'If schools want professional development to work, they should do it themselves'

A struggling school in Nottinghamshire, England, put professional development at the centre of efforts to improve. Deputy head Donna Casey explains:

Around two years ago The Manor Academy was in a very different place. Inspectors were monitoring us because students’ education wasn't up to standard. We needed to change radically.

Along with a new curriculum and full staff restructure, we overhauled CPD. Our old approach of occasional twilight training wasn't up to it. CPD would now be led by staff and become a non-negotiable part of the week for everyone.

Each Wednesday, staff spend the first half of a two-hour session in ‘teaching and learning communities’. These may include management, classroom teachers, support staff and an ‘exceptional practitioner’ – a teacher at the top of their game.

Members share similar performance-management objectives. Several may need support around questioning in class, for example. Mixed groups make sharing knowledge easier. In the past, expertise might have been hidden away.

Groups use a coaching approach called ‘action learning sets’. A teacher shares a concern, but colleagues ask questions instead of giving solutions. Most people have the answers within them, they just need help bringing them out.

We also started full staff briefings on Mondays to discuss the week’s focus and to share tips. A five-minute ‘tweak of the week’ slot invites staff members to give quick presentations on successful classroom strategies.

In addition, we introduced a coaching programme, led by our exceptional practitioners. If a teacher needs support they agree targets with the coach and work with them twice a week for six weeks, including one-to-ones and lesson observations.

The impact of our approach is undeniable: 75 per cent of lessons are good or outstanding; two years ago it was 40 per cent. In 2010, 66 per cent of pupils got five or more good GCSEs; in 2013, 82 per cent.

No school can be outstanding without regular, personalised professional development. No one here is allowed to arrange meetings or leave school at CPD time. If we are not totally committed, it simply won't work.

Donna Casey is a contributor to a paper on CPD published with the Teacher Development Trust

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