CPD: Collaborating with colleagues makes it more fun, effective and sustained
Does the thought of continuing professional development make you feel tired? Do you think you have had enough of all that and just want to be left alone to get on with your teaching?
Well, it is not going to happen. In the drive to raise standards, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, has singled out "a culture of professional development" as probably the next phase of reform for a third-term Labour government. The development of that culture is well under way. The General Teaching Council has been boosting continuing professional development since it was set up five years ago. CPD has also been written in to the new teachers' professional standards framework and some pay rises are being linked to it.
But now comes heartening news: the most effective CPD - the kind that makes the biggest difference to teaching and thus to pupils' learning - is also the most enjoyable and rewarding for teachers. Research funded by the Department for Education and Skills, the GTC and the biggest teachers'
union, the NUT, shows that collaborative CPD, where teachers work in pairs or small groups with their colleagues, has a clear impact on the standard of teaching and learning in the classroom. And the second phase of the research, published at the end of June, showed that teachers who get involved in this kind of training are more likely to improve their skills than those who take courses on their own.
A review of research since 1991, led by a team from the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (Curee), found that collaborative professional development led to better results in the classroom and usually better pupil behaviour. It also made teachers more enthusiastic about their CPD.
"What is particularly exciting," says Philippa Cordingley of Curee, who chaired the review team, "is that when teachers were directed to take part in CPD and did not choose its overall focus, the collaborative method of working seemed to bring active ownership of the project."
On the other hand, the team found little evidence that individually oriented training had much impact on the teachers' practice or on the behaviour and attitude of their pupils. Despite trawling through 5,500 titles and abstracts of studies published in English since 1991 (mostly from the United States), they found only three papers on this type of training that were worthy of in-depth review. Of these, two found some evidence of changes in teachers' practice and beliefs and of a slight improvement in pupils' behaviour and attitudes. One found a minimal effect on teaching skills and none on pupils.
The team looked in depth at 11 "collaborative" studies which showed far more positive links with learning. Ten identified improvements in pupils'
results, accompanied in seven cases by improvements in behaviour or attitudes or both. All found links between the training and changes in teachers' practice, attitudes or beliefs. Six found these changes went along with a more positive attitude to their professional development.
Even though nearly all the studies were conducted in the US, Ms Cordingley says they are relevant to the English context, since the data gathered were at the level of teachers' interactions with pupils.
John Bangs of the NUT, a member of the review team, stresses that one-off courses should not be condemned out of hand: "They have a place in networking and making contacts; in helping teachers pick up and identify sources and resources. But they don't have the impact of sustained, collaborative CPD."
Once again, the answer seems to lie in sharing. Where training is focused on individual teachers, the new study suggests they make the most of it by developing partnerships with colleagues and sharing experiences with them, or acting as coaches for other teachers.
"Ground-breaking" is how Mr Bangs describes this programme of research.
"People assume there is an automatic correlation between CPD and school standards, but no one had ever proved it before. And the research provides a model of what the best collaborative CPD should be. It stresses to all those people who describe any conversation between teachers in a classroom as continuing professional development that, in fact, it isn't. It needs structure, it needs to be planned, it needs to be classroom-based and it needs an outside expert too."
How long should collaborative continuing professional development projects last? The first study showed that it had to last at least 12 weeks or a term to have any impact on pupils' learning. But this second study found that extending it for longer did not produce greater impact.
Teachers might groan that they already see enough of their colleagues without sharing training with them. But there is no suggestion that collaborators have to be in the same school. Colleagues in other local schools or within the same network of schools could work together just as well.
The third stage of the review will test more thoroughly some of the propositions thrown up so far. These include the greater effectiveness of experimentation in the classroom than simply thinking and talking about practice.
The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre: http:eppi.ioe.ac.uk