Summary Report on ACAT Training and Trainer Development Conference

Bennett, D., 2004. Summary Report on ACAT Training and Trainer Development Conference. Reformulation, Summer, p.6.


Summary Report on ACAT Training and Trainer Development Conference held at Losehill Hall, Castleton, Derbyshire. 29th - 30th April 2004

Twenty eight people came together for two days at this beautiful Hall in the Peak District (serving large portions of crumble and having a fine selection of whiskey, so I am told). The aim was broad - to reflect on how we work as trainers. Courses and areas represented included Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol & West Country, Plymouth, Southampton, Teeside, Oxford, London, IRRAPT, East Anglia, ACAT North (Sheffield, Manchester, Lancashire, Leeds) and national CPD. There had been some very interesting journeys, with Dee from Edinburgh perhaps managing to get there against the odds. At one point I really did question why we had selected a venue off the beaten track only to be reassured that it was a welcome relief and allowed time to recharge – having said that we worked very hard.

We will be summarising the conference and the action points in more depth in later reports and on the web-site and this report will not do justice to how stimulating and productive the meeting felt. Glenys Parry and Lawrence Welch opened by considering what research on training tells us, how to structure teaching so it engages trainees in their own learning styles and how we can generalise standards nationally without squashing individual creativity. Our invited speaker (Dr Glynis Cousins from Warwick University) conveyed her skill, demonstrating all she was speaking about, by giving a stimulating talk drawing on Vygotskian ideas. A central theme that remained with us through the conference was to define the “threshold concepts” in CAT (those that have to be grasped). They have “transformative ability,” transforming the learner in some way, and move a learner from “innocence to understanding” in that once grasped they are irreversible, a deep form of learning. However, such concepts have “troublesome knowledge” aspects which are often counter-intuitive. She spoke of early learning often being a sort of mimicry but most learners move on from this. We also considered different models of teaching-learning, such as the Magistral (the authoritative other in relation to an empty passive vessel); the Socratic (the questioning other) where knowledge is emerging and not presupposed and the Menippean (misbehaved children) the dissenting voices. The pros and cons of each were considered. Small group work through the afternoon took up the emerging issues and the large group plenary noted proposals that we wished to take forward within courses and for discussion at the ACAT Training Committee.

Day 2 consisted of three small group sessions and these all led to a range of ideas and developments that we will be taking forward. The first began with work groups on setting up a course; running introductory and CAT skills courses; supporting isolated trainers and electronic learning. Important ‘nuts and bolts’ work was achieved with group members sharing experiences and proposing new developments. In the second session we brainstormed “threshold concepts” and “troublesome knowledge” for CAT (such as the social self, RRs, use of self, non-collusion) and each of four groups worked up how to teach each of them. We have notes on all the creative methods covered but one proposal is to refine teaching materials and pool resources nationally. In the third session three groups covered how to evaluate individual competencies; benchmarking, issues of national consistency and external course moderators; life after a course – maintaining CAT practice, CPD, supporting people to take up trainer and supervisor roles. This was a very productive session with proposals to take forward.

In the final plenary, Glenys noted that the meeting had begun by some participants saying that they had come to have time away to reflect, others had wanted to connect as they felt isolated, many to learn of others’ experiences and to be creative about training. We felt we had achieved this. We had reflected on processes but also worked hard on some practicalities. There was a creative tension between autonomy and creativity, in that trainers and courses are working differently, there isn’t a package or a cloned product yet standards are portable and we want consistency. We drew up the list of action points and agreed two main ways of sharing and developing these ideas with trainers who couldn’t attend. We will set up a trainers section within the web-site and run an annual trainers conference. The next event will be held in the Bristol area next Spring and we look forward to this. The meeting ended with some interesting metaphors of what it had felt like, all pleasant and creative – with mention of the lovely food, hospitality of the staff at Losehill, supportive colleagues, tranquility, nature, the whiskey and the enjoyment and richness that a group of CATs always seem to have together.

Dawn Bennett

Full Reference

Bennett, D., 2004. Summary Report on ACAT Training and Trainer Development Conference. Reformulation, Summer, p.6.

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