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Can CPD really tackle staff wellbeing?

A wellbeing quick win or just another workload woe? Joanne Tiplady investigates

Can CPD tackle staff wellbeing?

The education profession is in the grip of a retention crisis where in England “a third of new teachers leave within the first five years”. Inevitably, the impact on schools and pupils is significant.

According to the Department for Education (DfE), the three main reasons teachers leave are “workload, government policy and lack of support from leaders”. Stress caused by extreme pressure and unrealistic demands on time manifests in physical and mental health problems which, in turn, lead to increased absences. 

A recent report from the Education Support Partnership found that between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, they managed 9,615 calls to their emotional support helpline – “the highest annual figure in the charity’s history”.

A wellbeing quick win?

It is in the interest of leaders to keep staff motivated and progressing in their careers, and one obvious way to do this is through continuing professional development (CPD), but is there a connection between CPD and wellbeing? If so, can CPD be used as a tool to aid staff mental health – a wellbeing quick win?

Quality CPD is an entitlement. Indeed, the DfE’s Standards for Professional Development dictate that it “must be prioritised by school leadership…with professionals continually developing and supporting each other”.

A recent Twitter poll posed a question about the impact of CPD on teachers’ wellbeing and mental health; worryingly 23 per cent reported a negative impact and 56 per cent reported no impact at all. 

With CPD inextricably linked to teacher development, it is at best a wasted opportunity and at worst a detrimental addition to an individual’s burdensome workload, if provision does not address the elephants in the room: wellbeing and retention.

CPD for schoolsSense check your CPD

To consider whether or not your programme of professional development contributes positively to the wellbeing of colleagues, it is worth undertaking a pre-mortem – taking a fresh look, and being honest and reflective.

Where CPD provokes a negative response, time and time again teachers report that it:

  • adds to workload by generating additional tasks or by taking up precious time that could have been used for planning, etc.
  • seems pointless. Although part of required non-contact hours, if there is no perceived value to the individual then it becomes wasted time.
  • feels disconnected and unrelated to personal experiences. Ofsted’s recent wellbeing research found that “misguided priorities are created through the focus on what Ofsted is perceived to want rather than what pupils need”.
  • feels autocratic and something that is being done to teachers rather than with them or by them.

So, how can we utilise CPD so that is has a buoyant and an efficacious impact? Perhaps mindfulness training might support mental health. 

Ensuring CPD hits the mark

Classes in yoga and meditation have historically been offered to pupils as stress management and, increasingly, we see a trend in the movement into CPD provision.

However, teachers are capable of organising their own relaxation and, in actual fact, what might be offered with good intentions becomes patronising: another enforced use of time, thus increasing workload pressure. Offering classes as an opt-in extra-curricular opportunity is quite different to stipulating participation.

The best way that CPD can support the wellbeing of teachers and educators is if it is deliberately designed to reduce workload and support development of knowledge. 

Effective CPD is iterative and has a regular rhythm.  Plan dates well beforehand and give them out at the start of the academic year. Allow people to organise their lives and stick to sessions. Content should be evidence informed so teachers gain access to the “best bets” for them and their pupils. Nevertheless, as a professional group, teachers should be trusted to know their pupils and to make decisions that benefit them.

Prioritise school input around pedagogical choices that reduce workload and are evidence informed: feedback methods to replace written marking, modelling, effective teacher instruction and explanations, retrieval techniques, metacognition. 

Get subject specific

Blanket CPD is not as effective as individual or subject-specific CPD, so leaders should build in a mixture of elements of both. Plan sessions to increase knowledge of key principles but build in subject sessions that allow for collaboration and a tailored approach. 

People at different stages of their careers have different needs. The Early Career Framework is designed to support NQTs at the start of their careers. A focus on crafting a nurturing environment is essential if we want to retain that third who will potentially leave.  

Yet, as teachers progress in their careers, they also progress in their development requirements. As educators, we are learners ourselves – there is no reason why our own learning journey should stop once our career is established. 

Many teachers express the desire to take control of their CPD and to have ownership. Establishing this culture can be achieved by carefully implementing a disciplined inquiry model that allows people to focus on a single area of practice, something that is done exceptionally well in schools such as Huntington School in York. 

Perhaps individual teachers who wish to undertake further qualifications could be offered part of their CPD time for this venture. 

After all, if we support teachers to reduce workload and empower them through individual professional development, then we support pupils by providing them with happy, knowledgeable lifelong learners. What better role model?

Joanne Tiplady is trust curriculum and research lead at the TEAL Trust and teaches English at South Hunsley School and Sixth Form, East Yorkshire

CPD for schools