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What are inset days?

What are inset days?
Inset days are far from a day off for school staff. We asked the experts to explain what happens on these important training days.
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For parents, inset days can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes, an extra day off tagged on at the end of term is a welcome extension to the holidays, but teacher training days can also be a headache for working parents who need to find extra childcare.

Inset days are formally called in-service training days, but the shortened term is used almost everywhere. ‘They are days when teachers go into school when no pupils are there, for training, planning and other duties,’ says Louise Hatswell, Conditions of Employment Specialist: Pay, at the Association of School and College Leaders.

How many inset days do schools have each year?

Schools must be open to students for 190 days a year (except for unexpected events like snow days), but teachers must be available for work for an additional five days, where they may only be required to perform non-teaching duties – in other words, inset days.
 
Academies don’t have to follow the same rules, but most do.
 
Many schools also have one occasional day per school year, where they’re closed to both pupils and staff – effectively, an extra day off.

Inset days and statutory training

It’s mandatory for staff to have regular training in certain areas, including child protection/safeguarding, health and safety, first aid and behaviour management.
 
‘Often, inset days at the start of the academic year in September are whole staff events, where any statutory training may be included, along with whole-school priorities,’ says Louise.
 
‘Schools often include updates on processes and procedures, particularly if these have changed: for example, risk assessments and remote learning requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.’

Inset days and CPD

Continuing professional development, or CPD, is important for teachers and other school staff to develop their skills and specialisms. ‘The content is normally aligned with the school’s priorities and school development plan, and should also be informed by individual CPD needs identified through staff appraisals,’ says Louise.
 
There’s a huge range of content that could be covered on inset days, including:

And many more.
 
Inset days often involve some advance preparation. ‘This may involve staff filling in a questionnaire, going through some reading materials, or watching videos online,’ says Kevin Piper of training consultancy Creative Education. ‘Whether the teacher has been asked to do that particular training by the headteacher, or has chosen it themselves, it’s important that they know why they’re coming and what they want to get out of it.’

Other uses of inset days

‘Schools can also use inset days for other purposes including departmental planning time, moderation, lesson planning, appraisal review meetings and coaching,’ Louise says. ‘This is often the only time that all staff can meet together for an extended time.’

What happens on inset days?

Often, schools engage external training providers to run part or all of an inset day to benefit from their expert input. These could be companies that specialise in teacher training, trainers from the local authority, or charities like the NSPCC, for example.
 
Specialist training providers often build their courses around what they’ve learned by working with other schools and relaying ideas that have worked well for them. ‘We’re magpies, collecting examples of good practice and sharing them with other schools,’ Kevin explains.
 
The purpose of inset day training is determined by the school, usually by its leadership team, or the academy trust. ‘As external trainers, we make sure we find out the school’s objectives: why do they want this training? What strengths and weaknesses do they want to work on? What are its desired outcomes?’ says Kevin.
 
The structure of an inset day varies enormously. Sometimes, the entire staff does the same training, while on other occasions, different individuals or groups will be working on different things. It might run online or in person, for a full day or half day, or for shorter sessions.
 
‘Sometimes, training will be offered via a carousel system where there are multiple shorter sessions for staff to work their way around, often with some being repeated throughout the day to allow staff to attend the ones most appropriate to them,’ says Louise.
 
There’s always time for questions and reflection, and usually a request for feedback at the end, most likely through a questionnaire either handed out in person and given back in on the day, or through an online form.

Inset days, school holidays and twilight sessions

Often, schools add inset days to the end of a term to extend the holidays. To allow teachers to take these days off too, they may run ‘twilight’ after-school sessions to ‘make up’ the time they would have spent in school on those days.
 
‘Twilight sessions can be useful for schools, for example in reacting to unplanned events that take place during the year [e.g. if there was a situation that needed an urgent response, like a new system or procedure within the school], and can also offer more variety in short chunks than could be offered on a single day,’ says Louise.
 
‘It can also help schools to be flexible in including staff with different working patterns who may miss a full day’s inset if it falls on their day off, but could participate in some twilight sessions.
 
‘This is allowed, and often staff have already worked the hours of the end-of-term inset days throughout the term or year, allowing them to have the inset days off.’