Embedding CPD and action research using the Early Career Framework

Written by: John Collier | Published:
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The Britannia Teaching School Alliance has been using the Early Career Framework to help embed action research as part of its CPD programme for NQTs and RQTs. John Collier explains

When the Early Career Framework (ECF) was published (DfE, 2019), we spotted an opportunity to pre-emptively introduce some of its content to our network of recently qualified teachers before the planned national roll-out (due to begin in September 2021).

As a Teaching School based in Stoke-on-Trent, we tested the waters through a collaborative model involving three termly sessions or “network days” over the course of an academic year. However, both teachers and leaders have seen so many advantages to working in this way that we intend to sustain the initiative over the next academic year too. Here is what we did and some tips for how you could see similar results in your own school.

About the ECF

The framework, which the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) called “one of the most significant and well-received policy announcements from the DfE for some time” (Cunningham, 2019), contains eight sections linked to the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011). Each of these sections then breaks the theme down into two types of content:

  • Key Evidence Statements (“Learn that...”): These statements are informed by the best available educational research (references and further reading are provided).
  • Practice Statements (“Learn how to...”): These statements are drawn from the wider evidence base including both academic research and additional guidance from expert practitioners.

What we did

In the Britannia Teaching School Alliance, we took these content requirements and used a metacognitive cycle to design the structure and format of our termly network days for NQTs. As with any effective design and implementation of professional development, it is important to “start with the end in mind”, so from the outset our aims for participants were made explicit to all. The purposes of the programme were to:

  • Explore how to support all pupils to succeed.
  • Provide a platform for future development that builds on NQT induction.
  • Cover areas in greater depth as teachers continue to become experts.

As such, on day one, participants explore the ECF and plan their action research projects. On day two, participants share their findings and identify areas of refinement. And on day three, participants share their projects with the group.

Day one: Plan

From the beginning, participants were encouraged to collaborate and develop their use of evidence-informed research in their own classrooms by planning, monitoring and evaluating their own action research project.

This is where the ECF proved really useful. The content of the framework and its underpinning evidence has been independently assessed and endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

For teachers who have recently joined the profession and may not know where to start when using research, references for evidence underpinning each section are provided at the end of the framework and are based on application (classroom practice) and accessibility (whether the source is in the public domain).

The first day of the programme focused particularly on Section 2 – “How Pupils Learn” – which is linked to Teacher Standard 2 – “Promote Good Progress”.

This was an ideal opportunity to explore some of the more common misconceptions that exist, which we did using guidance from The Science of Learning (Deans for Impact, 2015). The teachers were then introduced to a Lesson Study model, including a walk-through of the process (diagnose-research-implement-refine-share) and a number of case studies demonstrating how other schools had successfully applied interventions from research to their own settings.

In line with the evidence suggesting that the most effective professional development opportunities are sustained, iterative and give opportunities for participants to revisit their new learning (Cordingley et al, 2015), we recognised the importance of providing inter-sessional tasks. In this case, the NQTs were asked to identify a small number of specific pupils who would form a focus group to support in diagnosing the needs, issues and strengths of those learners.

Day two: Monitor

We found it useful and powerful to kick off the second meeting with an opportunity for everyone to share the progress they had made since the first session and found that the quality of the professional discussions was both humbling and inspiring.

It became apparent that there were many commonalities with which the new teachers were dealing and that having the time and space to strategically address those together was highly valued.

Again, the ECF became a helpful framework through which to explore evidence relating to common themes in more detail. For example, small groups covered the themes of Subject and Curriculum, Adaptive Teaching, and Assessment respectively.

Through this exploration, we also encouraged the teachers to keep in mind their focus pupils and to form their own enquiry questions, which is the next stage of the traditional Lesson Study process.

Questions were based on the formula: “How does X (intervention) impact on Y (pupil learning need) for Z (pupils)?” The questions that our NQTs came up with covered a range of topics. For example:

  • How can mixed ability collaborative learning have a positive impact on easily distracted pupils?
  • How does the promotion of metacognition impact on the independent writing of our borderline children in year 3?
  • How do mental mathematics sessions impact on arithmetic skills for intervention children in year 5?

Bear in mind that at this stage it is important to encourage individuals to allow flexibility with both the enquiry question and their chosen interventions.

The next inter-sessional task was to move on to the “implement” and “refine” stages. In other words, trial a research-based intervention in lessons and pay particular attention to the focus pupils. The schools involved were encouraged to carve out opportunities for teachers to interview the learners themselves in order to gather their thoughts and feelings regarding the effectiveness of trialled strategies.

Day three: Evaluate

The final session was very much a celebration of individual successes. RQTs were provided with a common pro-forma allowing each of them to assess whether their interventions had met their intended aims, as well as showcase these findings to their peers.

The range of case studies were also captured as a report which was then shared across all 19 schools in our trust. Do make sure not to skip this step, as it is a vital process which aids to build the confidence of the new teachers and sends an important message to all colleagues about how engaging with research and structured risk-taking is a valuable way of developing as a practitioner, regardless of how long one has been in the profession.

Key takeaways

To ensure early career teachers continue to be supported through effective professional development, use the PEERS framework, which we devised as a core element of the project:

  • Plan for teachers to network and collaborate together.
  • Explore the ECF.
  • Evaluate pupil progress and identify any individuals causing concern.
  • Research and trial appropriate evidence-based interventions.
  • Share action research with other teachers within school and beyond.

Not all professional development is equally effective. Helping teachers to improve their practice takes thought, planning and effort – not only related to the operational aspects of CPD, but also in drawing on the latest evidence about creating high-quality professional learning environments for both students and staff. It requires an intrinsic understanding from leaders that schools can only improve when the teachers who work there are able to improve.

For more support or ideas with this, we recommend engaging with the TDT and, if you are based near Stoke on Trent, you are welcome to join our half-termly TDT CPD Excellence Hub meetings!

  • John Collier is director of teaching and learning at the Britannia Teaching School Alliance. He also leads on CPD for the St Bart’s Multi-Academy Trust based in Staffordshire and Cheshire and is an expert advisor for the Teacher Development Trust. Email him at john.collier@tdtrust.org

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