What are your school's CPD priorities for 2019/20?

Written by: Ian Campbell | Published:
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The Teacher Development Trust has been surveying school leaders about their priorities for CPD and school improvement, with a number of common themes emerging. Ian Campbell looks at the findings and advises on how schools can achieve their goals

What are school leaders prioritising when it comes to school improvement and what are the implications for staff development?

Secondary schools in the UK are facing greater demands and more challenges than ever before. From changing curriculum demands to the continuing rise of academies, Ofsted and ever-growing student numbers, it can be a difficult landscape for leaders to navigate.

It is therefore no surprise that determining a school’s priorities and points of focus for the year ahead is a daunting task to undertake.

What can also prove tricky is being aware of what other leaders across the country are identifying as their future strategic priorities.

This is important to consider. After all, we see a culture shift in schools when teachers collaborate meaningfully with peers – which with constructive support can vastly improve teaching and learning. So it makes sense to scale this up to create the same effect at a school-to-school level, too.

It was in this context that the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) wanted to investigate the issues and priorities driving change in schools across the country and to provide an unbiased snapshot of current educational trends and issues. By utilising our network of more than 150 schools, we spoke to more than 70 headteachers, assistant heads, CPD leads, multi-academy trust chief executives, executive heads and trustees about their development priorities for their schools and trusts.

Each conversation was unique and had plenty of valuable insights. Below is a summary of the general findings and common themes that emerged from across the interviews.

The headlines

Many leaders admitted that they are concerned with the changes coming in September with the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) and its impact on the curriculum and how schools will be inspected.

There was also, as you would expect, an acknowledgement of the difficulties presented by the recruitment and budgetary challenges that schools are facing.

However, one particular area that the school leaders seemed to really enjoy discussing is how they are focusing on retaining their staff members through developing and supporting them and helping them to “up-skill” themselves and make progress in their careers.

Key development priorities

The first question posed in the TDT’s survey looked at key development and leadership priorities. Common themes among the responses included developing staff, career pathways, and succession planning, as well as a big focus on curriculum, particularly around adapting to Ofsted’s new EIF.

Other notable themes included middle leadership and developing support for staff and subject leads. Numerous leaders said they are keen to make more effective use of time in school and set on reducing teacher workload.

As expected, the development priorities tended to vary between MATs and individual schools or colleges. Several MAT chief executives of specifically mentioned collaborative working and standards and consistency between schools as priority areas. Longer term growth and sustainability also featured heavily.

Meanwhile, the individual school leaders appeared to take more of a pupil-focused approach, highlighting priorities such as closing the gap with disadvantaged pupils or ensuring teaching and learning is of the highest quality.

Some advice

  • Each school has its own challenges and obstacles that leaders must take into account.
  • When setting key development priorities for an entire school or group of schools, it is important to use as much data and recent evidence as possible.
  • Schools that take into account a range of factors, including staff and pupil voice, are able to better align their objectives to specific need as well as achieve greater buy-in and understanding from staff.
  • It is important to consider how progress is measured and not select too many “big” priorities to achieve, otherwise it can become overwhelming for staff.

Staff development priorities

The second question aimed to gain an understanding of schools’ main development priorities specific to staffing.

Across the board, staff collaboration and sharing best practice in a meaningful way was valued and prioritised. The second big focus was around curriculum development and delivery, particularly related to core subjects such as maths or English.
MAT leaders were also concerned with developing different levels of leadership across schools, “up-skilling” current staff members, consistent teaching and learning, and supporting behaviour management.

Individual school leaders highlighted their wish to empower middle leaders to take ownership of interventions, provide more internal opportunities for current staff, and improve the structure of CPD to offer more support to individuals.

Some advice

  • Having mechanisms in place for staff to feed into their own development priorities allows them to take ownership of the process and drive it forwards.
  • This can be achieved through a range of processes, such as meaningfully building CPD into performance management conversations – for advice on achieving this, see Maria Cunningham’s article, Effective performance management practices (SecEd, 2017) – establishing school focus groups, ensuring evaluation of CPD is sufficiently robust, creating channels for feedback and forging clear pathways of progression for staff to follow.
  • Finding a comfortable balance between staff voice and organisational need can be the key to setting the right priorities.

What would make the biggest difference to your school?

We collected some fascinating responses by asking leaders to imagine what three changes would make the biggest difference to their setting.

No prizes for guessing the most common answer (more funding, anyone?), but some interesting ideas emerged about what would else would have a transformative effect.

The most common responses can all be linked back to effective CPD. Leaders suggested that staff buying into change, raising expectations, having a shared culture and more protected time for CPD would make the biggest difference. Improving teacher recruitment and retention and staff collaboration also featured heavily, too.

Some advice

  • Investing in CPD and making staff more acutely aware of opportunities and funding available to them can contribute to raised expectations, a shared ethos and a better culture within school.
    When staff feel their professional learning is a priority, it can encourage them to stay and develop within their roles, leading to high expectations of professional development linked to student outcomes.

How do you identify areas of development to focus on?

Finally, we wanted to know how schools go about identifying developmental areas to focus on. Interestingly, of all the questions, this one provoked the largest contrast in responses, yet there was a clear preferred method among the respondents and that was using school data to inform decisions.

Respondents made reference to a range of different data sources, such as school performance, pupil needs, staff input, projected grades, and Ofsted reports, to name but a few.

From MATs, there was a clear divide between MAT-level decisions being taken to identify improvement areas and staff feeding into school priorities from the context of their own needs.

However, the most common method appeared to be a combination of the two, with schools identifying their own needs with support and input from the wider MAT.

For individual schools, there was a clear preference for a more bottom-up approach and audit models to identify areas for improvement.
Other particularly interesting identifiers that emerged from conversations encompassed staff surveys, utilising feedback from middle leaders, and using the TDT’s audit process.

Some advice

  • Perhaps the most important thing to takeaway here is that being aware of the priorities and focus of other schools is, in isolation, not enough.
  • Schools can vary greatly across the country and have different issues to address – even within the same town or city there can be great variance. What is important for leaders is that they are matching practice to need, trialling and adapting and ensuring that priorities have been identified for the right reasons, not just because of a “hunch”.
  • Taking into account a range of factors and using staff voice and opinion is crucial to get everyone on board and feel an element of ownership of the improvement process.
  • Some schools use of end-of-year questionnaires or external audits, like the TDT audit tool, which can help to objectively identify areas to improve when it comes to maximising the quality of teaching and learning.

What next?

There were some really interesting examples of practice that emerged throughout these conversations, highlighting the value felt by a school being part of a network, collaborating and talking to other schools and trusts, rather than working in silos.

Some particularly fascinating testimonials included schools using the new Apprenticeship Levy as an extra source of funding, with one leader highlighting how they rallied and brought local businesses together who were not already using the initiative to support wider workforce development.

Connecting with other schools and being open to new ideas and relationships can be extremely beneficial, but it is equally as important to have the right structures in place that allow this knowledge to be sustained and embedded.

  • Ian Campbell is school programme leader at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective CPD in schools. Visit www.tdtrust.org

Further information & research


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