Just over two years ago our school, The Manor Academy in Nottinghamshire, was in a very different place. We had been put in special measures by Ofsted in autumn 2011 and we knew we needed to change things radically and become an outstanding school. Our chief concern was to improve teaching and learning so that all pupils could achieve to the best of their abilities.
But to do this we needed to review everything that we were doing. Along with a brand new curriculum – we replaced faculties with four cross-subject learning strands – and a full staff restructure, we overhauled our CPD so that everyone could make a full contribution in our journey of improvement.
We realised that our old approach of delivering occasional staff training wouldn’t be up to this challenge. Random twilights addressing massive issues with sweeping statements would not work.
Instead CPD would be led by staff and become a non-negotiable part of the working week for everyone. Every Wednesday staff spend the first half of a two-hour session in “teaching and learning communities” and in the second half they work within their own learning strands.
The teaching and learning groups are semi-autonomous and are made up of staff from across our learning strands. Led by an experienced teacher, they might include a learning strand leader and deputy, two classroom teachers, two support staff, and an “exceptional practitioner” – a teacher at the very top of their game.
These people are often matched together because they have similar performance management objectives. For example, several might need support on improving their questioning skills in class, and the exceptional practitioner might have a particular skill in that area.
Mixed groups make the sharing of knowledge from across the school easier. For example, a geography teacher might pick up a useful approach from a history teacher and she can take it back to her own classroom. In the past, this expertise might have been hidden away in faculties.
The groups use a coaching approach called Action Learning Sets. A teacher should be able to share a concern or issue with fellow group members who don’t give solutions but instead ask questions that will help that teacher find the answer. Most people have the answers within them – they just need help bringing them out.
We started holding a full staff briefing each Monday to give everyone the chance to gather and discuss the focus of the week as well as share tips and advice. Each briefing features a five-minute “tweak of the week” slot in which a member of staff gives a quick presentation on a successful classroom strategy. It might be a behaviour management technique or a teaching technique that really engages pupils.
We also introduced a coaching programme led by our exceptional practitioners. If a teacher needs support they agree targets with the coach and work with them twice a week for six weeks. This support usually consists of one-to-ones and regular lesson observations. Changing the way you deliver CPD is important, but it means nothing without a means of measuring if it makes a difference. We use an online system to evaluate and manage our CPD. It is the foundation of our professional development approach and it would not work without it.
Staff use the performance management and CPD elements of this system to identify their development needs, do the training and then connect any later improvements in their practice back to that training “event”. As well as helping staff to develop and make a real contribution to our development plan, it also tells us which professional development is really effective – and what is a waste of time.
The impact of our new approach to professional development is undeniable. Currently 75 per cent of lessons are either good or outstanding – two years ago it was just 40 per cent. We were lifted out of category after a year and Ofsted inspectors said we could become outstanding very quickly. Results have also risen – from 66 per cent of pupils getting five or more good GCSEs in 2010 to 82 per cent in 2013.
No school can be good or outstanding without regular, personalised CPD. My advice for schools is to make it the same time every week so that it is woven into the fabric of the school. No-one here is allowed to arrange meetings or leave school when it is CPD time. As leaders we have to show staff we are totally committed to professional development. If we half commit then it simply won’t work.
Donna Trusler is principal of The Manor Academy in Mansfield Woodhouse in Nottinghamshire and is a contributor to a white paper on CPD published by Bluewave.SWIFT in association with the Teacher Development Trust. Download a copy at www.bluewaveswift.co.uk/whitepaper