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CPD needs to avoid the tick-box trap

Schools must plan carefully to make sure they get the best from their 35 hours, says Neil Paterson

In a competition worthy only of the school playground, the prize for the best alternative description of continuing professional development for this week went to one of our educational consultants, who suggested "cumbersome process of distraction". Admittedly this was delivered entirely tongue in cheek, but it draws attention to the big challenge of CPD - to use the investment as the hugely positive opportunity it can be; and not to fall into the trap of training for training's sake.

There is a very real danger in schools that CPD becomes a tick-box process as it has in other sectors, where staff take on board that they are required to spend a set time in training, but managers fail to tie this in with clearly identified objectives and outcomes. At best, that sort of training becomes a pleasant distraction from the daily grind but it can also amount to no more than a waste of scarce resources. In the very worst scenario, bureaucracy of the whole complex area of CPD takes over and becomes a drain on energy and time in its own right.

Under current guidelines, a school with 50 teaching staff will undertake CPD training that amounts to a full year of teachers' time away from the classroom. There has to be a substantial return for that level of sacrifice within any school but, from working extensively within the education sector, our experience at Hay Group is that too many schools don't tie the investment closely enough to identifiable, positive outcomes.

Hay Group's research indicates that teacher-pupil relationships are absolutely essential in creating an effective learning climate. We have found that classroom climate accounts for as much as a 30 per cent variance in pupil performance, and that the teacher can affect climate by as much as 70 per cent. (This is regardless of the socio-demographic background of the school.) Teacher characteristics have been shown to have the greatest impact on climate; not least their ability to manage relationships, and this knowledge needs to be translated to those who are managing training for teachers.

Our research indicates there are five broad clusters of characteristics which contribute most to a positive climate for learning:

* professionalism (confidence, respect for others, challenge and support)

* thinking

* leading (managing pupils, passion for learning, flexibility, holding people accountable)

* relating to others (understanding others, influencing)

* planning and setting expectations (drive for improvement) The climate and learning environment encouraged by headteachers should put great emphasis on these same characteristics through CPD. Yet while good teachers seem to recognise this logic and apply it in the classroom, resource managers are generally less good at applying it to the learning needs of their staff.

Good teachers energise, enthuse, influence and inspire pupils, yet how often are those qualities put to the forefront of the teacher training regime and CPD programme? Too many teachers and training resource planners take a "deficit approach" to self-evaluation, and concentrate on specific "knowledge gaps", as highlighted in a recent report from the Scottish Executive. This is arguably a legacy of the current testing and inspection regime under which teachers and schools operate, as well as years of generalised negative perceptions by politicians, press and the public.

Hay Group would advocate a totally different approach to CPD which both encourages people on to the next level and enhances self-esteem. The only valid foundation for any CPD programme is for each individual, within the context of their organisation, to do an honest evaluation of where they are now and what strengths they have to build on. Experience tells us that building on the strengths which already exist within the team is much more constructive than any attempt to use training to put right what is wrong.

This is the approach that good teachers take in the classroom with their pupils: praise the good and build on strengths. It is just a shame they do not apply it to themselves more often. It is the logic behind encouraging pupils on to greater things and we would argue it is no less the logic that should be applied to get the best out of CPD.

Teachers looking to develop their skills should encourage feedback through all the traditional channels, but Hay Group also advocates including feedback from pupils. This makes the whole process much more meaningful and Hay Group is currently working with a number of schools to implement appropriate systems to gather such feedback, using both the internet and more traditional, paper-based systems.

Good, self-evaluative schools will also incorporate some sort of peer support (coaching, mentoring) to ensure that feedback is used effectively, not simply seen as a set of data. Only through honest, supportive evaluation can teaching professionals identify which aspects of their classroom practice need development. And only by being crystal clear on the desired outcomes can resource managers in schools evaluate the true effectiveness of the programmes on offer.

The 35 hours of CPD a year will seem a lot to some teachers and nothing at all to others, but it offers a wonderful opportunity to boost the development process - which ought to be viewed as continuous anyway.

It is simply not enough to sign up to CPD training and note the entry in a training folder somewhere as done and dusted. The whole topic is simply too important not to be given the detailed analysis it deserves.

Neil Paterson is director of international HR consultants, Hay Group.

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