This summer, the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) launched its National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) to help schools across the UK share and develop world-class practice in the CPD of teachers in order to bring about profound and lasting improvement to schools and learners.
Sir Michael Barber’s much-vaunted message that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (1) is a powerful one that has led many school leaders and policy-makers to throw more initiatives and training at teachers in order to make them “better”.
The irony is that this approach continues to do little but lead to a loss of professionalism and autonomy, fuel stress levels, reduce motivation, and make it less likely that teachers will have the capacity to improve themselves.
Professor Viviane Robinson’s research (2) shows quite clearly that focusing on “making teachers teach better” is only half as effective a leadership activity than leading teacher learning and building capacity for collaborative professional development.
The research identified that the most effective way that leaders can improve outcomes for children and young people is to focus on teacher-led professional development (3).
It is believed that the difference between poor teaching and highly effective teaching is just under half a year’s extra progress for most students, while those from disadvantaged backgrounds stand to benefit even more (4).
High-quality collaborative professional development and teacher learning (as distinct from low-quality cultures of one-off training that are “done to” teachers) has been shown to raise young people’s engagement and attainment, as well as raising the motivation and confidence of teachers.
Yet despite the evidence of what works well for improving teaching and learning, the habits of disjointed, one-off training, insufficient evaluation of impact and lack of robust research evidence have proven hard to shift. School leaders have struggled with the challenge of profoundly changing their model of professional learning into one with much greater, positive impact for teachers and learners.
In order to provide support to these leaders, the TDT has launched the NTEN. The network is a collaborative partnership of schools and colleges focused on innovation and improvement through highly effective and evidence-based staff professional development.
It has been developed alongside schools, in consultation with experts, through a series of pilots supported by the National College for Teaching and Leadership and the National Union of Teachers.
The Network was launched at the Houses of Parliament in July when speakers included journalist and broadcaster Dr Ben Goldacre, Education Select Committee member (and TDT trustee) Charlotte Leslie MP, and the National College’s director of Teaching Schools, John Stephens.
The NTEN supports schools and colleges to improve the quality of teaching, increase staff confidence and create better learning outcomes for young people using:
Peer-audits against a CPD Quality Framework with Bronze, Silver and Gold awards for excellent practice.
A series of national and regional support events to help staff and leadership teams improve learning and attainment through evidence-informed approaches to leadership and training.
Access to a national network of like-minded schools with partnerships and visits to observe and develop outstanding practice.
A bank of expert and shared resources to help schools improve policies and practices around professional development, performance management and innovation.
Expert support to help schools successfully engage in research and development and access evidence of the most effective teaching and learning practices.
Research-led support for using professional development in order to close attainment gaps in schools.
One of the most successful aspects is the NTEN Lesson Study – a triad-based approach to collaborative professional development where teachers plan a lesson and predict the effect of specific teaching activities on specific pupils. They then teach and observe the lesson and follow this by brief pupil interviews.
Finally they reflect on their predictions in order to plan the next lesson in the sequence. The approach used in the NTEN builds on the increasingly popular Lesson Study model with extra support for rigorous evaluation of impact and a strong foundation in evidence-based practice.
When collaborative teacher enquiry approaches, such as Lesson Study, are embedded in a culture where teachers are empowered to take charge of their own improvement, schools see improved morale and retention for staff and a greater depth of learning and engagement for the young people in their classes (5).
This process, just as importantly, gives teachers autonomy over their work, which is motivating and ensures that wisdom and expertise is shared and explored throughout teams rather than being lost.
There continues to be compounding pressure on teachers to “perform” in certain ways, irrespective of the impact on pupil outcomes. All of these pressures have led to an explosion of training that is “done to” teachers, a reduction of professional autonomy in the classroom and a growing frustration among the profession.
Simply piling on the pressure to schools and colleges is not enough to help them improve. Organisations thrive when they both challenge and help each other, holding their peers to account while fostering a sense of joint responsibility and mutual support.
The NTEN provides a model of professional development that will help improve the sustainability of our schools and enable leaders to inspire staff to be the drivers of improvement rather than mere delivery mechanisms.SecEd Further informationFor more on the NTEN, visit www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org/teacher-enquiry-network References
CAPTION: Evidence: Delegates at the launch of the National Teacher Enquiry Network (top) at the Houses of Parliament during which Dr Ben Goldacre (middle) and David Weston (above) spoke
- Robinson, V.M.J., Lloyd, C., & Rowe, K.J. (2008). The Impact of Leadership on Student Outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership type. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(5)635-674
- Machin, S., Murphy, R., Hanushek, E. (2011). Improving the Impact of Teachers on Pupil Achievement in the UK – interim findings: www.suttontrust.com/public/documents/1teachers-impact-report-final.pdf