Continuing professional development is a bedrock of teacher progression, not to mention a valuable tool when it comes to tackling retention.
It drives improvement in the classroom and helps teachers feel engaged, empowered and valued as professionals, so it’s essential to get right.
But the pressing need to continually improve, especially when a school finds itself under pressure from league tables or Ofsted, can result in a tendency to seize on the next shiny idea or to copy other schools.
This often takes the form of one-off whole-school sessions or expensive consultants, who perform an inspiring and entertaining hour for colleagues and then leave – the inspiration leaving not far behind them, as teachers get back to busy schedules and their own individual classroom issues.
Needless to say, these types of solution rarely have much impact.
Relevance is key
For CPD to be fruitful, teachers need to feel that it is relevant. There must be a buy-in and the belief that it is meeting individual development needs, and direct correlation with day-to-day experiences in the classroom.
Careful consideration needs to be given to the focus of the content of CPD, so that the problem is driving the solution and not the other way around.
However, evidence also suggests that a shared vision and purpose is a driving factor in engagement, and creating a culture of continual supported learning and development is key to success.
With the stakes so high for pupils, and a worsening recruitment and retention crisis, it is essential that schools get CPD right so they can ensure the best possible chances of developing teachers.
This was set out by the Department for Education in 2016 in its guidance, which stated that ”professional development must be prioritised by school leadership”.
Leaders have a duty to ensure that they develop coherent CPD programmes that lead to ”improved practice” and, in turn, to ”improved pupil outcomes”.
Provision must be regular and have a sustained rhythm that is iterative. It must allow for external input and expertise alongside the proactive individual desire to improve.
The process should challenge pre-existing beliefs and assumptions, and develop critical thinking. Where possible, it should be based on the best evidence available from sources such as the Education Endowment Foundation.
Putting the research into action
So, how might this look in practice?
Excellent models are being developed, in schools that are leading the way in thoughtful and proactive CPD provision, placing teaching and classroom-based improvement at its core.
Huntington Research School, in York, has successfully developed a ”disciplined inquiry” model, in which teachers engage in a small-scale inquiry focusing on one strategy.
They employ as many factors as possible in a classroom context to make this inquiry evidence-based, controlled and rooted in pre- and post-testing.
Teachers are empowered to develop an area of need specific to their pupils and are supported by a programme of evidence-based, whole-school or subject-level CPD, which complements current practice but also challenges assumptions.
This builds on the notion that everything works somewhere but that what works in one context may not in another.
Teachers bring their knowledge and experience, combined with an understanding of evidence, to work out the ”best bets” for their pupils.
A collaborative approach
Other approaches focus on peer-to-peer collaboration. Scalby School, in North Yorkshire, has created a rigorous model based on incremental coaching.
Its model encourages individual progression, employing a low-threat process and allowing a focus on one aspect of teaching. Teachers are able to make gradual, yet substantial, improvements to small details, which build expertise and directly impact on pupil outcomes.
This continual approach to development means they”ve been able to remove the traditional appraisal system, exemplifying a shift from performance management to performance development.
Progress such as this helps motivate staff and consequently contributes to wellbeing and job satisfaction – essential ingredients for keeping excellent teachers in the profession.
Whatever route a school decides to pursue, leaders must prioritise CPD provision for their teachers – indeed, this in an entitlement if teaching is to be considered a profession.
Effective CPD must:
- Give teachers access to expertise and evidenced-based pedagogical approaches.
- Provide a balance between autonomy and individual need alongside a shared purpose and learning culture.
- Be iterative, sustained over time and built on a regular rhythm.
- Build in sufficient time and practical support to allow development, evaluation and to embed changes to practice.