemas.

I think (although I may be wrong) that many of my posts are fairy long, have some depth, often quote academic research, and in general present a case. I'm not selling anything, just trying to improve, what in my opinion, is at times a very sorry state of affairs.

As for the ad hominem idea - to be frank, I sometimes deliberately attack individuals, such as Martha Lane-Fox, if they've chosen to be in the public eye, or organisations that are simply doing a bad job, but rarely, and you've no idea how many comments I can't publish as they contain nothing but abuse, just for attacking ideas.

And hey - it's only a blog! But thanks for the feedback - it made me think.

Unknown said...

The schools aren't closed and the children aren't sent home. Some time ago the unions and Ken Baker struck a deal whereby teachers would lose five days holiday and come in to be trained.

One of my bugbears is INSET days where staff aren't trained but let go and plan or tidy their rooms.That was not what the holiday was given up for.

Regarding teachers' hours, I beleive that PCW did a survey of teachers' hours and reported that teachers work the same average hours per year as most other professionals but because they were crammed into fewer weeks ended up working 60-70 hours on average. This was my experience and the same for many teachers I know.

I am coaching two newly qualified teachers who both work at school until five, go home, have their tea and start again and are regularly working until 12 pm.

I had to work every evening and one day over the weekend. Since leaving the classroom I have realised what an imposition this was on my life. Now, when I want to go out for an evening I don't have to plan four or five lessons and mark a set of books before I go out, or face them when I return. Nor do I have to plan my weekend around the same.

Teachers are occupied teaching for most of the day. Everything else planning, preparation, endless admin etc, has to be done afterwards.

I was working with somebody today who showed me the expecation for their lesson plans: Teaching obejctive; PLETS objective, SEAL objective; Learning 2 Learn objective. They have to plan to meets the demands of personalised learning. It's a far cry from read chapter four and answer some questions about it.

If they are promoted they still have to do all this and take on a additonal responsibilities (like rushing around setting work for absent staff in between registration and first lesson) but with minimal extra time to do it.

I agree with a great deal of what you say, Donald, and you are right about a lot of INSET but if you think teachers' hours are exaggerated you are very mistaken.

Donald Clark said...

Points taken. Just a couple of observations. I was a governor in my local secondary school for a number of years, and in that case, I saw no evidence whatsoever for the 'overworked' teacher phenomenon. My two children have received little or no homework over the five years they've been there (I mean that literally) with some teachers openly stating they don't belive in homework (many avoid it compeltely). I quite belive that your personal experience is of teachers working longer hours but it's certainly not universal.

I'm also not sure that the same amount of effort is required in Primary Schools, where there's a lot less pressure from pupils and parents.

The comparisons with other professions has also got to balanced with the fact that teachers get 16 weeks holiday. This is an astonishing period of free time for most people, who are likely to get around a quarter of this holiday time.

You've got to admire teachers who work in secondary schools. It's a really tough job, but I grew up watching my parents work shifts, year after year, and others who worked in tough factories, slaughter houses, the health service, social work and other professions. Honestly, a lifetime of that is really tough.

Unknown said...

I take your point about people working shifts etc. I worked 12 hour shifts in a tallow factory one Summer and that was dirty, disgusting and exhausting. My dad worked on a building site. I'm not saying that teachers have it worse than other professionals, just that it isn't as cushy as it looks from the outside.

I think I've posted about homework here before. You are right, some teachers don't set it, mark it (or don't mark it properly) and in my opinion this should be dealt with by their line manager. I've seen my own children become sloppy about it when it isn't taken in or marked etc.

On the other hand, we need a thorough debate about why, when etc. to set it. Too often heads demand it is set once a week on a particular night regardless of what is actually happening in the lesson that day 'because parents expect it.' But are these the same parents who take litle interest in making their children do it? Or won't let you keep them in after school for not doing it?

BunchberryFern said...

True. It is just a blog. I always like to keep this disclaimer in mind:


Donald Clark said...

The homework issue is interesting. In our school I heard the constant excuse for not setting or marking homework as 'some parents are not interested'. This is true but schools are educating children, not the paraents, and by not setting homework, on this benchmark, teachers are denying the children and parents that want homework the opportunity of progressing through autonomous learning.

I personally think this is a BIG differentiator between good and bad schools, and between the state and private sector. It was truly shocking for me as a parent to find that this aspect of education had got worse in state schools since I was at school 35 years ago. To be honest, the primary problem seemed to be teachers unwillingness to do the work. I know that this upsets hard working teachers but it's what I witnessed year after year.

Anonymous said...

"They drive me mad!!!!!!!! Why not just tag them on to the school holidays, let us know plenty of time in advance and save us a fortune in child care, time of work and burning up precious holiday time"

Unknown said...

Your point about educating the pupil not the teacher is spot on.

Parents (supposed) lack of interst is no excuse whatsoever. I have to say, though, that I have never heard this put forward but rather the opposite: parents expect it.

When you children received no HW, was this at primary school? Surely somebody must have set some at secondary. Did you approach the headteacher?

As I mentioned earlier, I have been disappointed with some of the homework I have seen set for my children. For example, a history homework that amounted to making a Powerpoint that listed ten facts about a historical character of their choice. This was for a 14 year old. Where were the historical skills in that?

Where I worked last( a Secondary High) we had to submit a homework record to our subject leader every week.

