Pupil Premium: Using CPD to narrow the gaps

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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The evidence is clear – the quality of teachers and teaching is one of the most important factors in raising outcomes, and disadvantaged pupils are disproportionally affected by the quality of teaching. Maria Cunningham looks at the role of CPD in narrowing the gaps

If there were more funds available to schools, 70 per cent of British parents would opt to spend the money on more teachers, or better pay for existing teachers.

This was the second highest proportion across 29 countries recently surveyed by the Varkey Foundation, and it shows that you don’t have to be working in education to recognise the simple fact that teachers matter. Not only that, but if we are to meet the needs of all learners, the quality of teaching matters.

Why focus on teaching?

You may well be familiar with the Teaching and Learning Toolkit published by the Sutton Trust and Durham University in 2011 – since hosted and extended by the Education Endowment Foundation.

One of the main headlines of the toolkit’s findings is that the average student makes 40 per cent more progress with highly effective teaching than they do with poor teaching.

Even more remarkably, a disadvantaged student can make 50 per cent less progress than the average student with poor teaching, yet this progress could be tripled to 150 per cent of the average progress if the teaching is highly effective.

Progress: The Teaching and Learning Toolkit has shown how much progress students, especially those who are disadvantaged, can make with high-quality teaching


We can’t deny the evidence – disadvantaged pupils are disproportionally affected by the quality of teaching. Schools and leaders must keep this in mind at all times if they are to spend Pupil Premium money effectively.

What should we be spending the funds on?

We at the Teacher Development Trust recently analysed school budgets and found that schools in some local authorities allocated as much as £1,200 per teacher to CPD. However, while Hampshire and Newham topped the tables, schools in Solihull budgeted only £400 per teacher (Stark differences in per-teacher CPD spending, SecEd, February 2018: http://bit.ly/2FyQCRz).

This vast variation in resource across the country is deeply concerning. Effective teacher development is like cooking – you have to invest in good ingredients in order to create quality results. Even a great in-house process won’t make any impact if schools don’t have the money to find quality experts, courses and training tools. When decision-makers scrimp on teacher development, it will be pupils that ultimately lose out.

Professor Rob Coe of Durham University agrees: “Research evidence is very clear that investing in high-quality support for teachers’ professional learning is not just one of the most effective things schools can do to raise standards, but one of the best value choices they can make.”

We appreciate that value for money is notoriously difficult to measure, but by analysing needs and evaluating CPD well, it is possible for school leaders to show measurable impact that justifies spending in this area.

How to focus your CPD

Our charity has intensively supported hundreds of schools with their staff CPD and seen first-hand how investing time and resource into improving professional learning can transform workforce morale, improve teacher efficacy and ultimately boost outcomes for students regardless of their background.

What do these schools have in common? They take care to build a positive culture where trust exists among colleagues, and where staff at all levels maintain a clear and tight focus on pupil needs. Yes, professional learning activities should improve teacher performance, but with a strong school-wide CPD programme this will occur as a result of starting with the pupils in your classrooms rather than vice-versa.

Don’t be tempted to hear about strategies for improving pupil learning that have worked in other contexts, only to run an INSET session for all staff with the intention that they will go away and better their practice, e.g. through more effective questioning, or differentiation.

Before taking an idea and running with it, stop and go back to the students whose needs you are trying to address. What will look different for these pupils if you are successful? You may start to re-assess whether asking more effective questions is really the right approach to take. Even if it is, you can now evaluate your impact on the chosen pupils better from the outset.

There are a whole host of strategies which you can draw upon to diagnose needs and these shouldn’t just involve reading performance data. Professional judgement made through teacher surveys, lesson observations and witnessing pupil behaviours is crucial to understanding how teachers can make a real difference for target pupils.

For those eligible for Pupil Premium funding, what are the gaps in self-belief, capacity to learn, and variations in expectations, behaviour or attendance? Once these are identified, you can work backwards from there – what do your staff currently know, believe or expect about disadvantaged pupils? What skills and knowledge might be lacking, and how might you challenge myths or preconceptions? Drawing from current staff members’ strengths and areas for development, CPD can then be designed to address the gap between the vision and the current reality.

