Banging your head against bad CPD

Worried that staff training will lead you to a dead end? Our guide tells you what to avoid
20th February 2015, 12:00am
Will Daniels


Banging your head against bad CPD

Data and impact: two of the most important words in further education. The problem is that impact doesn't always result in data and data doesn't necessarily denote impact.

FE leaders would do well to remember this. When it comes to CPD, they often try to capture data (attendance figures, evaluation statistics and so on) rather than concentrating on what works (the impact). This leads to some truly horrific CPD approaches - here are four of the worst.

The conveyor belt

This involves teachers moving from session to session as though they're on a production line. Behaviour management training, assessment, English and maths, and so on. And how much do staff take away and remember? Not a great deal. In his book Why Don't Students Like School?, Daniel Willingham asserts that our working memories have a limited capacity. He goes on to say that this capacity is more or less fixed. So bombarding teachers with lots of information on a single day and then expecting them to go away and remember it all is ambitious to say the least.

The time could instead be used to allow teachers to reflect on and share their practice. Identifying problems and solving them collaboratively will do more for the participants than any training session.

You could take it a step further: instead of a single day, allocate slots of time over several weeks so that teachers can revisit the information. This reduces the cognitive overload and allows staff to solve issues that are pertinent to their practice.

The online quiz

Hands up if you have ever clicked your way through a Moodle quiz without really reading the content. Yep, me too. This is the problem with online training. Many teachers struggle to find the time to check their emails, so asking them to complete an hour of mandatory online health and safety training is likely to be met with resistance.

So what appeal does online training have for FE leaders? It can take place anywhere at any time, but most importantly it provides statistics about completion rates and scores. So we're back to data and impact. Rather than simply being consumers of these online CPD courses, couldn't we encourage teachers to make them? It certainly works better with the learners, so why not the teachers?

The big names

A number of familiar faces haunt the FE CPD circuit, churning out the same old sessions and shamelessly promoting their books. The content isn't too bad, but are they worth the hundreds, even thousands of pounds they demand for a day of training? Every institution across the UK contains a wealth of expertise, so why do FE managers insist on buying it in?

There are amazing practitioners getting amazing results year after year and these individuals should be encouraged to share their practice with peers. The rewards don't have to be financial; give them a bit of free time and they will pay it back in what they offer to colleagues.

The prescription

A lot of CPD is done to teachers and not with them. This is especially the case when a new theory pops up and FE managers hastily provide broad-brush training. New methods may work in some lessons with some learners, but prescribing a teaching approach is just wrong - particularly if it isn't supported by credible research.

Teachers need to be critical of different approaches, they need to find out what works with their learners. In order to do this, they should be provided with an abundance of possible strategies and approaches but allowed to experiment. Let them reflect on what works. If an approach improves practice, give them the opportunity to explain how. If it doesn't, give them the chance to consider why.

Lesson study is a promising approach that allows teachers to plan, observe and reflect together to improve learning (bit.lyLessonStudyArticle) and might be worth considering as an alternative to prescriptive CPD.

Will Daniels is the pseudonym of a further education manager in the North of England

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