Effective CPD for today’s schools

  • Effective CPD for today’s schools

The most successful schools are built on the idea that teachers constantly learn, develop and improve. This requires an approach that is far beyond the traditional simple programme of INSET days, courses and twilight sessions.

In this article I lay out some of the required shifts in thinking as well as the necessary accompanying systems, leadership and resourcing. These ideas are based on:

1. The recent review of what types of CPD are most likely to improve student outcomes, commissioned by the Teacher Development Trust and TES Global – the Developing Great Teaching report.

2. The thinking behind the new Department for Education Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development.

3. The practice observed, developed and audited within the Teacher Development Trust’s network of over 120 schools.

Focus and timeline

A traditional approach to CPD tends to be a menu of compulsory and optional one-off briefings, courses, conferences and events. These are likely to be mainly aimed at information-giving, update around curriculum, statutory training and generic teaching advice.

A more modern approach prioritises embedding impact over information-giving, focusing on fewer priorities and taking more time on each. Each priority is woven in across the year, with multiple activities establishing a rhythm of repeated and sustained improvement and learning. Typically colleagues will receive input, observe experts and peers, have time to try things out in their classrooms and have time to evaluate and reflect – all in cycles of activity. This activity will include in-class work (during lessons and observations), formal CPD meetings (such as INSET days, twilight sessions and weekly or fortnightly protected CPD time) as well as other settings (such as department meetings).

Key priorities include:

  • Specific areas of student learning (e.g. subjects/topics) or learning behaviours. These are identified through analysis of curriculum, assessment, external examination plus other data and both pupil and teacher judgement.
  • Career development needs of teachers, teaching assistants, and non-teaching staff. These needs encompass leadership, accreditation (both professional and academic) as well as support and opportunities such as job swaps, shadowing, coaching, mentoring, etc.
  • Statutory, safety and systems training.

In the modern approach there is less explicit focus on a list of what teachers should do and how they perform. Instead there is more emphasis on what students need and how teachers can develop to achieve this. The modern approach is intrinsically much more focused on aspects of curriculum and on subject and specialist knowledge.

Leadership, planning and needs analysis

The traditional model of CPD typically sees one member of senior leadership responsible for pulling together the annual CPD plan based on senior leadership team priorities.

The more modern approach sees professional development leadership distributed more widely, and tightly interwoven with the leadership of teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, induction, early career development and leadership development.

An increasingly common model is to have a deputy headteacher with primary responsibility for the development of staff and teaching working with one or more assistant headteachers and a team of lead practitioners (more experienced staff who have been recognised for significant subject and general teaching expertise) while also delegating significant aspects to middle leaders to co-ordinate professional learning within their subject or specialism.

Central to this approach is working with staff at all levels to identify what staff need to develop in order to respond to changing student and school priorities. This requires a strong flow of information from the bottom up, constantly gathering feedback, while working strenuously to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Another core element is building in discussion around professional learning and career development as a regular feature of line management and appraisal discussions at all levels. This provides another source of information for planning and adapting the CPD offer.

Subject and department meetings are a strong driver of CPD needs analysis by conducting ongoing analysis of how students are responding to the demands of the curriculum, and anticipating staff members’ needs in both teaching and assessing it knowledgeably, effectively and efficiently. This is supported by central analysis of teaching needs for more general and cross-subject aspects of pedagogy and practice.

This type of analysis is driven well by a knowledgeable team of leaders and lead practitioners who stay closely connected to the latest evidence about effective practice. CPD is then prioritised by matching up student needs and staff needs along with the evidence of the approaches most likely to effectively meet those needs.

Appraisal and performance management systems must be carefully designed. An effective approach is to make the majority focus of appraisal and performance management on developing staff members’ knowledge and skill while retaining a level of quality assurance to identify the very bottom end of performance and recognising particularly exceptional practice at the very top end.

A development approach to appraisal discussions focuses on comparing students’ responses and behaviours to teachers against a detailed understanding of curriculum expectations and the school’s vision. This leads to the identification of CPD needs and career aspirations, which can feed into wider planning.

Time, resources and expertise

Teachers are unlikely to translate learning into improved outcomes for students unless they are given sufficient time and resource, coupled with high quality expertise and facilitation, in an atmosphere of trust and respect.

Many schools are now carving out weekly or fortnightly CPD time which is focused on giving time for ongoing collaboration, planning and assessment which focuses on curriculum knowledge and aims. This can vary from 45 minutes per fortnight up to, in the case of one school, 2½ hours per week.

In effective schools whole-staff briefings are minimised, subject and team meetings are kept as free of briefing and administrative work as possible, and the focus is on improving and sharing teaching knowledge and practice in direct response to student needs. Notably, in a time of huge system and exam change there must be some flexibility in this – new curricula and exams require more time dealing with inevitable administration issues.

Good will is created when the right resources are available for this work. This includes making adequate allowance for decent quality refreshments (tea, coffee, water, biscuits, etc.) and the right venues with comfortable chairs, tables, the right audio-visual equipment and a location without too much noise or distraction. Effective schools work extremely hard to manage workload. Marking, planning, staff meetings, data entry, covering other colleagues, duties and emails are all key areas where time can be saved which can then be used to not only ensure time for CPD but also reduce the background stress and pressure so that learning can take place.

Finally, effective CPD ensures that all staff are connected to the latest practice through subject and specialist association membership, research bulletins, conferences and social media. However, it is also recognised that to embed this knowledge it is necessary to work with external experts and facilitators who can support, challenge, model practice and inspire colleagues internally.

Find out more about the research and practice around effective CPD on the Teacher Development Trust’s website: TDTrust.org

Big Questions

Participants should be able to answer the following questions in every CPD activity:

  • What impact am I looking for from this learning, particularly on students?
  • How will I be able to repeatedly and objectively check if my learning has made a difference yet?
  • What would the highest level of success look like?
  • What external experts or evidence can I use throughout my learning for support, facilitation and challenge?
  • How can I get sufficient objective information about whether I’m using the most effective and evidence-informed of processes?