For many school leaders, the importance of effective CPD for teaching staff needs little explaining. As the DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development straightforwardly puts it, ‘effective professional development for teachers is a core part of securing effective teaching.’
We know that teachers themselves are also firmly invested in honing and developing their skills. According to an LKMco and Pearson survey, the prospect of making a difference in pupils’ lives motivates 92% of teachers to stay in teaching, so any further opportunities to increase their impact in the classroom are likely to be received with enthusiasm.
In the words of Dylan Wiliam, ‘every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.’
What is teacher CPD?
CPD is a process of recording and reflecting on learning and development; the action of tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge and experience that teachers gain both formally and informally as they teach, beyond any initial training. It's a record of what they experience, learn and then apply.
According to the standards for teachers’ professional development, teacher CPD needs to be:
- Focused on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes
- Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise
- Include collaboration and expert challenge
- Sustained over time
- Prioritised by leadership
In addition, by reviewing decades of research, Joyce and Showers (2002) found that CPD must provide teachers with the theory underlying the new instructional strategies they’re learning, demonstrations, and opportunities to practice the strategies in their own classrooms.
Why is CPD important?
The CPD process helps teachers to manage their own development on an ongoing basis. It's not a tick-box document recording the training they have completed. It's broader than that. Here’s what CPD helps teachers to do:
- Ensures they keep pace with the current standards of others working in education.
- Keeps their knowledge and skills current so they can deliver high-quality teaching and impact positively on pupil outcomes.
- Makes sure that they become more effective in the workplace. This helps them to advance in their career and move into new positions where they can lead, manage, influence, coach and mentor others.
- Opens them up to new possibilities, new knowledge and new skills.
- Leads to increased confidence in themselves, others and the profession as a whole.
Teacher CPD is also very useful at:
- Reminding them of their achievements and how far they’ve progressed.
- Directs their career and helps them keep an eye on their goals.
- Uncovers gaps in their skills and capabilities.
- Opens up further development needs.
How teachers record their CPD is up to them, but you might want to think about offering an electronic method or a framework to help guide your teachers. Format is not important, what matters is that it’s meaningful for teachers.
I often hear that teachers and educators don't have time for their own CPD. Or they believe that it's SLT's responsibility to guide their professional development. More often than not CPD is thought of as ‘providing training to develop a skill’, but effective professional development is so much more than something that is delivered to teachers.
Instead of identifying professional learning as a process of acquisition based on the SLT passing on their knowledge, learning should be more commonly conceptualised as a course of action whereby teachers actively and collaboratively construct their own understanding and skills.
Why teachers should be responsible for their own CPD
Delivering CPD suggests a 'top down' approach, which won’t be empowering to teachers. It’s also the opposite of what is recommended in the government standard for teachers’ professional development from 2016. The standard promotes the need for teachers and other educational staff to take control of their own professional learning.
This key issue was discussed at a seminar I attended, which was hosted by CUREE with the members of the Expert Panel who authored the 2016 standard. It was clear at this event that what is different about the standard is that teachers also have a set of responsibilities.
As the article acknowledges, it’s very true that telling staff that CPD needs to be done for Ofsted or for SLT won’t be at all motivating. Key for gaining teacher buy in is understanding how exactly the learner experience will be improved.
The importance of personalised CPD
In the past, Philippa Cordingley (Chief Executive of CUREE) has spoken about how SLT need to view staff like they would a class. This is echoed in the article with the suggestion that CPD leads plan and structure training in the same way they would a lesson.
The difference is that unlike the article, Philippa is not concerned with viewing staff like a class in order for the CPD lead to feel confident in delivering a training session. Instead, her message is that CPD leads need to consider what it is that every individual member of staff needs, just as a teacher uses differentiation in the classroom. In the best classrooms, we see children as active contributors to the learning process and the same should be true of professional learning.
Philippa echoes part 1 of the standard, which highlights the importance of personalised CPD. It recommends that professional development activities should:
- Be designed around individual teachers’ existing experience, knowledge and needs
- Be relevant to the context and day-to-day experiences of teachers and their schools
The staff in a school are like a class; each teacher has different levels of experience, different priorities they want to focus on and different ways they like to learn. It can’t be presumed that one style of professional learning will fit all.
