CPD: Exceptional whole-school teacher development

Written by: David Weston | Published:
Photo: MA Education

What does exceptional CPD look like and how can school leaders ensure they achieve this for their teachers? David Weston looks at the research and some examples of best practice

With pressure on staff recruitment, retention, student outcomes and quality of teaching, there has never been a more important time for improving staff development.

In this article I will explore how you can deal with these pressures by honing and developing your approach to staff development, drawing upon examples from the latest research as well as examples from more than 80 schools that the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) has audited and supported in this area through our national network.

Why focus on CPD and support?

Why should staff development be a top priority for you and your leadership team? First, great development and a supportive environment can reduce staff turnover, improve morale and reduce stress.

Consider the number of days spent by staff in your school dealing with sickness and cover and with recruitment and interviews.

Add to this the cost of advertising (and re-advertising) vacancies, spending on supply staff and potentially huge agency fees for finding candidates or moving them from agency to in-house staff. The cost of this easily runs into tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.

By investing a portion of this up-front into dramatically improved support and development, you can reduce long-term costs and the headache and stress of the annual recruitment challenge.

Second, schools that can offer a more supportive, developmental environment will not only find it easier to retain their best staff, but it can also help to recruit the top talent.

The recent LKMco/Pearson report, Why Teach?, identified that opportunities for development and career progression are particularly important for recruiting and retaining younger teachers, while all staff look for schools that prevent excessive workload and help them feel competent and confident in their jobs.

Finally, staff development can be one of the most effective school improvement approaches. Our recent Developing Great Teaching report found that “professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement”.

Professor Viviane Robinson conducted a research review – School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why – of what the most effective school leaders do to improve attainment and found that “headteachers’ leading of and active participation in professional learning and development had the largest impact on student outcomes”.

And in their study – Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? – Kraft and Papay found that “teachers working in schools at the 75th percentile (top quarter) of professional environment ratings improved 38 per cent more than teachers in schools at the 25th percentile (bottom quarter) after 10 years”.

Ofsted has also updated its framework to state that in outstanding schools “leaders and governors have created a culture that enables ... staff to excel” and “leaders ensure that the school has a motivated, respected and effective teaching staff” through considering the “quality of CPD for teachers at the start and middle of their careers and later”.

What does great development look like?

As with any area of school life, there is no simple magic formula in this area, but there are some key ingredients. Schools in the TDT Network undertake a detailed CPD audit which combines leadership self-evaluation with a whole-staff survey.

We examine these major ingredients: culture and wellbeing, leadership, the design and focus of professional development activities, evaluation of impact, career development, use of internal and external expertise, use of research and evidence, and how effectively the school’s policies, processes and timetable support effective professional development.

A fundamental driver of effective teacher development stems from the attitude and actions of senior leaders. The most effective schools see professional development as a key leadership priority, with a CPD programme which balances clear alignment to school and department development plans with individual needs.

In these schools, our audit surveys show that teachers feel trusted and respected, noting how senior leaders balance a desire to let them “get on with their jobs” with high-quality and relevant input.

In the least effective schools, CPD sessions are planned last-minute, ideas are rarely sustained with new approaches appearing and disappearing quickly and many staff feel training is irrelevant to their needs and of poor quality.

I have been in a number of schools who have tried to “bolt-on” good CPD practice to their existing way of working and it has been met with scepticism and resistance. In many cases, the approach to monitoring, appraisal and performance management serves as a key barrier. In these schools, staff often feel that appraisal is about producing polished performances for observation and achieving outcomes/progress data at all costs, even though they don’t believe these genuinely reflect quality teaching and learning.

Another key barrier is time and workload. Even the best designed CPD programme will founder if staff are overburdened with data-entry, marking and planning demands along with an excess of meetings, emails and administrative chores. Time came out as a key barrier at a recent TDT Network seminar on engaging staff in CPD as well as a number of recent audits.

Successful professional development also needs significant time. In our most successful schools our surveys and interviews show that professional development is seen as a priority activity.

In many schools, not only do they use INSET days – in some cases disaggregated to twilight sessions – but they also find additional time. Some organise regular weekly or fortnightly CPD time, such as a junior school with year-team joint lesson-planning for 90 minutes each week, or a secondary school with two hours of joint planning and CPD time each week rotating between departmental subject-focused time, year-team pastoral time, and cross-curricular groups.

How this time is used is crucial. The most successful schools organise carefully structured collaboration in which groups of teachers (and, often, other staff) work together to improve student outcomes that are important to them.

Some of our Network schools are using our training, guidance and pro-forma resources to introduce Lesson Study as one approach, while others adapt these resources for larger group enquiry approaches.
While there may be some generic, whole-staff input, the balance is strongly shifted toward giving time for teaching ideas to be developed within subject teams.

Our surveys show that in these schools staff note that they are given more time to focus on subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy.

Professional development activities draw upon research evidence and external expertise to identify the most pressing issues and draw upon the most plausibly successful teaching approaches. In some schools a research champion draws upon syntheses such as the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, as well as research journal libraries such as the TDT Network research library or a university library.

However, this whole-school, outcome-focused approach doesn’t mean that individual staff needs are neglected. Line management meetings include regular discussions about career progression and individual training needs. Significant effort (and budget) is allocated to develop staff and give well-supported opportunities that are just outside of their comfort zone.

Typically these schools invest in more formal programmes of leadership development, academic study and accreditation. This acts both as a lever to improve student outcomes as well as to retain the best staff and incentivise the best candidates to apply for jobs.

Improving teacher development is no simple matter, but with the right support, networks and leadership it is one of the most important investments that a school can make.

  • David Weston is chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust. He is a former teacher, a school governor and is chair of the Department for Education Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group. Follow him on Twitter at @informed_edu and the Teacher Development Trust at @TeacherDevTrust

Further information

  • Find out more about the Teacher Development Trust at www.tdtrust.org
  • Why Teach? LKMco/Pearson, October 2015: http://whyteach.lkmco.org/
  • Developing Great Teachers, Teacher Development Trust, June 2015: http://TDTrust.org/dgt
  • School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why, CUREE Research Summary, December 2009: http://bit.ly/1cCAGoY
  • Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience, Kraft M and Papay J, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis: http://bit.ly/1MKm5aD


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