CPD: Planning the year ahead

Written by: Bridget Clay | Published:
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Are you planning your school’s CPD programme? Bridget Clay advises how to structure and focus CPD for optimal effect

Many school leaders are working across three different years – the financial one, the calendar one and the school one.

At this time of year, due to the new financial year, lots of leaders of professional learning are planning an overview of their next year’s plans, while still only part way through this year’s plans and not necessarily in a position to measure its impact as much as they might like.

While there is no easy solution to this, there are a few principles you can consider when designing your school’s CPD for the year.

We will be exploring this further at our upcoming event Planning your School CPD Programme on May 17.

The structure of your CPD programme

A traditional CPD programme is a mix of one-off briefings, courses, conferences and events, mainly aimed at information-giving, update around curriculum, statutory training and generic teaching advice. These elements can be either compulsory or optional, often driven from the senior leadership team.

A more effective approach focuses on embedding impact over information-giving, prioritising fewer themes and taking more time on each. Each priority is weaved in across the year, with multiple activities establishing a rhythm of repeated and sustained improvement and learning.

Typically colleagues will receive input, observe experts and peers, have time to try things out in their classrooms and have time to evaluate and reflect – all in cycles of activity. This activity will include in-class work (during lessons and observations), formal CPD meetings (such as INSET days, twilight sessions and weekly or fortnightly protected CPD time), as well as other settings (such as department meetings).

In this approach, focused on fewer key areas, themes that are likely to be included are:

  • Specific areas of student learning (e.g. subjects and topics) or learning behaviours. These are identified through analysis of curriculum, assessment, external examination plus other data and both pupil and teacher judgement.
  • These areas are then balanced with career development needs of teachers, teaching assistants and non-teaching staff. These needs encompass leadership, accreditation (both professional and academic) as well as support and opportunities such as job swaps, shadowing, coaching, mentoring, etc).
  • Statutory and systems training.

In this approach there is less focus on a list of what teachers should do and how they perform. Instead the priority is what students need and teachers can develop to achieve better outcomes. This intrinsically encourages much more focus on aspects of curriculum and on subject and specialist knowledge.

Where to focus your CPD programme

We know that career development, early career support and statutory and systems training should be considered in a CPD programme. But a key principle of effective CPD that has a positive impact on student outcomes is that it maintains a tight focus on specific student outcomes throughout the process.

For example, rather than just focusing on a teacher practice, such as “feedback”, there should be an exploration of what the expected benefits will be for students and how to evaluate whether or not those benefits have been achieved. Teachers should be engaged in identifying their students’ needs and then matching their CPD to meet these needs, with formative assessment and on-going evaluation of the impact of their practice informing this.

Teachers, teaching assistants and those who spend the most time with students should therefore play a key part in identifying their needs and driving the CPD programme accordingly. This can be facilitated through regular appraisal conversations, through surveys, and through effective distributed leadership to teams and departments across the school.

Subject and department meetings are a strong driver of CPD needs analysis by conducting on-going analysis of how students are responding to the demands of the curriculum, and anticipating staff members’ needs in both teaching and assessing it knowledgeably, effectively and efficiently.

Team priorities should be driven by teacher and student priorities, and these should feed into the school priorities, rather than being determined by leadership and then being driven “top-down”.

This should then be balanced with any overall school trends and supported by central analysis of teaching needs for more general and cross-subject aspects of pedagogy and practice.

This type of analysis is driven well by a knowledgeable team of leaders and lead practitioners who stay closely connected to the latest evidence about effective practice. CPD is then prioritised by matching up student needs and staff needs to the evidence of the approaches most likely to effectively meet those needs. Effective CPD should also include support and challenge from external expertise.

Building a developmental culture

Culture is one of the most important aspects of professional learning within a school. Yet it is also the hardest to pin down. It is easy to identify what might add to a negative culture, but identifying what enables a positive one is more complicated.

Trust is a key aspect of a positive learning culture. For professional learning to take place, teachers must change their practice and evaluate whether that is successful or, in some cases, unsuccessful. Encouraging disciplined risk-taking and innovation in one’s practice is an important part of a developmental culture. High-stakes observations, teacher assessment or appraisal are all counter-productive to this.

It is also important to set a vision for effective professional learning and its value within the school. If colleagues do not see professional learning being invested in (in terms of time and resources), or if colleagues do not see leaders modelling their own professional learning, then it sends a message that professional learning is not a priority. Professional learning not only helps support teachers but drives student outcomes and achievements. This should be a key message in a vision for professional learning.

Finding time and space for CPD

Teachers are unlikely to translate learning into improved outcomes for students unless they are given sufficient time and resource.

Many schools are now carving out weekly or fortnightly CPD time which is focused on giving time for on-going collaboration, planning and assessment which focuses on curriculum knowledge and aims. This can vary from 45 minutes per fortnight up to, in the case of one school, two-and-a-half hours per week.

In effective schools, whole-staff briefings are minimised, subject and team meetings are kept as free of briefing and administrative work as possible, and the focus is on improving and sharing teaching knowledge and practice in direct response to student needs.

Notably, in a time of huge system and exam change, there must be some flexibility in this – new curricula and exams require more time dealing with inevitable administration issues.

Goodwill is created when the right resources are available for this work. This includes making adequate allowance for decent quality refreshments (tea, coffee, water, biscuits, and such-like) and the right venues with comfortable chairs, tables, the right audio-visual equipment and a location where there isn’t too much noise or distraction.

Effective schools work extremely hard to manage workload. Marking, planning, staff meetings, data entry, covering other colleagues, duties and emails are all key areas where time can be saved which can then be used to not only ensure time for CPD but also reduce the background stress and pressure so that learning can take place.

Effective professional learning is one of the most powerful things that you can implement as a school leader. By empowering colleagues to adapt their practice to best meet the needs of their students, you are enabling student achievement, school improvement and greater retention and self-efficacy among teachers.

  • Bridget Clay is the director of school programmes at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for professional learning in schools. Follow her @bridget89ec and the charity @TeacherDevTrust

Further information

Find out more about the research and practice around effective CPD on the TDT website at http://TDTrust.org or at its upcoming event Planning Your School CPD Programme in Harrogate on May 17.


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