TES Extra - CPD - The pick of the crop

A new online CPD marketplace offers greater choice, Victoria Neumark reports

Victoria Neumark

People are drowning in email and leaflets advertising professional development and training courses, says Liz Francis, director of the teachers' programme at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

Information overload is such that the school managers charged with organising continuing professional development often bin all incoming advertisements and offers for courses, prefering instead to rely on word of mouth recommendations when selecting training and consultants.

If CPD is to be encouraged and taken seriously, then what is required is a way to search, compare and, eventually, rate the myriad opportunities in the expanding area of professional development.

From October 17 this is exactly what is offered in the shape of the TDA's CPD database.

There is no other database of CPD provision in schools in England, although a successful one already functions in Scotland. Although the primary audience is CPD leaders, the database can be accessed by everyone. This year's "no frills" pilot will establish if it fills a need: more than 260 providers are already registered.

Gone are the days of "plopping a course" into a teacher's working life, as Ofsted scathingly described it in 2006. Gone are the days, too, of continuing to develop only teaching staff. Opportunities on the database are for all staff, although only teachers have their pay and progression linked to performance management.

The pilot database should support planning: both leaders and staff looking for appropriate support will be able to search and retrieve information on training using such filters as location, curriculum subject, delivery method and focused area.

Providers can upload course details for free and they will be required to keep their information up to date.

Schools will be able to upload their own CPD provision, thereby sharing best practice, and they can use the advice and guidance on the site to improve that provision.

Sara Morgan, head of professional learning at the General Teaching Council for England, welcomed the database, describing it as an "important choice" for teachers.

Quality control will be underwritten by a code of practice, which providers have to agree to on registration, strengthened by small scale checks. The TDA is also promising to experiment with user feedback as used on Amazon and other websites. The theory is, however, that a healthy free market will speedily weed out poor providers.

There is no question, agrees Philippa Cordingley of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, that "People need better information about what is available." She says that if the database is to be more than a directory, it needs to help CPD leaders become skilful decision makers who start not from "What do staff need to know?" or "What new things do they have to do?", but rather "How do things need to improve for learners?" and "What skills do staff need for that to happen?"

The TDA provides a one-stop-shop of helpful resources and initiatives at www.tda.gov.ukcpd.

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Victoria Neumark

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