TES Extra - CPD - On top of the job

Victoria Neumark examines the pros and cons of CPD

Victoria Neumark

They call it the "new professionalism". Continuing professional development (CPD) is designed to raise standards, improve career structures for teachers and support staff, and reinvigorate schools. For long consigned to the limbo of "Baker days" - those five annual in-service training days - CPD has been reinvented as a complex mesh of learning opportunities for school staff and a burgeoning business for training providers.

But there is a job to be done to help the people who work in schools to embrace CPD. As Tim Brighouse writes (opposite), suspicion and patchy provision dog staff training. Is it something managers insist upon as part of performance management? And does it really help teachers progress in their careers?

In a sense, the growing importance of CPD evidences a coming of age for teaching. It is not alone among the pedagogic professions: the further and higher education sectors are experiencing similar moves to improve professional development.

Often considered the poor relation to the "senior" professions such as law and medicine, teaching is discovering a new confidence and status. Rightly, it seeks to underline its rising status with more rigorous and meaningful continuing training.

A report last year by the centre-left think tank Demos, in association with the General Teaching Council for England, "DIY Professionalism Futures for Teaching" by John Craig and Catherine Fieschi, spoke of the need to reconnect teachers with their profession.

"Teachers retain an ideal of a unified, independent and formally structured profession. But the distance between this ideal and the lived, daily experience of teaching creates a sense of a profession that has lost its way," the paper said.

Good quality CPD promises to reconnect the ideal with the practice. In the process, professional satisfaction and teachers' careers ought to be enhanced. And, of course, pupils benefit from a highly trained and motivated school workforce.

Yet CPD can be divisive. Classroom teachers tend to be more sceptical than school management teams of the benefits and practicalities of staff training.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says: "There is every argument for ensuring that teachers are at the top of their game when it comes to skills and knowledge.

"However, teachers need the time, space and funding for CPD. The Government needs to grant teachers regular sabbaticals and a guaranteed annual cash sum to choose and pay for their professional development."

A formidable array of research and initiatives has been marshalled to encourage teachers to exercise "their responsibility and right to engage in CPD," as Liz Francis, director of the teachers' programme at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) puts it. Professionals must keep themselves up to date, continuing to develop and improve their practice, she says. "It's an integral part of being effective in your work, not an add-on."

Philippa Cordingley, founder and chief executive of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, has co-authored four influential studies on professional development.

Good CPD, she says, is:

- sustained, probably over 2 to 3 terms;

- linked to work in classroom;

- collaborative;

- personalised;

- connected to school goals;

- entitled to mentoring and coaching;

- focused on the needs of learners.

That is a lot to think about when planning training, and the growing number of people (CPD leaders, coaches, buddies, mentors and so on) who plan and implement it in schools need help.

The complexity does not stop there. Currently there are 80 postgraduate professional development (PPD) providers running courses from September 2008, with nearly 30,000 places available. The GTC's Teacher Learning Academy accredits four levels. There are also CPD courses run either directly by the National Strategies, including subject-specific professional development, or through local authorities. And there is the forthcoming masters degree in teaching and learning (see page 5).

In a bid to make sense of the opportunities, and to help schools and staff get the most out of professional development, the TDA has launched a new online CPD resource (see page 4).

Tom Moody, project manager for the TDA professional development database, said: "We understand that CPD leaders and school staff are often bombarded with different options for CPD. The database aims to provide a single source of information on the whole range of high quality CPD provision in England."

There is a great deal of work to be done to embed CPD in schools, but the sector seems largely supportive of the principle of professional development.

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Victoria Neumark

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