Want to raise standards? Then focus on your staff

28th October 2016 at 01:00
As we face the challenge of recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our schools, we need to build long-term development plans for our staff

For me, one of the strongest impressions that multi-academy trusts (MATs) make is the focus that they place on retaining and developing their best teachers and leaders. For new trusts, being able to plan the career progression of their staff in a strategic manner is one of the principle motivations for setting up a MAT in the first place.

Schools do not improve in a linear manner and our strongest MATs build their improvement strategy through a relentless focus on teaching and leadership development. The best CPD models that I see are designed around personalised programmes. I see far fewer generic middle-leadership programmes being offered, and many more structured conversations about accountability, coaching techniques, and curriculum modelling than was the case even two years ago.

As we tackle the challenge of recruiting and retaining the best people for our schools, we need to build long-term development plans for staff

Professional development, at its best, has three equally important components. First, the content can be deployed almost immediately to benefit children quickly.

Second, the training is part of a peer-to-peer support package where understanding the trainer and trainee role is interchangeable.

Third, there is the opportunity to test the teaching and leadership capability of an individual in a different setting. I’ve seen examples of “teacher exchanges” where colleagues doing similar roles have effectively swapped schools within a MAT for a short period of time. This broadens the understanding of teaching and leading in different contexts, and sits at the core of great CPD in a MAT collaboration.

Making professional development effective

Much good work is underway to promote effective CPD for teachers, such as the Department for Education’s standard for teachers’ professional development, published earlier this year. The standard was developed by an expert group of headteachers, teachers and academics, chaired by David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust. It supports teachers and headteachers, as well as professional development providers, to understand what makes CPD effective and how to make choices to prioritise and enable high-quality CPD.

Research is also significant in the CPD culture. I was pleased to see that there are to be 11 education research hubs across the country, which will receive funding from the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute for Effective Education to build regional support networks to help schools make better practical use of evidence.

Leadership development is key in the CPD landscape. The best providers see their role as developing a culture of leadership development, not simply about delivering CPD programmes. Similarly, my team has worked with other providers to create new development opportunities for leaders who are working across more than one school, as well as for chief executives of growing and expanding trusts.

These can be found on the gov.uk website, along with links to guidance on school improvement and financial management, among other subjects. As national schools commissioner, I value the position of high-quality training in our education system.

As we tackle the challenge of recruiting and retaining the best people for our schools, we need to build long-term development plans for staff that help them to understand not only the journey they can make but also how their MAT will help them to navigate it.

The goal of delivering more good schools for every community is dependent on our best leaders unleashing the potential of our teams. When we do this, we will see the transformation that every parent wants for the school that their child attends. I have no doubt that this will happen.

Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner

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