Choosing CPD courses for teachers
When we think of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), it’s often the one-off training courses that first spring to mind. But, as well as single training sessions, the term CPD also covers teaching and learning activities designed to help teachers develop their practice; from research, self-reflection and lesson observations to Lesson Study, feedback and coaching.
To be able to choose the right type of CPD, it’s important to distinguish between training and ongoing development.
Training is about learning how to do something specific. It can be as simple as learning how to use a whiteboard and as complex as learning how to be an astronaut.
Development on the other hand, is informal and has a wider application, giving you the tools to do a range of things and evolve your capability and competency. It involves progression from basic know-how to a more advanced, mature or complex understanding of something. Development is what will take you from NQT to experienced teacher or middle leader to executive head.
Both training and development have key roles to play in effective CPD. Let’s take a look at an example:
“Susie has been teaching for five years. She’s heard about a new teaching strategy that she wants to learn more about, so she applies to go on a day course. During the course she learns all about the strategy and the theories behind it. At this point Susie has taken part in training. It’s not until she is back in her classroom applying the strategy with her own children, analysing the results, tweaking her technique, improving her practice and sharing with others that she’s taking part in continuing professional development.”
How to choose the right type of CPD and CPD provider
The standard for teachers’ professional development by the DfE makes the distinction between direct professional development and indirect professional development. Direct seeks specifically to improve practice and pupil outcomes whereas indirect may improve, for example, the running of the school or offer support around particular procedural tasks.
It distinguishes between programmes and activities too, making the point that professional learning programmes that involve many activities designed to sustain and embed practice, may well have a longer lasting impact on pupils.
For example, if you have several staff members that need to learn first aid then sending them on an external training day (indirect CPD activity) will suffice.
But, if one of your whole school priorities is to develop self-regulating, independent learners and you want all staff to improve their skills in this area, then finding a long-term programme (like this one) that explores dialogue, questioning, pupil oracy and feedback (direct CPD programme) would be a better choice.
It’s also important to keep in mind what type of CPD teachers actually want. The more engaged a teacher is in the CPD they are offered, the more likely it is to succeed.
We asked 2,000 teachers what professional development activities they would prioritise if they were in control of their own CPD. They gave us some interesting insights which you can see in the diagram below.
When you’re sifting through CPD options, asking the following questions will help you to gauge whether what you are choosing is likely to give good results.
- Clear outcomes: Is the information about the outcomes clearly stated from the outset? Including the skills and practical strategies learned by participants and the intended effect on the pupils in the classroom.
- Relevant and targeted: Is it carefully pitched to meet the needs of specific groups of teachers? Does each session clearly indicate who would benefit from the training? Does it meet your staff development needs? Does it explicitly match what’s been outlined in performance reviews as areas for development?
- Expertly informed: Has it been created by expert practitioners in the education field? How highly regarded are these experts among peers?
- Highly engaging: Does it sound engaging for participants? Does it include interactive elements, case studies, practical strategies and actively promote collaboration with peers?
- High-impact: Is there evidence that it has an impact on the skill levels of teachers and the learning of pupils? To help measure this, have they included thoughtful suggestions for assessing how successful it is in transforming practice? Knowing that a provider has used a solid foundation of research leaves you more confident in the integrity and usefulness of the CPD you will receive/provide.
- Follow up: What follow up support is on offer? Is it sustained over time? How can you evaluate the impact? The standard “one-day training” is all too familiar. However, most of the time, effective professional learning requires input beyond a single session. You should therefore prioritise services with opportunities for further support.
Similarly, when you’re wading through CPD providers, including teaching schools and research schools, asking the following questions will help you to gauge the quality and suitability of the CPD provider:
- Independently assured: Has the provider been independently assured for quality and evidence?
- Peer review: What have teachers and school leaders said about the resources and provider? It’s no coincidence that highly reviewed courses in the Good CPD Guide, are also the most viewed.
