The real problem with insets


Planning an inset can be difficult. Lofty ambitions can often descend into days that are just easier to manage. I personally tend to fall into the trap of not thinking broad enough; I’ll have a brilliant idea as to how we’ll solve a particular issue and then the night before I’ll realise that Early Years or support staff will literally have nothing to do. This leaves me with two options: run around looking for middle leaders to come up with an additional focus within twelve hours or do nothing, buy loads of cakes and avoid making eye contact with any poor member of staff who is feeling undervalued.

There are, in my experience, three types of inset: the guest, the initiative, the catch-up.

The guest

This can be a high risk (it’s normally high cost too come to think of it) and involves booking an outsider; an expert to teach, motivate and inspire the staff. The Head’s dream is that in one day this person will have the educational Midas touch: transforming tired, stuck-in-a-rut teachers into energetic and free-thinking practitioners with the click of a PowerPoint. The fear is that the guest will come out like some c-beebies presenter coked up to the eyeballs and annoy everyone with their energy and jokes. Never mind that the content is golden, I can tell within five minutes that Sandra (the teacher who has been teaching Year 5 in this school since before I was born) has decided that whatever this performing little monkey is going on about is just a fad and that I’ve only booked them to put a tick on my school development plan. I can literally see the £2800 I convinced the bursar to spend on this clown swirling down the drain. Some of them are responding and making notes but in my heart I know that within two terms the impact of this will be hard to see. It’s a shame because all I wanted was to get the staff excited to remind them that teaching is fun and an opportunity to take risks but I can see that they have other things on their mind.

The initiative

I don’t need any guest this time because I can do it. I’ll stand up and present a ‘new dawn’ and a new way to do things. It’s been really carefully thought out by SLT, it is something we have to address and none of us can fail to see how it won’t transform the teaching and learning in this school and make us a step closer to ‘outstanding’. We plan the day really well too. Time to listen and learn, time to discuss and then loads of time in the afternoon to start putting ideas into action. It’s the perfect inset. So when the day comes and I’ve again forgotten about the support staff and have had to max out my visa on cakes to placate them, I’m still convinced today is going to be talked about for years to come as the inset that changed everything. It starts badly as the PowerPoint version in school is different to the one at home so none of the nice graphics have loaded properly and the font has reverted to comic-sans which makes me physically retch every time I click onto the next slide. Then I realise that the great idea doesn’t sound so simple now I’m actually speaking it out loud and then there are the questions. The annoying, niggly, not part of the big picture questions. SLT, I notice, remain mute at this point leaving me to respond to such weighty educational issues such as ‘will it interfere with PE timetables’ and ‘but I have PPA on that day’ and ‘so is this instead of maths or as well as maths?’. But I solider on, knowing that when they split up in the afternoons and start planning it out, they’ll see the genius behind it. At 2:30pm when I go for a wander I notice that every teacher has decided that they’ll plan it next week and for now, if it’s ok with me, they’ll mark their big writes from last week and try and organise next term’s trip. At 2:45pm I decide to go home and console myself that at least this inset failure didn’t cost me a fortune but then I remember about the cakes.

The catch-up

Even though every inset, no matter how focussed and inspiring, ends up with teachers doing some form of catch-up work, sometimes a whole day given over to this is no bad thing. Especially at the beginning or end of years when teachers can organise their classrooms, establish systems with their new teaching teams and really map out the year ahead. This is a strategic decision. Staff will welcome the space to breathe and get their ‘houses in order’.  This day has nothing, nothing to do with the fact that I’m too tired to try and think of anything exciting or that the bank has frozen my account due to the four excessive bakery orders that I keep failing to make the minimum payment on.

But then sometimes you get lucky all your strategic planning comes together. Your guest was perfect (and affordable) the idea is sound and all staff are involved and excited by the changes ahead. I am thrilled to say that I speak from experience having had a two day inset where my school managed to book @deputymitchell who worked with staff during the first day on blogging followed by a day of 2014 national curriculum topic mapping. The days were awesome.

I cannot recommend @deputymitchell enough. He was enthusiastic but grounded in reality that made all the teachers think that they can do this blogging thing and more importantly made them want to do it. By the end of the first session I knew that the inset was going to be ok and in a year’s time I genuinely think I’ll be able to point to some of the things going on in school and at some of our achievements and say ‘that inset caused this’.

The next day, I presented how our curriculum was going to evolve and teachers had the day to map out their breadths of studies, piece together topics and identify resources. They were focussed on that all day and I was continually interrupted by excited teachers checking if their big ideas for this topic and that topic were ok…I said yes to all of them after all I had told them about the ‘freedoms’ this curriculum gave us so could hardly so no.

And…all the support staff had two days of bespoke training and development and they loved it. Finally, they weren’t just sitting in on what the teachers were talking about or putting up displays. They were learning too and they were extra pleased that they will be expected to feed their training and skills back to teachers next term.

So in short, it was great but then that’s the real problem with good insets. All this motivation and seeing how the teaching is going to improve and knowing how excited the children are going to be and the difference it’s all going to make.

It’s annoying.


It makes me miss the classroom.