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Belle of the ball

The Cinderella of the teaching landscape has always been professional development. Salaries, curriculum, discipline - these all get their share of headlines, but when did you last see a four-column splash on continuing professional development?

That may change. Education secretary Ruth Kelly is on record as saying that "we need to develop a culture of professional development in our schools - that is probably the next phase of reform".

Hints and whispers suggest that ministers would like to link professional development more explicitly to pay, probably by making CPD a requirement for teachers applying to go through the threshold onto the upper pay spine.

A higher status for professional development would certainly get a welcome at the General Teaching Council, where CPD is one of the few things that is seen as wholly within its remit.

Council surveys have highlighted the importance of good quality professional development and support. In 2003, a MORI survey revealed a marked correlation between opportunities for professional development and teachers' motivation to remain in the job: 75 per cent of those with ring-fenced development time expected to stay in teaching. Those who had mentored newly qualified teachers and trainees said that the experience had a positive impact on their practice; over half of teachers would welcome protected CPD time.

"Many teachers who mentor newly qualified teachers are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and expertise and would welcome a co-ordinated school approach and ethos to support this," says GTC chief executive Carol Adams.

"Since our start in 2000, we have made our position clear: an effective and healthy profession is one that has access, opportunity and responsibility for career-long learning and development."

So when the Department for Education and Skills asked the council to drive forward the Government's CPD strategy, it was no surprise when the offer was accepted. The programme has been running for three years. A major report this summer will celebrate the success of what is widely seen as groundbreaking.

The first phase involved nine local education authorities working with the GTC to establish strategies for professional development. The success of that project led to the DfES request and some additional funding, and, in the last year, the scheme moved into its second phase, with a further 22 local authorities addressing the issue.

And it is an issue. Good quality CPD does not happen by accident. There is widespread concern that teachers may be turned off by training courses that conspicuously fail to meet their needs.

Dr Leaton Gray of Cambridge University accused private providers of delivering poor value for money: "They are often one-man bands, set up in a spare bedroom and touting themselves as consultants."

The second challenge is the low priority given by many schools to CPD, with some spending as little as pound;600 a year on developing their staff.

This is massively short-sighted, as Alex Atherton, deputy head at Park View academy in north London, explains: "The more you spend on CPD the less you will have to spend on recruitment adverts. Schools have to create their own model that will help their staff, I want to get to the point where staff have a range of opportunities."

Which brings us to the third problem. Much of the CPD diet is top-down, with an agenda dominated by the Government, the LEA or by the school's development plan. But what teachers want is the opportunity for individual CPD, tailored to meet their needs. Hitting that target will require some creative thinking, which is exactly what the GTC has been trying to engender.

What the CPD landscape will look like in five years' time is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain: it will bear little resemblance to what we see at the moment.

Cinderella may not be at the ball, but there's a glass slipper in the post.

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