After investing time, money and effort into a CPD programme, you’ll naturally want to know that it’s having a positive impact on your school’s teaching and learning.
How to assess whether CPD is being effective
Effectiveness isn’t about the performance of the trainer, but the extent to which practice and outcomes of learners has been improved.
The systematic reflection on and evaluation of the effectiveness of approaches to teaching should be everyone’s responsibility - teachers, SLT and CPD providers. Teachers ought to feel in control of their own professional learning and be able to contribute to the culture of learning, openness and trust that is needed for CPD that has a real impact on outcomes.
The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development suggests programmes that are sustained for more than two terms and involve ‘creating a rhythm of ongoing support and follow-up activities’. This indicates that a traditional approach of one-off activities does not work.
It also stresses the importance of programmes drawing on tried and tested methods, robust evidence and expertise of what’s sustainable and works in the classroom. With the sheer amount of CPD providers available, it is vital that teachers receive professional learning activities that are proven by research to improve learning outcomes. Challenging CPD providers on the evidence of impact of their approach is therefore critical.
The UCL Institute for Education suggests that the best CPD is also ‘interspersed with episodes of practice’ and is tailored to each teacher. So the easier that professional development programmes can be integrated into individual teachers’ classroom contexts and the specific areas of their day-to-day practice they want to improve upon, the more lasting impact we can expect to see.
Finally, effective CPD relies heavily on collaboration, specifically peer support, feedback and focussed discussions about practice, according to the DfE. While there is undoubtedly a place for external expertise in teacher CPD, teachers also have a great deal to learn from each other, especially within shared contexts or when overcoming common challenges.
Dealing with government cuts to education spending
The issue today, of course, is that government cuts to education spending have pushed CPD very much onto the back-burner for most schools. A Teacher Development Trust study from 2017 revealed that more than 20,000 teachers worked in schools with essentially no budget at all for staff development.
In fact, the average primary and secondary school currently spend just 0.65% and 0.37% respectively of their budget on CPD. This trend is especially concerning at a time when the majority of teachers, according to LKMco and Pearson, have recently considered leaving teaching altogether, and nearly a quarter of all teachers trained since 2011 have already left.
The House of Commons Education Select Committee found that ‘one of the main reasons teachers intend to leave the profession is a lack of job satisfaction, and not feeling supported in their position’. Teachers aged 25-34 years old are especially responsive to the availability of CPD, with 73% saying it influences their decisions on where to teach or whether to move elsewhere.
The cost of interviewing, recruiting and losing staff is a heavy burden on already tight budgets, so while the education sector has successfully absorbed CPD practices from elsewhere in recent years, the question should no longer be ‘why is CPD for teachers important’ but rather ‘why should it, once again, be the top priority for schools?’
Investing in the future
The picture of schools’ investment in effective CPD in 2018 is unfortunately not a pretty one. However, the evidence overwhelmingly points to CPD as part of the solution to the teacher retention crisis, and as a way for school leaders to ease pressures from the accountability system and drive whole school improvement.
As Professor Robert Coe, Director of the Center for Evaluation and Monitoring puts it, ‘investing in high-quality support for teachers’ professional learning is not just one of the most effective things schools can do to raise standards, but one of the best value choices they can make’.
He argues that even in the challenging financial circumstances that schools are facing, to cut CPD spending ‘would be one of the most counterproductive, short sighted and evidence-averse things a school could do’.
So if you help decide what CPD the teachers at your school have access to, remember that, if done right, its benefits are wider reaching than we might first assume and that its importance, in the context of the challenges faced by schools in 2018, cannot be understated.
TOP TIP: Video-based CPD platforms like IRIS Connect can be a very impactful and cost-effective CPD solution for schools.
An analysis of the DfE’s CFR data shows that schools regularly using IRIS Connect:
- Spent 8% less on cover teaching and 9% less on CPD than other schools (that’s an average saving of £12,247 / year)
- AND 64% improved by at least one Ofsted grade in their last inspection cycle compared to the national average of 42.5%