Changing your approach to ensure high-impact CPD

Written by: David Weston | Published:
Image: MA Education

Ahead of the publication of the government’s new CPD standards, David Weston looks at how we need to shift our thinking on professional development

The most successful schools are built on an approach that is far beyond the traditional programme of INSET days, courses and twilight sessions. They fundamentally believe that teachers constantly learn, develop and improve.

In this article I draw upon research, practical examples from the Teacher Development Trust Network, and the forthcoming Department for Education CPD Standards in order to lay out some of the required shifts in thinking as well as the necessary accompanying systems, leadership and resourcing.

Designing and resourcing CPD

A traditional CPD programme is a mix of one-off briefings, courses, conferences and events, mainly aimed at information-giving, update around curriculum, statutory training and generic teaching advice. These elements can be either compulsory or optional, often driven from the senior leadership team.

A more effective approach focuses on embedding impact over information-giving, prioritising fewer themes and taking more time on each. Each priority is weaved in across the year, with multiple activities establishing a rhythm of repeated and sustained improvement and learning.

Typically colleagues will receive input, observe experts and peers, have time to try things out in their classrooms and have time to evaluate and reflect – all in cycles of activity. This activity will include in-class work (during lessons and observations), formal CPD meetings (such as INSET days, twilight sessions and weekly or fortnightly protected CPD time) as well as other settings (such as department meetings).

In the more modern approach, key CPD themes are likely to include:

  • Career development needs of teachers, teaching assistants, and non-teaching staff. These needs encompass leadership, accreditation (both professional and academic) as well as support and opportunities such as job swaps, shadowing, coaching, mentoring, etc.
  • Specific areas of student learning (e.g. subjects and topics) or learning behaviours. These are identified through analysis of curriculum, assessment, external examination plus other data and both pupil and teacher judgement.
  • Statutory, safety and systems training.

In this approach, there is less focus on a list of what teachers should do and how they perform.

Instead the priority is what students need and how teachers can develop to achieve better outcomes. This intrinsically encourages much more focus on aspects of curriculum and on subject and specialist knowledge.

Leading professional learning

Whereas the traditional model of CPD typically sees one senior leadership team member pulling together the annual CPD plan, the more modern approach sees professional development leadership distributed more widely, and tightly interwoven with the leadership of teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, induction, early career development and leadership development.

An increasingly common model is to have a deputy headteacher with primary responsibility for the development of staff and teaching working with one or more assistant headteachers and a team of lead practitioners (more experienced staff who have been recognised for significant subject and general teaching expertise) while also delegating significant aspects to middle leaders to co-ordinate professional learning within their subject or specialism.

This team works with staff at all levels to identify what they need to develop in order to respond to changing student and school priorities. The CPD team develops a strong flow of information from the bottom up, constantly gathering feedback, while working strenuously to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Another core element is building in discussion around professional learning and career development as a regular feature of line management and appraisal discussions at all levels. This provides another source of information for planning and adapting the CPD offer.

Subject and department meetings are a strong driver of CPD needs analysis by conducting on-going analysis of how students are responding to the demands of the curriculum, and anticipating staff members’ needs in both teaching and assessing it knowledgeably, effectively and efficiently. This is supported by central analysis of teaching needs for more general and cross-subject aspects of pedagogy and practice.

This type of analysis is driven well by a knowledgeable team of leaders and lead practitioners who stay closely connected to the latest evidence about effective practice. CPD is then prioritised by matching up student needs and staff needs along with the evidence of the approaches most likely to effectively meet those needs.

Development through appraisal

Appraisal and performance management systems must be carefully designed. An effective approach is to make the majority focus of appraisal and performance management on developing staff members’ knowledge and skill while retaining a level of quality assurance to identify the very bottom end of performance and recognising particularly exceptional practice at the very top end.

A development approach to appraisal discussions focuses on comparing students’ responses and behaviours to teachers against a detailed understanding of curriculum expectations and the school’s vision. This leads to an identification of CPD needs and career aspirations which can feed into the wider planning.

Finding time, space and expertise

Teachers are unlikely to translate learning into improved outcomes for students unless they are given sufficient time and resource, coupled with high-quality expertise and facilitation, in an atmosphere of trust and respect.

Many schools are now carving out weekly or fortnightly CPD time which is focused on giving time for on-going collaboration, planning and assessment which focuses on curriculum knowledge and aims. This can vary from 45 minutes per fortnight up to, in the case of one school, two-and-a-half hours per week.

In effective schools, whole-staff briefings are minimised, subject and team meetings are kept as free of briefing and administrative work as possible, and the focus is on improving and sharing teaching knowledge and practice in direct response to student needs.

Notably, in a time of huge system and exam change there must be some flexibility in this – new curricula and exams require more time dealing with inevitable administration issues. Good will is created when the right resources are available for this work. This includes making adequate allowance for decent quality refreshments (tea, coffee, water, biscuits, etc) and the right venues with comfortable chairs, tables, the right audio-visual equipment and a location where there isn’t too much noise or distraction.

Effective schools work extremely hard to manage workload. Marking, planning, staff meetings, data entry, covering other colleagues, duties and emails are all key areas where time can be saved, which can then be used to not only ensure time for CPD but also reduce the background stress and pressure so that learning can take place.

Finally, effective CPD ensures that all staff are connected to the latest practice through subject and specialist association membership, research bulletins, conferences and social media. However, it is also recognised that to embed this knowledge it is necessary to work with external experts and facilitators who can support, challenge, model practice and inspire colleagues internally.

  • David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust. He is chairman of the Department for Education’s CPD Expert Group. David is a current governor at two schools and is a former teacher. Follow him on Twitter at @informed_edu

Further information

Find out more about the research and practice around effective CPD on the Teacher Development Trust’s website at See also the charity’s Developing Great Teachers report (June 2015) at


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