Research from the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), an independent national charity for teachers’ professional development, has raised concerns that the outcomes of children and young people in England are being negatively impacted by the barriers facing the professional development of our teachers.
The Trust’s Annual Report findings, launched at the Houses of Parliament on Monday (June 30), reveal that despite 83.6 per cent of schools stating that the CPD of staff directly affects student attainment, 53.4 per cent (the equivalent of 13,000 schools) have found it harder to meet teachers’ development needs in the past 12 months because of financial pressures on the school. The figure rises to 60 per cent for secondary schools.
Accountability measures in England are also influencing decisions around how to develop our teachers and leaders. Almost one in five secondary schools felt pressured to complete CPD in response to accountability frameworks such as Ofsted, league tables, data requirements and safeguarding, compared to one in eight academies and one in 10 schools nationally.
The report has exposed gaps in schools’ strategic decision-making with cost considerations moving to the centre of many decisions around CPD, rather than the impact on pupils – with some schools stating there is no budget available for external support.
It is clear that school leaders and teachers are facing stubborn barriers to prioritising CPD, despite the strong impact it has on raising student attainment and improving the quality of teaching.
Issues around finances and accountability are having a devastating impact on strategic decision-making in schools.
For CPD to be as effective as possible, it should be teacher-led and targeted at supporting student needs in a teacher’s own classroom, helping them to thrive and improve year-on-year.
Instead, the constant changes and relentless focus on ticking Ofsted “boxes” are encouraging schools to jump through hoops and reduce capacity for systematic leadership. This is resulting in a “one size fits all” approach to CPD, which is halting the active participation of individual teaching staff.
Effective CPD is possible and can be realised within a teaching community that is based on collaboration, sharing of best practice and using evidence effectively. Our research demonstrates a desire for professional development that engages teachers and ensures impact, yet schools are limited in their ability to find and access high-quality CPD.
Until these barriers to effective and sustainable CPD are removed, teachers and school leaders will remain limited in their ability to transform practice and student outcomes for children in England.
Our report shows that top-down decision-making processes that could risk side-lining teachers’ individual needs are still present in more than 90 per cent of schools, with only half of all schools allowing teachers themselves to choose an external organisation or resource to support their professional development.
However, this choice in itself has proved difficult for schools. Teachers need support in a way that suits the needs of the students in their classroom.
However, many schools have insufficient mechanisms to help schools and teachers compare and quality-assure the input they receive from external organisations.
Our research found that 67.4 per cent of school leaders said that they found new external CPD providers by selecting a provider used previously by their own school or by colleagues, leading to the dominance of “big names” that may not always be best suited to a school or individual teacher’s needs.
And, while some teachers and schools are trying to take a more systematic approach to selecting external CPD providers – for example through the use of local authority databases, Future Leaders databases and TDT’s GoodCPDGuide – teachers and schools leaders stated the need for more support in making such decisions.
In response to these findings, the TDT is calling for a system where teachers are engaged in CPD, prioritised by school leaders within schools and colleges who exist within national networks of professional learning.
In order to achieve this, we are recommending eight policy changes working in partnership with government agencies:
Fund the creation of a national database of leading practice.
Strengthening the role of Teaching School alliances in brokering support and partnerships for schools.
Embarking on a national communication drive to promote the findings from professional learning research.
Contributing toward an “incubator” organisation to prepare the ground for a new Royal College of Teaching.
Facilitating discussions and provide funding around new professional career levels.
Building confidence and capacity at the Department for Education to facilitate and support system-led improvement in professional learning.
Preparing for a future personal entitlement to professional learning.
Increasing the funding of research into effective professional development and effective knowledge-sharing.
The link between a continual professional learning journey for teachers and improved educational outcomes for all is proven. As the education landscape continues to change, we have the opportunity through Teaching School alliances, multi-academy trusts and groups of individual schools to prioritise CPD and work together to improve our teachers, our schools and the outcomes of all our children and young people.
A number of schools are bucking the trend and becoming beacons of best practice in CPD, including Wroxham School, Cramlington Learning Village and Wellington College. These schools are part of the TDT’s National Teacher Enquiry Network – a collaborative partnership of schools and colleges that are focused on improvement through highly effective and evidence-based staff professional development.
Further informationFor details of the TDT’s National Teacher Enquiry Network, visit http://TDTrust.org/NTEN and to access the TDT’s Good CPD Guide, go to http://GoodCPDGuide.com
David Weston is a former teacher and the chief executive of the TDT, a national charity for effective professional development in schools.