CPD: 'How our department is taking a DIY approach’

Amid tight budgets, access to good professional development is limited, but this subject leader has the answer

Nikki Carlin


With school budgets tighter then ever, most teachers are experiencing a professional development drought. Many schools now do CPD in-house, but this is often of varying quality and is not always relevant to individual teachers.

To be honest, external courses are often not much better.

I haven’t been on a paid-for external CPD course in about five years. The last one was when the film studies specification changed. As leader of that particular course, I was allowed to go on the rather expensive day out to a hotel function room, where I ate some dry sandwiches and had the course specification read aloud to me with accompanying PowerPoint slides.

Fortunately for me, I am an avid edu-Twitter geek and this lets me take a do-it-yourself approach to professional development. Running the Team English Twitter community gives me direct access to our ever-growing bank of resources and allows me to share this with thousands of other social-media-savvy teachers. I have come across many incredible blogs, ideas and books that I might otherwise not have heard of.

But not all teachers are on Twitter, and neither should they feel the need to be. It can be a noisy place at times and hard to navigate. So what about all those teachers who aren’t able to take control of their own CPD? What can leaders do to help?

Delegate and facilitate

In-house CPD sessions are a good place to start, but they require careful thought. Few things are more frustrating than sitting through an hour-long session on effective questioning when what you really need help with is how to support EAL students. Whole-school sessions have their place, and when planned well, they can be incredibly useful. But what about subject-specific CPD? Do all middle leaders have the confidence to hand training over to their team?

This is the very thing I started doing this year, and it has been a huge success. We are fortunate enough to have timetabled departmental meetings, so every week since September we have come together before lunch to annotate key scenes in texts, work through all the anthology poems, look at literary theories and learn about historical context.

Every week, the plan is the same: we break into little groups, talk, annotate, debate, then come together to share ideas. My only job is to facilitate, and my brilliant department does the rest. When one of the team said “I love these meetings. It’s like being back at university,” I knew we were doing the right thing.

Teachers feel invigorated and grow in confidence, and this is evident in the classroom. I have found expertise in every member of my department, from one who seems to know Macbeth inside out, to the one who writes stunning poetry in her free time and also taught us all what The Prelude was really about (that was an eye-opener!)

Use CPD time strategically

Before you declare that the above approach isn’t possible in your context, ask the person in charge of timetabling at your school if there is ever a period when the whole team is free – it is essentially PPA time being used to support and develop your subject knowledge. If this cannot happen, there’s no stopping you from using after-school meetings or twilights for this sort of training once the other business is out of the way.

One of the best departmental CPD sessions we ran this year was with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, which was offering a free creative-writing session for teachers. They wanted to forge links with the school so we were more than happy to oblige. It was an evening class, so I agreed with our line manager that our hours spent at the training be used as directed time, thus freeing up a twilight session for us later in the term.

When the team know this isn’t an extra burden on their already strained work/life balance, it’s easier to get people on board. Many organisations are willing to offer free training for the chance to promote their work in schools, from theatres and libraries to university departments and local sports facilities. Ask around and see what you can find.

Look beyond your department

Finally, consider cross-department collaboration if you feel the needs in your department are beyond your range of expertise.

We have learnt a lot this year about strategies for helping students memorise information by working with the history department.

Need help with supporting EAL students or ways to make grammar engaging? The MFL team does this every day. Is your department struggling to facilitate practical lessons? Ask PE, science and DT. They sometimes have kids dealing with actual fire, so I reckon they know their stuff.

You don’t need to pay hundreds of pounds to some external consultant or tolerate substandard whole-school CPD. There is true talent and knowledge in your school, your academy trust or your local area somewhere. It is up to us to seek it out.

Nikki Carlin is English subject leader at a school in Manchester. She tweets @noopuddles and runs the @Team_English1 account

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Nikki Carlin

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