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Why CPD has to get more personal

Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

I'm concerned at the amount of money that we spend each year on continuing professional development for staff at our school in relation to the return we get from it in terms of improvements in the classroom and to our results. Why does so much CPD seem to yield so little?

More of us in the profession could benefit from reflecting on this important question at some length.

Most schools allocate serious amounts of their budget each year for CPD.

Staff development is regarded by many as an integral part of their transformational plans for their school. The educational world moves at such a pace that few of us in leadership positions of any kind now shoulder the responsibilities for which we were originally trained. Similarly, the pedagogic landscape shifts not just with the latest research or change of the Secretary of State for Education, but also with the immediate priorities identified by each individual school as it looks for new ways to further improve. "New tricks" and "old dogs" come to mind.

There is a long-held conviction that our pupils will benefit if we continually update and hone the professional capabilities of our staff.

This usually means that we release staff from school, sometimes when it would be better if they were teaching. And what happens to them on such occasions? Often, they return to say that the course was a waste of time and that the best thing about it was the session breaks when they had a real chance to network with colleague professionals for largely therapeutic reasons.

This response is hugely informative, I think, and indicates by how much CPD is missing the mark. What colleagues returning from courses really mean is that the programmes they attend address only one part of themsleves, namely their professionalacademic development. What would be far more effective, for them and their schools, would be a CPD programme that touched more than merely their professionalism.

Why is it we insist that our educational provision for our pupils should address the whole person - but fail to adopt the same pedagogic principle for staff CPD? We strive to ensure that our curricular provision meets the spiritual, moral, emotional, social and academic needs of our pupils. Why not do the same for the development of our staff?

The breaks between sessions are valued because this is where these deeper needs are met - in encounters with colleagues. One reason I believe that so much of CPD yields such a poor return in terms of school improvement is because much of it is completely one dimensional; only good, at best, for the development of skills.

CPD would be far more effective if it also addressed spiritual, moral, emotional and social needs. Then it would have a chance of generating attitudinal change. Surely personal and professional development are connected.

If we want to nurture creative and reflective students then teachers need to be creative and reflective, too. If we want teachers to create the beneficial emotional climate for real learning to take place in our classrooms then they need to be emotionally aware, intelligent and articulate. If we want our students to be spiritually centred and morally astute then we have to have teachers who are spiritually and morally educated, too.

Professional development should not be separated from personal development.

If it remains so then we will continue to get the minimal return on our CPD investment that exists now in our schools.

If we want to transform people, the profession and ultimately our schools then CPD must address the whole person. So make sure that before you let anyone out for CPD you are certain that they are going to get more than they expected. Then you will begin to worry less about wasting public funds on misdirected CPD.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school in Bradford. A head for 13 years - this is his third post - and a teacher for 28, he is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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