CPD: Pupil-focused and ‘direct’

Written by: Jessica Brosnan | Published:
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If CPD is to have a positive impact on pupil outcomes, then it has to be ‘direct’. Jessica Brosnan explains how you can redesign your CPD for maximum pupil impact

There are many things to consider when designing a CPD programme for the new school year. Within a school, there are so many competing priorities, contrasting needs and a range of staff with different levels of expertise.

Planning for, and accommodating everyone in your school community is tough! Have you planned sufficient time for staff to share and collaborate? Is there a balance between subject knowledge, subject-specific and general pedagogy? Is there support for those with a particular pastoral responsibility? Are your staff all up-to-date with the latest statutory requirements? Have you considered your teaching assistants, learning support assistants, and technicians, as well as members of your general administrative staff? What about external courses, career and leadership development?

With so much to plan for and include, it can be easy to lose sight of the link between professional development and pupil outcomes. In July 2016, the Department for Education (DfE) published the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, which defined direct professional development as anything that directly seeks to improve specific pupil (academic and wider) outcomes.

For the first time, the standard clearly distinguished between direct professional development that links to improved practice and improved pupil outcomes, and indirect professional development (e.g. training in procedural tasks, statutory training etc). This is not to say that the latter is unimportant. There are times when it is both necessary and preferable to bring all staff together to impart knowledge, for example, regarding a new data system or safeguarding procedures. However, this kind of CPD is unlikely to transform teacher practice or improve pupil learning.

When planning a CPD programme, it is important to keep direct professional development at the front and centre of your design. Here are some key points to consider to ensure maximum impact.

Maintain that pupil focus

A key principle of effective CPD is that it maintains a tight focus on specific pupil needs and 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, with formative assessment and on-going evaluation of the impact of their practice informing this. Needs analysis and evaluation go hand-in-hand, and it is important to first consider the pupil learning need you are trying to address, how you will measure progress, and what success would like.

Time and space

At the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), we visit hundreds of schools across our national network to review the quality and culture of professional learning. At the most successful schools we visit, there is a deliberate and cohesive structure, with dedicated time for professional learning activities throughout the year. There has been consideration of staff capacity at specific times of the year, and directed time provided for staff to engage in CPD. 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 to – in the case of one school – 2.5 hours per week.

It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the biggest impact is seen where whole-staff briefings are minimised, subject and team meetings are kept free of briefing or administrative tasks. At your next INSET day or staff meeting, ask yourself, is everyone’s focus on improving or sharing best practice in direct response to student needs? Understandably in times of huge systematic and exam specification change there must be some flexibility in this – new curricula and exams require more time dealing with inevitable administration issues.

Clever collaboration

We know that where professional development is teacher-led, there is likely to be more buy-in and engagement in the process. However on its own, simply sharing practice or ideas is not enough to provoke change. Research suggests that effective professional development processes should be sustained over time, with rhythmic, iterative opportunities for follow up, consolidation and support activities. We have seen many of our most innovative school members implementing teacher-led, collaborative enquiry such as Lesson Study or Joint Practice Development, allowing teachers to peer observe one another, trial and refine an approach, and evaluate its impact over time.

Don’t go it alone

Just as classrooms can be very isolating, similarly schools can be guilty of becoming inward-looking, leading to “group think”. High-impact professional development includes engaging with external experts that can provide on-going support and challenge to the institution. It is important that staff also feel they are given the time, support and resources to maximise the impact of any external expertise they engage with.

A new approach to appraisal?

It is important to note that while performance management procedures are distinct from CPD, it is difficult for your CPD programme to have impact unless you have also designed effective appraisal processes that can inform, support and reinforce staff professional learning. As part of the TDT CPD quality audit, teaching staff are asked whether they agree with the statement “my professional learning is targeted at improving the learning of specific pupils in my class”. Often school leaders are surprised by the results.

Although many schools include a performance management target related broadly to student outcomes, the link between staff’s own professional development and the pupils’ they teach, is often not explicit. What might initially appear pupil-focused, such as “80 per cent of pupils must achieve their target grade or above”, or “I must improve my differentiation” does not directly relate to specific pupils and the link is not necessarily clear in terms of who will benefit, what success would look like, and therefore what developmental action to take.

To ensure high-impact CPD, some schools have implemented more regular fortnightly line-management conversations that are clearly focused on specific pupils, with discussion around clear goals and steps to take to reach those goals.

Keep in the loop with research

Finally, to ensure high impact it is important that all professional development processes are evidence-informed and that the theory underpinning them is shared, discussed and debated between teachers.

It might be that you appoint an in-house “Research Champion” to disseminate interesting articles or journals and facilitate discussion sessions. Reflection and analysis of your plan’s rationale, evidence and relevant assessment is important for bringing about and embedding changes in practice for your teaching staff.

Not only this, but where staff have the opportunity to read and dissect research that interests them, there will be stronger buy in to the CPD programme. You might consider signing up to free newsletters or reading lists from organisations such as CUREE, TDT or the Institute for Effective Education, as a starting point.

  • Jessica Brosnan is a senior network programme officer for the TDT Network at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for professional learning in schools. Visit http://tdtrust.org/network or follow @TeacherDevTrust. For previous Teacher Development Trust articles from SecEd’s best practice section, visit http://bit.ly/2quI435

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