Schools that have the poorest academic or inspection results are the least likely to prioritise subject-specific professional development, a new report has found.
And teachers in England are less likely to undertake subject-specific professional development than their counterparts in most high-performing countries.
UK teachers have high workloads, and struggle to find time for professional development, the report adds.
Developing Great Subject Teaching, a review of existing research into subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD) at primary and secondary schools across the UK was carried out by the Wellcome Trust charitable foundation.
The report found that schools that had poor pupil outcomes or inspection results were more likely to prioritise generic school-improvement approaches – relating to issues such as classroom management or marking policies – over subject-specific CPD.
“Developing the curriculum – and the subject-specific CPD that can support this – can be seen as something of a luxury in these schools,” the report states.
Writing in Tes this week, David Weston, chief executive of CPD charity the Teacher Development Trust, said: "This is not good enough. It's feasible that turning around a struggling school requires additional focus on some of the basics, but this should be in addition to a regular diet of quality trainning.
"We need to make our most-challenged schools into places that are steeped in professional support and development opportunities."
The Wellcome report also found that just under 50 per cent of English teachers had participated in curriculum-related CPD in the 12 months before a recent study. By contrast, almost 90 per cent of teachers in Shanghai, and 80 per cent of teachers in Singapore, had done so.
Teachers in England were also around three times less likely than their international peers to say that they needed more subject-specific CPD.
“There is strong evidence that teachers across the UK face high workloads, and so struggle to find time for CPD,” the report states.
Demand for subject-specific professional development tends to increase with changes in curriculum and assessment policies. However, the types of CPD that schools engage in as a result tends to be limited to exam-board briefings attended by one or two members of staff, rather than extended professional-development programmes for all staff, the report found.
“School leaders play a significant role in setting expectations for CPD and in influencing the extent to which it is prioritised, supported and integrated with other internal initiatives,” the report states.
But classroom teachers were also more likely to identify an interest in and need for subject-related professional development than school leaders, particularly at secondary level.
The report identified a number of barriers to delivering high-quality subject-related CPD in schools. Budget and resources were consistently raised by heads and teachers as the most significant challenge.
School staff had a range of competing priorities, key among which is the need to meet external accountability requirements. New policy initiatives, such as Prevent, can also require staff-development time.
There was also a tendency in some schools to assume that externally run CPD courses would be of poor quality, with little impact on practice.
“The pressure on time and resources can mean that schools adopt suboptimal approaches, such as a single member of staff attending an external event, and then cascading that learning to colleagues in a single twilight session,” the report states.