Engaging staff effectively with their CPD


How can schools support their staff to engage effectively with their CPD? Jessica Brosnan offers some advice.

The Teacher Development Trust (TDT) has audited the CPD plans, processes and culture in more than 50 schools that belong to our National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN). A common difficulty within and across schools is how to best support staff to engage in their own professional learning. 

Many school leaders struggle to create a CPD programme that is relevant and engaging for all staff, while also ensuring it has a strong pupil-focus – lots of excellent ideas have limited impact without staff engagement. 

Schools in the NTEN receive an audit of their CPD practice against our freely available CPD Quality Framework (available online, see further information) and we have identified the key aspects of ensuring staff engage in effective CPD.


CPD is still all too often viewed as gathering all staff into the hall and delivering sessions during INSET days, and the idea of CPD as something to be “done to” rather than “done with” is still typical for many schools. 

These one-off lectures and activities often have little or no follow-up, and staff may come away with new knowledge, but none that is particularly relevant to them, or the pupils’ they teach. Research suggests that this is the most common training experienced by staff and yet also the least effective at improving practice. 

Nevertheless, many school leaders try and pack out their INSET days and twilights with endless seminars and workshops and deliver too many ideas in too little time with insufficient chance to practise, reflect, and collaborate.

It is worth noting that studies suggest that, on average, it takes teachers more than 30 hours of planning, teaching, collaborating, reflecting, enquiring, discussing, learning and thinking to create a sustained, effective change in teacher practice in a single area.

Ultimately for staff to buy into the CPD processes within their school, it needs to be relevant to their needs, have an impact on the pupils they teach, and they need to be given appropriate time to embed any changes to their practice.


Many schools we visit claim to have CPD that is pupil-focused, driven by the learning and development needs of pupils.

However, as a part of our NTEN CPD Quality Audit, we survey attitudes of staff. One of the statements we ask staff is whether they believe “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.

In schools where we see a truly strong pupil-focus, broader pupil outcomes at a macro-level are broken down so all staff have specific, planned student outcomes to address.

In some of the most successful schools, participation in some form of collaborative enquiry has been explicitly linked to appraisal, ensuring a professional development target with a clear pupil-focus. As teachers, we are driven to meet the needs of our pupils, and where CPD is closely linked, it will be more engaging.

Leadership and culture

In the most effective schools, CPD is championed and monitored by a specific member of the senior leadership team and all leaders take responsibility for prioritising it and modelling good teacher-as-learner behaviour. 

A specific member of the governing body is responsible for monitoring CPD processes. Teachers and learning support assistants have regular, dedicated and uninterrupted time during term to carry out collaborative and reflective development; conversations about pedagogy and evidence are common. Staff collaborate to decide a few key whole-school professional development areas for the year and these inform the school development plan and performance management processes.

Teacher enquiry

So, how can schools ensure that their CPD programme is relevant, pupil-focused and collaborative?

All the research around what makes effective professional development points towards teacher enquiry processes, where teachers get to collaboratively explore and improve their own practice. This has been shown to have much more impact on student outcomes than sending teachers on one-off courses or bringing in speakers to conduct after-school lectures.

One such model of teacher enquiry is Lesson Study. This is a model rapidly gaining in popularity across England, which brings together a triad of teachers who work collaboratively to plan a lesson, predict student reactions, observe the reality, interview students and then reflect and repeat the process. 

What makes it different from many other models is that throughout the process, the triad focuses on three carefully chosen “case pupils” rather than the whole class. This allows them to explore in much greater detail the effect of their teaching on students’ learning.

Lesson Study is a form of professional learning that feels relevant for teachers, as it allows them to contextualise a broader educational issue, and make it specific to their classroom, and the pupils they teach. It is explicitly pupil-focused, as the enquiry is designed to examine the learning behaviours of three particular case pupils.

Lesson Study also provides significant opportunities for staff to collaboratively peer-observe and joint plan. The act of planning a lesson together means that there is much more trust between participants when it comes to delivering the lesson, while the focus on “case pupils” means that the observation is of the students’ work rather than the teacher’s practice.

Many teachers who have participated in a Lesson Study cycle find it a rewarding process that empowers staff, building confidence and improving the quality of learning and teaching. It is, however, a very intensive process and needs a strong commitment from school leaders if it is to work successfully. In particular school leaders need to ensure that:

  • Sufficient time is set aside for teachers to meet regularly to reflect on observations and plan future lessons.

  • Cover is made available so that teachers can observe each other’s practice.

  • Teachers’ time for these activities is carefully protected, and other aspects of their workload are carefully reduced and monitored to ensure that they have the time to prioritise this work.

Lesson Study is certainly not an easy process to implement, and it requires a very supportive culture, strong leadership and the support of other schools. 

Within NTEN, support for Lesson Study is complemented by our CPD Quality Audit process, as well as Lesson Study workshops that provide the opportunity to collaborate and learn from fellow practitioners. 

The CPD Quality Audit allows schools to formatively evaluate their own culture, procedures and leadership, while there is also the option for schools to peer-audit and learn from one another, sharing best-practice. 

  • Jessica Brosnan is a former music teacher and the National Teacher Enquiry Network support officer for the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges.

Further information
Find out more about the TDT’s work at http://TDTrust.org and for more on the NTEN, including the freely available CPD Quality Framework, visit http://tdtrust.org/NTEN. Also, find out more about the support NTEN offers around Lesson Study, at http://tdtrust.org/nten/lesson-study/



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