Key questions for external CPD

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When commissioning external trainers, consultants or CPD providers, what key principles should schools follow to ensure success? David Weston and Paul Crisp offer their advice.

The education system is awash with well-intentioned teachers, consultants, trainers and facilitators who claim to have the key to improving your school. 

Increasingly, schools are having to become savvy customers and demand much more, especially in terms of evidence of impact, before they part with their cash. So what are the key tenets that you should look for when commissioning such services? Here are four principles that we believe external CPD services must adhere to in order to prove that what they offer will have a genuine impact.

Don’t overclaim, use appropriate evaluation

There are different possible outcomes from training or advice and this should be made clear.

1, Inform: All the training is doing is to make participants aware of new material or an approach. A simple self-reported survey of previous participants is probably suitable evaluation for this type of CPD.

2, Influence: The training is having an effect on participants’ thinking, perhaps making them consider changing the way they teach or lead, and perhaps starting to understand the underlying theory.

3, Embed: Training should have securely embedded a new teaching practice leaving the practitioners with the capability of sustaining their new skills over time. This is quite a big claim for a service provider to make and needs good evidence and preferably some external verification. You will need some assessment of impact (perhaps pre and post-training tests) with the measures taken some time after the training and across sufficient numbers for validity. You need to be able to demonstrate not only that practice changed but that the new practice was secure over time and retained the key characteristics that made it effective.

4, Transform (teacher-level): At this level, you are sustainably changing an existing practice and equipping the participants with the skills and capacities to use and adapt their new knowledge in changing circumstances. Service providers should offer robust evidence, clear and specific specifications of the expected changes, and externally validated evidence of them occurring.

5, Transform (pupil outcomes): This is the biggest claim for a service provider to make and the hardest to justify. To do so, they will need evidence that the intervention had the impact they claim and that impact was not actually caused by something else. This is likely to require at least one robust randomised control trial.

Present a feasible theory of change

CPD providers must be able to put together a clear explanation of why their service is likely to improve the school and, ultimately, pupil learning outcomes. Key questions that should be addressed include:

  • Why the approach is likely to be successful (referencing an established research base, which should be hyperlinked, if possible).

  • How the facilitator will help participants move from awareness of these approaches to achieving whole-school impact (using well-evidenced approaches to professional development).

  • How participants can test whether the approaches are working.

The key here is for CPD providers to describe a clear chain of logic that starts with participating in training and shows a feasible progression to whole-school impact with benefit to pupils. Clearly, effective courses should be based on an approach with a decent evidence-base and which teaches effective principles to disseminate the approach more widely.

Offer evaluation tools

Schools are under great pressure to prove that they are spending money wisely. Training opportunities should include clear guidance on how schools should judge success, ideally for pupils. 

For example, a course on improving the teaching of reading might offer links to a number of standard tests of reading ability as well as give guidance on how to make more reliable professional judgements on fluency and confidence. 

Point to independent reviews

The final piece of the puzzle is independent reviews of training or consultancy. Have previous customers commented on whether the stated claims were achieved as advertised, whether a good service was offered, and whether they were able to show any impact on teaching practice and pupil outcomes?

You could check on the Teacher Development Trust’s (TDT) GoodCPDGuide to see if the CPD you are considering has been reviewed by others. CPD providers may also have commissioned an independent quality review, such as the one offered by Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE).SecEd 

  • David Weston is chief executive of the TDT and Paul Crisp is the managing director of the CUREE.

Further information.


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