Training of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's retained duty system personnel: HMFSI inspection report
Appendix 2: Education Scotland report on the quality of training of retained Firefighters in Scotland
In May 2018, the Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland (HMFSI), requested that Education Scotland take part in the national HMFSI review of training of Retained Duty System Firefighters (RDS) in Scotland.
It was agreed that review teams from Education Scotland would evaluate the online materials utilised in training sessions for RDS Firefighters and would visit fire stations to observe training when it was taking place.
In agreement with the Chief Inspector of HMFSI, a team of HM Inspectors of Education and college Associate Assessors (AA) visited six fire stations during the evening training sessions for RDS Firefighters. These were in Kingussie, Fort William, Inverness, Troon, New Cumnock and Beauly. During these visits the team observed the training sessions and held discussions with the RDS Firefighters and those staff delivering the training.
RDS Firefighters in Scotland have evening training sessions each week. These generally occur on a Tuesday or Thursday evening and they work on training materials as a group during part of these sessions.
The Lead Officer for Post-16 Reform from Education Scotland attended a meeting with the Chief Inspector of HMFSI and his Depute, and the internal team from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service which produces and updates the online learning materials.
A team consisting of HM Inspectors and AAs from Education Scotland also visited the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service training headquarters in Cambuslang to review the online training materials in the Learning Content Management System (LCMS) and to speak with staff responsible for developing and hosting the materials.
This report highlights the main features of positive practice and areas for development.
Areas of positive practice
Use of resources
The range of units is comprehensive, containing a great deal of detailed information, and covers all of the areas of knowledge and competency that firefighters are required to understand and develop in order to operate safely.
The platform for the LCMS is easy to use and navigate and there is a wide range of resources, such as Sharable Content Object Reference Model resources, videos, photos and Portable Document Format (PDF) files. For example, the Training for Operational Competence section is well developed, the Core Skills Videos are useful and there is a strong Health and Safety section.
In most of the training sessions, officers are provided with a good introduction, which clearly identifies the aims and outcomes of the lesson, with clear objectives established at the beginning and again at the end.
For those firefighters with Additional Support Needs (ASN), such as dyslexia, arrangements for additional time and coaching are provided. Firefighters with ASN are referred to the Training Department which deals with specific requests to assist their learning.
In the core units, there is a good mix of materials, including PowerPoints and assessment questions, to reinforce learning. There are videos embedded into certain sections, but there are timing problems in loading and playing the videos. However, the quality of the videos is good and prove useful to firefighters.
Formative assessment is usually carried out as a group exercise at the end of the training sessions. This stimulated discussion between crew members to agree jointly on correct responses and assisted the trainer to clarify any learning points, if necessary.
Summative assessment procedures allow for three attempts at an online assessment. If the firefighter fails three times they are referred to a senior staff member at central training headquarters, who will discuss remediation and next steps.
Trainers' experience and approaches
In the stations the team visited, trainers have a good rapport with the crew members and treat them professionally and respectfully. Trainers use personal perspectives well by providing real-life examples and use humour to engage participants.
The crew are able to use their considerable knowledge and experience to inform discussion around specific issues raised during the training sessions. This peer learning is particularly effective.
Practical demonstrations are of great value to the firefighters. For example, how to remove an unconscious motorcyclist's helmet and apply a neck brace. Where firefighters engage well in discussions, this is purposeful and helps to aid understanding.
During assessments, if any of the firefighters undertake a test and get a question wrong, they are referred back to the question they failed, to go over the material and have another attempt at the question.
Areas for development
Use of resources
In almost all stations there are insufficient computers for the size of the group and this disrupted their opportunities to go over the online support materials and to undertake individual assessments.
Due to time constraints, some retained firefighters find it challenging to complete the online assessments during their time at the fire station. This is due in part to a lack of available computers for all of the group to access on completion of a training session.
The resources are devised to be used as an individual study approach, but they are being used as a group teaching tool, due to lack of computers. There are severe Information Communication and Technology issues due to a software update and PDF files and videos cannot be opened and used in some stations.
Rather than be utilised as an effective online learning environment, the LCMS platform is used as a repository for materials. In some cases, it appears materials are uploaded with no thought to how the firefighters and trainers will work through them as teaching resources.
There is a lack of clarity on which units are mandatory elements, which of the online resources have expired and an inconsistent structure to how the courses are designed and delivered. This leads to a fragmented nature for each of the units and it is unclear how they link together. For example, the assessment banks are very limited and are not in the form of formative or summative assessments, materials are detailed in places, but very minimal in others and many of the modules are lacking effective examples.
In almost all cases, photographs in the training materials of firefighters in the PowerPoint slides, are usually male.
For part-time firefighters, the volume of specialist knowledge covered in the training units is unrealistic. All officers feel that there is excessive content on the LCMS, with too much information for participants to retain, which takes up a huge amount of their time and eats into their practical training time.
Learning and assessment
Many firefighters find it challenging to complete the individual online summative assessment during their training sessions at the fire station. The firefighters can access resources from home, but feel the training should be done in the station and find it frustrating that the resources are not available for them at the station.
Learning is not sufficiently differentiated to take account of the learning needs of newer crew members and more experienced firefighters. They struggle to identify which aspects of learning are essential and crucial to their role.
Learning is too passive and is not sufficiently active. Training relies too heavily on lengthy PowerPoint presentations in which the trainer reads aloud the text for each slide.
Many opportunities are missed to allow officers to be more active in their learning. Almost all officers state that time restrictions often encourage only surface learning and that there was insufficient time available to carry out both their online learning and the practical duties expected of their role. As a result, many officers undertake online learning in their own time.
Trainers do not utilise a sufficient range of questioning techniques to check understanding. There is little thinking, analysis or reflection by the firefighters to aid comprehension. This results in the training session being dull at times and not sufficiently stimulating for the crew.
Generally, most of the questions which are asked, are closed questions. Trainers also answer their own questions if the others do not respond sufficiently quickly, as they are under pressure to move on to the next bit of content. The pace of the sessions is very quick as there are large sections to get through in the time available.
In almost all cases, training for presenters had taken place some time ago and there has been no refresher courses to support them develop their training approaches. In some cases, the trainer had not received any formal training on delivering the training material or in adopting a range of learning methodologies to engage the retained firefighters.
In almost all cases, firefighters do not value or enjoy the sessions. They state that there are too many slides and there is too much detailed information, much of which is not relevant to their roles as part-time firefighters. In discussions with the review team, they complained of information overload.
Much of the teaching approach relies on short-term memory retention, which is assessed during the test. This is poor practice, as in time, it will be lost from recall.
Feedback is currently underdeveloped with regards to identifying where learning has not been effective and shaping future learning activities. Firefighters would benefit from more feedback on their assessment performance before they declare themselves as competent on some aspects of the learning materials. In a few instances, they express uncertainty about whether they had attained an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding to record competency in PDRPro.