Which all goes to show what vastly differing experiences children have...and what a lottery it can be.

I watched Dylan William on a DVD about embedding AfL: quite a cool dude!

Donald Clark said...

Secondary school! The schools GCSE results have now plummeted to below the national avearge. It was impossible to get the topic discussed and there was strong resistance from staff on the issue. I have to say it was no different at primary school.

I ended up providing homework for my two boys myself. Many of the more asppirational parents were, and still are, furious at the attitude of the school.

Remember that the current attitude among some of the teacher unions, which has spread to many in the profession, is that 'homework doesn't matter'! It does.

You're right - it's a lottery, which is why I wholy agree with OFSTED inspections, although I'd make them 'mystery shopper' and 'turn up on the day' inspections, to prevent hte vast amiunt of cheating that goes on.

Anonymous said...

And another thing .............. as teachers get masses of holiday (yes I know they have to do evening prep but don't we all) why cant they do CPD during the holiday periods?

Unknown said...

Anon: But they are in the holidays. As I pointed out earlier, they were five days that used to be holidays but were switched to training days. The kids aren't sent home; the teachers are called in.

If teachers have such a cushy job, why do so many drop out shortly after qualifying?

Donald Clark said...

Francis - couple of questions, as I'm really not sure on these...

1. Do some (or all) schools pay extra for INSET day attendance?

2. If it's holidays why should schools be allowed to pop them into the middle of terms?

The drop out data is strange as 15% drop out during the course and another 28% before taking up their first job - there seems to be something odd happening here, separate from the 'hard job' cause, although I can see how people turn away from the job after experienceing life in a classroom.

Anonymous said...

If teachers have such a cushy job, why do so many drop out shortly after qualifying?

Because doing teacher training after your degree appears a cushier option than joining the real world.

My daughter wasn't taught this morning because her history teacher is off an a school jolly to Butlins with year something or other. No cover arranged, and it's just not good enough.

Unknown said...


I have never received any additional pay for attending INSET days. They are just part of your terms and conditions.

Teachers used to have 14 weeks holiday a year and now they have thirteen. The five days that used to be holiday are now INSET days. That's what I mean by saying that the children aren't sent home but the teachers are called in.

HOWEVER, I think it is poor if schools put these INSET days in the middle of a term. The best time to use them is to add the on to the end or the start of a holiday when parents (and teachers are usually parents, too) have already set up arrangements.

Regarding the experience of your children never having HW over five years, I am astonished. It sounds like a wholescale breakdown of governece. Did the governors not intervene? Did the shcool pull the wool over OFSTED's eyes? How? The pupils were let down badly and of course this is the type of thing that gives eveybody a bad name.

Donald Clark said...

Senior teaching staff simply refused to discuss and/or monitor homework. One attempt was thwarted by previous Headmaster and Union. Attempts by Governors, and pleas from parents in public meeting completely ignored. Two Governors resigned from relevant committee on the issue, including myself. It was a united front by the teaching staff. It is not uncommon to find sparse levels of homework in state schools. One need only ask around.

Bishop Hill said...

Interesting thread.

Having children who are bright and want to learn, I'm very relaxed about the idea of homework being dropped. I get fed up when the kids come home with something that wouldn't have challenged them two years ago, let alone now.

Instead, they come home, slob around for a while, then pick up a book or something. Would I rather they were doing some mindless spelling-by-rote or reading "The Story of the World"?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I really appreciate your post and agree wholeheartedly with all your very valid points.

Inset days are, in my HUMBLE opinion a complete farce. I cannot see any real reason why teachers are unable or incapable of structuring their time to include whatever issues they need to assess or discuss.

In fact, schools seemed to run perfectly well without them when I was an infant. It costs us parents in time and childcare.

"inset days" are another modern day fallacy.

Anonymous said...

How much money are we losing as a nation for Inset days? Why do teachers need special training days. Why can this not happen as part of sooo many holidays Kids get??

Anonymous said...

Just came across this thread and am shocked. I am a secondary school teacher and our inset days are used extremely wisely. We put them at the ends and the beginnings of terms. Last inset we invited Year 10 and 11 students in to discuss with staff what they thought about the school and how we could improve. It was fantastic.

For all those doubters out there who think we have cushy jobs with long holidays, I ask if they have to take their work on holiday abroad with them or have to spend their holiday essentially working from home? I rarely leave work before 5.30 or 6.00 and then take a bag of marking home with me.

Sadly, Insets are essential as the new policies created by the government at the time need to be disseminated. For example, OFSTED inspection criteria have just changed dramatically. We have to know what we are being judged against.
Education isn't just about turning up and teaching and being a teacher certainly isn't easy. I wouldn't say to someone who works in an office "oh, you must have it so easy, because you sit down all day at a desk." Unless, you have worked in education, you have no idea the levels of stress that the job entails.

On one final note, I find it sad that parents complain about having to spend an extra 5 days with their children.

Donald Clark said...

It does sound as though you use the time wisely but that does not imply that this is the norm. My own experience as a school governor was the opposite. Indeed, data gathered from students was seen as irrelevant and ignored. I am also sure that lots of what passes as 'useful' courses from the outside are full of old fashioned theory and practice. Other professions do not shut up shop for training. They weave it into their jobs. Why is teaching so different? I have taught, I have also worked and run in businesses, that's why I don't buy the long hours argument. Other professionals work long hours and have a quarter of the holidays teachers get.