All school leaders want their teachers to have good-quality CPD that develops them as individuals and makes a measurable and significant contribution to school improvement.
That’s the ideal, but a number of challenges – some long-standing, some new – are getting in the way for many secondary schools.
There are new pressures such as the introduction of performance-related pay, which links professional development for the first time to reward and career progression.
Budgets are still tight and then there is Ofsted looking ever closer at how senior leaders use performance management and self-evaluation to focus CPD activities.
Exactly how schools achieve this CPD ideal was the central question for us when we met with school leaders for a roundtable event in London recently.
Rob Gladwin is assistant headteacher in charge of CPD at the Manor Academy in Nottinghamshire.
He said: “I took over a fairly disjointed (CPD) affair and one that did not have any meaningful links with staff targets. Over the last two years we have radically changed that to a point where CPD is much more personalised and meets the exact needs of staff.”
If school leaders say that CPD is vital then they need to match the rhetoric with an investment in time and resources, he added.
“If you do not give people time to invest in it, they will pay lip-service. Now we are saying that within the parameters all staff can choose their own targets.”
Manor Academy has established semi-autonomous learning bodies called teaching and learning communities. These groups are expected to do up to three hours of dedicated CPD per week.
“Members of staff from different faculties are part of these and they use them to talk about professional development needs,” Mr Gladwin explained. “They help each other with their professional development. Our mantra is that the majority of answers can be found within our institution.”
This approach is very similar to that taken by Blatchington Mill School in Brighton and Hove.
“We need to have different models of how to improve individual teachers,” explained deputy head Ashley Harrold.
“We have lead professionals for teaching and learning in a subject area and teacher learning communities. I split it into eight areas of what I think makes great teaching. The teaching and learning groups cover these eight areas. Staff focus on a particular area of pedagogy and lesson observation targets are linked to these areas.”
A school’s approach to CPD also depends where it is on the journey to success. Mr Gladwin continued: “When we were in special measures it was top down, but you can’t sustain that over the long term – it’s about allowing people to address their own needs (and being) be supportive of that.”
It is important not to use Ofsted pressure as a driver for professional development, the leaders agreed. Mr Harrold said the needs of the school should be foremost: “As soon as you pass on responsibility to Ofsted you lose authority,” he said. “We have moved as far away as we can from Ofsted frameworks for accountability and the results are going well. There are processes where a rigid framework needs to happen but then you often get to a plateau in how to really crack the perfect teaching and learning environment.”
Donna Casey, deputy headteacher at the Manor Academy, added: “Now we are starting to get to the point where we don’t live and die by our Ofsted criteria, but by doing right for our students. But it’s a real journey to get there.”
The discussion did highlight the fact that senior leaders tended to take one of two views of school improvement – one is a “fixing what is wrong” approach and the other sees staff “helped to be more right”. We discussed research that showed that the most effective thing leaders can do is help staff to improve themselves.
Lesson observations were a subject of much debate. We agreed that it was of limited use if it was not used in a supportive and developmental way. A commonly discussed alternative is lesson study, a collaborative enquiry process based around observing the effects of an intervention on learning in the classroom.
This approach is championed by the National Teacher Enquiry Network – a group of schools working together to transform professional development.
Nick Hindmarsh, principal of Dartmouth Academy in Devon, said it was important that the judgement element inherent in performance management process was separate from the developmental aspects of observation and other professional development.
He explained: “In our school, performance management observations are done by me and two deputy heads. The heads of the faculty teams are supporters in professional development and not the judges. You need that separation.”
He also stressed the importance of observations being used to gain a more detailed view of overall student progress and measure CPD effectiveness: “We look at progress of students. In 2011/12, 58 per cent of lessons observed were good or outstanding and there were 146.5 days of exclusions.
“By 2012/13 this had increased to 82 per cent and exclusions had gone down to 46.5 days.”
Attendance and results at key stage 2 and 4 had also gone up: “All of this supports CPD and better teaching leading to better outcomes for children,” he added.
Sharing best practice between schools was an approach often used as a professional development tool but this was sometimes ineffective – especially if the systems weren’t there to allow for the knowledge to be transferred in a meaningful and useful way.
The cultural differences between schools were a major stumbling block here but it was a challenge rarely acknowledged in many instances of collaboration. We agreed that evaluation was important too – schools needed to question how they evaluated their practice and what good practice looked like in their schools.
“We have to keep evaluating what we do to keep progressing,” said Ms Casey. “I think as teachers we are often not very good at doing that. We need to be able to say that that’s not right, move on, and change that.”
We agreed that accountability was an important factor in professional development – but it needed to apply to all players in the professional development hierarchy. Mr Harrold stressed that ultimate responsibility for good CPD provision lay with senior leaders. “If staff do not have access to a programme that meets their needs then you are on (the) rocky ground as senior leaders of not providing what they need,” he said.
Five steps for effective CPD
Embed CPD in leadership and culture: Involve staff in determining the school’s professional development priorities and the opportunity for choice so that teachers’ CPD is relevant to their needs and their pupils.
Prioritise CPD (timetable and budget): There are obviously limitations and pressures on both but it is important that CPD is sustained over a period of at least two terms and ideally more, and that teachers have the time and space to embed that effectively in their practice.
Ensure CPD is based around pupil need: CPD should not be led by external pressures, but by the needs of pupils. Staff should have the freedom to innovate and try out different interventions to meet the needs of their pupils – and not feel stifled by external pressures, such as Ofsted.
Evaluate your efforts: Rigorous evaluation against pupil outcomes helps ensure that CPD continually meets the needs of both staff and pupils.
Empower teachers to drive CPD and collaborate: Professional learning is most effective when teachers collaborate and share practice. One effective example of this is lesson study.
Keith Wright is managing director Bluewave.SWIFT and David Weston is chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT).