Building an outstanding teacher CPD programme

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:
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Hello Helen there is much to commend in your article and thank you for your insight. I would ...

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What makes an outstanding teacher? This age-old question is the bane of any in-school teacher development programme. Helen Webb discusses the challenges, successes and failures of her school’s outstanding teacher programme

Last year in collaboration with a colleague I piloted an in-school Outstanding Teacher Programme with varying success.
The main aim was to move a group of competent teachers from “good” to “outstanding”. The principle was good, but the reality was that with limited time and budgets we had only been allocated five hours to achieve this.

While I still wrestle with the concept of judging teachers in discrete terms, in order to effectively develop a programme that is aimed at enhancing teacher practice, I had to begin by reflecting on my own interpretations of what an outstanding teacher was.

With schools and Ofsted no longer making judgements on individual lessons, we should be able to look more holistically at a teacher’s practice.

I have heard many teachers respond to the cliched question: can you sum up what an outstanding teacher is in one word? The replies usually include the words “inspirational”, “innovative”, “adaptable”, “reflective” and “consistent”. My challenge lay in designing a programme that would empower staff to effectively develop these qualities.

Along my own professional journey, I was frequently told that outstanding lessons have a buzz. I know this feeling from personal experience when lessons have worked exceptionally well, but this is often hard to emulate and to capture five times a day. What works with one class, doesn’t with another.

That said, “outstanding” teachers no doubt create this spark more frequently and easily. A key discussion during the Outstanding Teacher Programme would be how to generate this spark.

In my opinion – it is about knowing your students well. Personally, I love trialling new and innovative teaching and learning strategies and would probably class myself as a more creative teacher than most, but this is not necessarily an essential quality of an outstanding teacher.

Ofsted itself has been for some time now distancing itself from formulaic, all singing-dancing lessons. Sir Michael Wilshaw, who stepped down last month as chief inspector, stated back in 2012 that “we (Ofsted) don’t want to see lessons that are too crowded, too frenetic, with too many activities designed to impress”.

He added: “‘Outstanding’ is when children enjoyed their lessons, were engaged, were focused, learnt a great deal and made real progress.”

Ultimately, teaching is judged by results. Ofsted does not publish specific criteria as to what constitutes outstanding results so it is the school’s responsibility to apply rigorous but fair judgements to their own data in order to assess themselves and their teachers.

This process is, inevitably, fallible. The most robust data to be judged against in a secondary school such as my own are, of course, the external examination results. However, teaching is a group effort between teachers, teaching assistants, pastoral teams and senior leaders – the progress students make is also influenced by many external factors.

While I appreciate it is the individual teacher’s responsibility to manage the progress of their classes, many secondary classes sit a GCSE or A level exam having been taught by several teachers, meaning that data is shared and again difficult to judge an individual teacher on.

Often the progress that students make personally and socially also goes under the radar. While a sensible review of a teacher’s performance is put into context, the process despite its best efforts is open to interpretation. Again, although it can be difficult to define results as “outstanding”, outstanding teachers no doubt yield better results.

In preparation for our first Outstanding Teacher Programme session, I felt a good place to start would be a general discussion on what my colleagues felt an outstanding teacher was, and then to focus on the current Ofsted grade descriptors for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment (from September 2015). It is, however, worth acknowledging that these descriptors are also open to interpretation and are constantly evolving. It is noteworthy that the statement that students are making “rapid and sustained progress” has been removed from the current descriptors in the light of growth mindset research that indicates that rapid progress is not necessarily sustained!

From my own past experience, when individual lessons were judged to be outstanding, much emphasis was placed on whether you could effectively demonstrate that all students had made exceptional progress in that lesson.

Sensibly, schools are now looking more closely at progress over time – and ultimately an outstanding teacher will enable students to make greater progress over longer periods of time, not necessarily in just one lesson!

When I initially planned the structure of our Outstanding Teacher Programme I used the Ofsted outstanding grade descriptors as my starting point and my logic was to focus on tangible skills that teachers could develop to move their practice forwards. Some of the key elements of outstanding practice I teased out were as follows. Outstanding teachers:

  • Demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach.
  • Use questioning effectively.
  • Identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.
  • Plan lessons effectively.
  • Manage behaviour highly effectively.
  • Constantly demand more of pupils.
  • Identify and support any pupil who is falling behind.
  • Check pupils’ understanding systematically and effectively.
  • Provide pupils with incisive feedback (and pupils use this feedback effectively).
  • Have consistently high expectations.

As such, with our limited time allocation and utilising our own expertise we planned five discrete hour-long after-school sessions over the year that covered the majority of these key points. These sessions in summary were:

  1. What is outstanding teaching? To include a self-audit and target-setting exercise.
  2. Questioning – framing and differentiating challenging questions.
  3. Effective feedback – what do you say/do to make your feedback more effective?
  4. Demonstrating pupil progression and ideas for Assessment for Learning – evaluating strategies that enable you to easily assess the learning of all students in your class.
  5. Challenge – strategies to effectively challenge different aspects of learning and groups of students.

I had previously delivered versions of some of these sessions to groups of trainee and new teachers with great success. As I have tended to design CPD sessions “compact” with ideas, this style of CPD was very popular with teachers new to the profession eager for new strategies to add to their repertoire.

However, when reviewing the success of our pilot Outstanding Teacher Programme, while these sessions had reasonable evaluations I did not feel that I had challenged this particular cohort of already very able members of staff enough. I certainly did not feel that I had untapped or shared the huge amount of skill and expertise I had among the group.

In the planning stage of this year’s Outstanding Teacher Programme, one of the statements in the Ofsted outstanding grade descriptors in particular resonated with me. It was that “pupils love the challenge of learning and are resilient to failure” – surely this also applies to an outstanding teacher?

This statement, along with the one-word descriptors – “inspirational”, “consistent”, “innovative”, “adaptable” and “reflective” – is to me the key to being an outstanding teacher.

It may also be why many perceive outstanding teachers to be “risk-takers”. As such, we used this idea to fine-tune this year’s CPD programme in order to provide the time and opportunity for staff to focus on these key qualities to enable individual teachers to use their initiative and innovation to drive their own development of teaching and learning between each session.

As such we have marketed the programme as follows: “This year’s Outstanding Teacher Programme is for 12 like-minded driven teachers from different faculties. The main objective is to inspire teachers to independently improve their own practice, providing them with the time and opportunity to reflect on their own practice, discuss teaching and learning and trial new approaches with support from colleagues they may not normally work with.

“Participating teachers will attend six sessions throughout the year (one every half-term) and will work together to develop consistently outstanding teaching in lessons. In response to feedback from the pilot Outstanding Teacher Programme, each session will be structured as a discussion-based workshop rather than a lecture-style CPD training session, with participating staff sharing their own ideas for best practice.

“The first session will explore what outstanding teaching means for individual teachers and discuss how this aligns with expectations at Lutterworth College and the new Ofsted criteria. Teachers will complete a skills audit and plan their own route through the programme, focusing on an area that will have the biggest impact on the progress their students will make.

“The subsequent sessions will focus on the four whole-school shared priorities for teaching and learning and will provide a springboard for participating staff to collaborate on a shared focus ahead of each subsequent session. The programme is designed to inspire staff to carry out classroom-based action research, use video and/or peer observations and coaching-style discussions to develop their skills. Staff will be expected to present their work and reflect on its impact in their own classroom.

“The final session will be a review of the outcomes from the programme with a link to any Action Research findings or next steps.”

Our whole-school priorities for this year focus on growth mindset, differentiation, challenge and engagement. However, if the structure of this programme is successful the programme can be easily adapted to focus on new priorities in subsequent years.

Providing effective opportunities to enhance teacher practice is always a challenge, but in my opinion providing effective opportunities for staff to reflect, share and discuss their ideas is often over-looked and the impact is under-rated. Hopefully, providing this structured opportunity will inspire more teachers to understand and demonstrate consistently outstanding practice that ultimately provides a better learning experience for their pupils.

  • Helen Webb is an experienced science and biology teacher with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. She works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. You can follow her @helenfwebb To read Helen’s previous articles for SecEd, visit


Hello Helen there is much to commend in your article and thank you for your insight. I would however not underestimate the impact of using external expertise to challenge and support increasing the depth of subject specific knowledge and understanding. I think this also promotes real outstanding teaching. In my teaching experience early in a teachers career it can be useful to look within schools to improve practice but for more experienced teachers the value of looking beyond your own institution is vital. This is captured in the DfE standards for CPD published in the summer. I hope your programme continues to be successful!
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