Six ways to save your school from bad CPD

CPD can be a battle if it is imposed from the top down – here's how to ensure that it has an impact, says Joanne Tiplady

Teacher CPD doesn't have to be a battle - make sure that it is collaborative and not just imposed from the top down, says CPD can be patchy and ineffective – here are six rules to ensure that it has a positive impact, says Joanne Tiplady

CPD was one of the hot topics at the recent NEU conference; hot enough, in fact, for one member of the teaching union to suggest that it is “bollocks”.

It’s a strong statement. And if it’s one that applies to professional development in your school, somebody needs to take action, urgently.

I’m not saying that all CPD works well.


Quick read: ‘The best form of CPD? Give teachers time to talk’

Quick listen: How to train a teacher

Want to know more? The secret of great leadership? Putting staff first


Most teachers have anecdotes about bad CPD that they have endured (myself included, over a 20-year career). The worst of it can be truly terrible: reactionary, tokenistic, faddy, top-down, sporadic and often costly as schools buy in consultants or send staff out on standalone courses that provide an interesting day, a lovely lunch, yet quickly become a distant memory once back at the chalkface.  

But CPD is an entitlement and the Department for Education’s Standard for Teachers' Professional Development states that it “must be prioritised by school leadership”.   

bad cpd schools

Teachers deserve high-quality, expert development throughout their careers, and they also have a responsibility to take ownership. As Dylan William, professor of educational assessment at University College London, says, every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better.  

And this is something that so many teachers are doing informally; engaging in evidence and professional conversations, often across schools, offering support and expertise, giving their time and empowering others. Look no further than the rise of researchED, which has connected thousands.

So what does good, school-based CPD look like?

Good CPD is frequent

The best CPD is iterative and has regular rhythm. One-off sessions are likely, unfortunately, to remain just that.  

It’s focused

It’s important to have one priority and embed this. The EEF Implementation Guidance Report suggests using a logic model to plan for implementation and evaluation.  

It’s relevant

Everything works somewhere. Do you really need to focus on metacognition or is that simply the latest buzz word? Make sure the problem is driving the solution and not the other way around.

It’s subject-specific  

Generic CPD alone is ineffective. Interleave whole-school sessions with allocated subject sessions. Allow the experts to lead (although that doesn’t always means heads of department). Utilise the subject knowledge from your school.

It’s evidence-based

A culture of consuming evidence is key; research leads should support colleagues at all levels to be research-aware. Meanwhile, look at establishing CPD libraries or reading groups and encourage professional conversation.

It involves choice

Top-down CPD should be avoided at all costs. Teachers need to be empowered and trusted to know the context of their classrooms. The disciplined inquiry model creates a culture of reflection, allowing teachers to engage with one aspect of their practice.

Joanne Tiplady is an English teacher, research lead and literacy coordinator at Beverley High School in East Yorkshire

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