CPD that ‘closes the gap’

Many schools that notice a large gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their more-advantaged peers make it a clear and active organisational priority to address this across the academic year. This was the case in one school we recently worked with, where a history teacher was particularly concerned about three boys in his class who came from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds. These pupils were occasionally disruptive and not making the expected progress, or achieving what this teacher aspired for them.

We suggested that this teacher asked a colleague to observe his lesson – for the specific means of closely observing the behaviour of these three boys (rather than the teaching practice). The history teacher also approached the pupils’ other teachers, and in collaboratively comparing the work they produced in different subjects, these colleagues determined that writing was a key issue across the board.

Anecdotally, teachers and classroom support staff were also able to identify that two of them produced little work but would ask questions around the topic area, while the third child was frequently off-task and more likely to show signs of low-level disruption.

The teacher began to joint-plan with a colleague to lay-out some strategies that research suggested might be effective in supporting disengaged boys. These were then tried out in class, observed by the same colleague. They compared their work and behaviour to their notes from the previous observed lesson. Using these, they were able to adapt a couple of approaches and carry out another observed lesson. Each time, the teacher kept reflective notes on what was noticed in observations and when marking work.

Though not what many would classify as formal CPD, this is a key example of effective professional learning with a clear pupil focus – it involved identifying and diagnosing a need, electing an evidence-informed strategy, and experimenting and evaluating that strategy until it made a desired impact of those specific students.

What we’re doing to help

The most disadvantaged children need the best-supported teachers. In a new nationwide project funded by the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF), the Teacher Development Trust has identified five CPD Excellence Hubs that will each use a rigorously evidence-based approach to transform teacher development in some of the most challenged schools and areas in England – Blackpool, Northumberland, Sheffield and Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent and South Central. Rather than simply deliver training to leaders and teachers, we are taking an innovative approach to change the way that schools design, commission and implement CPD.

In each hub, a school-based CPD “expert advisor” works closely with up to 10 local partner schools and their senior and middle leaders, supporting them in developing the culture, leadership and structures around CPD. Depending on pupil, teacher and organisational needs in each school, transformation priorities have included:

  • Building a developmental staff culture with high engagement in professional learning.
  • Developing the way that CPD is evaluated and meets students’ and staff needs.
  • Supporting evidence-informed practice, where staff engage with high-quality strategies and well-designed CPD processes.
  • Reviewing and adapting the timings and structure of professional learning programmes.

Concettina Johnson is an expert advisor in the South Central CPD Excellence Hub. She’s been working with a range of partner schools around Luton and Stevenage whose progress is not yet rated as good by Ofsted and where eligibility for free school meals can be as high as 33 per cent.

Having seen first-hand how much progress can be made when a school invests in their CPD programme, she said: “I’ve taught in both secondary and primary, and I know that we need motivated, well-supported teachers in front of every class, no matter what type of school you’re in. I’ve seen the transformational impact that a more supportive culture has, and teachers feel more confident to talk about what’s effective in the classroom.”

What are we learning?

As barriers to accessing CPD for teachers and leaders in challenging schools are beginning to be removed and a better tailored, local and sustainable CPD offer is becoming available, we are reminded that collaboration is absolutely key. Addressing educational disadvantage is something we need to do collectively as a sector and it starts with providing the adequate resources and tools for powerful professional learning that enables staff in schools to thrive and every pupil to succeed.

  • Maria Cunningham is a former primary school teacher and programme officer for Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges around the UK. To read her previous CPD best practice articles for SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2GxIuxU

Further information

Pupil Premium Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s Pupil Premium Special Edition. The edition, published on March 22, 2018, offers a range of specialist best practice advice for Pupil Premium work in schools, including classroom and whole-school interventions, advice for school leaders and more. The entire edition is available to download as a free pdf document on our website supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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