Five principles to help you evaluate your CPD

Written by: Bridget Clay | Published:
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Thomas Guskey’s five levels for evaluating CPD provide a strong base to ensure your school’s CPD offer is effective. Bridget Clay looks at how you might apply these principles in your school

We know that powerful professional learning helps children succeed and teachers thrive. Effective professional learning has a significant impact on student achievement (1) and leading professional development is the school leadership activity that has the largest impact on student outcomes (2).

Not only that, but with pressure on staff recruitment and retention, it becomes increasingly important to have a culture that allows for great development and a supportive environment that can reduce staff turnover, improve morale and reduce stress.

Yet with increasing tightening of school budgets, it is more important than ever to justify all areas of spending. CPD is no exception and has traditionally been a hard area to show impact. As you look back at this year’s CPD and consider next year’s – where do you start with evaluation? Thomas Guskey’s Evaluating Professional Development breaks down evaluation of CPD to five different levels (3) that can help structure your thinking.

1 Participants’ reaction

This tells you how colleagues initially respond to a professional learning activity. It might include whether the content felt relevant, whether the delivery was effective or just whether they enjoyed the experience.

This is often collected through surveys at the end of sessions. Tools such as Google surveys and various school improvement online tools can support this.

2 Participants’ learning

This tells you whether colleagues have learnt any new knowledge or understanding and what that new knowledge or understanding is. This might be something that colleagues reflect on themselves, share with each other, or perhaps write up and record. Line-management or team meetings might be a vehicle to support this.

3 Organisation and support

This level examines the impact on the organisation and whether the organisation supported the implementation of any new learning. Was the organisational support there? Were there enough resources or was there enough time? This might be apparent through staff feedback, in meetings or through school plans. Tools such as the TDT Network’s CPD Audit looks at organisational support for effective CPD in schools.

4 Participants’ use of new knowledge/skills

Are teachers then using any new knowledge or understanding they have learnt? This tells you how well implemented the professional learning has been. It might be evident in lesson observations or feedback from staff through surveys or conversations. Low-stake learning walks, line-management meetings, peer observations such as Lesson Study can all support this and online performance management tools can also include self-evaluation tools to help teachers reflect on this.

5 Student learning outcomes

Finally, has there been an impact on students? This could be any outcome – attainment, behavioural or attitudinal – depending on what need your CPD was planned to address. This could be measured using attainment data, pupil work, homework, questionnaires or observation or video. Processes such as collaborative enquiry or Lesson Study can also support teachers in evaluating and measuring this.

Taking all five together

These five levels can help you break-down what need you are addressing and what impact you are evaluating. Guskey also points out that all levels are important and should be considered.

Recently there has been a big move to dismiss “happy sheets” that only inform you of participants’ reactions. However, if you do not consider the delivery of professional learning, or how it is received, if it goes badly then the impact will be significantly reduced.

Equally, it is important to consider staff perception, as that forms a key part of the culture, the buy in and the morale within an organisation.

In addition, Guskey also points out that all five levels depend on one another and build on the level before. For example, if there is poor delivery there will be no change in teachers’ learning, or if there are organisational barriers to staff implementing new learning, there will be no change in their practice and if there is no change in their practice there is unlikely to be an impact on student learning. This is another key reason why each level should be considered and planned for.

Finally, these levels of evaluation are really useful not only for planning evaluation, but also for planning your CPD.

Know what need you are addressing

The most important aspect around evaluating CPD is being clear around what need you plan to address before you start any CPD processes. It may be that professional learning activities cause unintended outcomes, but there should always be a planned need that you are addressing. This could be anything from staff morale to specific pupil outcomes, the levels above will help you identify which outcome it falls under and consider which outcomes are priorities.

To identify needs, you are likely to use a range of different strategies – pupil outcomes, feedback from staff, appraisal meetings, pupil progress meetings, upcoming changes, etc – will all inform you in identifying which need you wish to address. You will want to ensure that as many staff as possible have some opportunity to feed into this needs analysis.

Once you are clear on what the issue is, whether that’s fixing a problem or building on a success, ask yourself what would success look like? This will then help to you to identify the types of measures that you will look for when evaluating the CPD during and after any planned activities.

Who do you include in your evaluation?

There is a tendency to consider the evaluation of CPD as something that is done by school leadership to justify spending. That is obviously one factor, but there are two key aims to evaluating CPD – a summative evaluation of whether it has had an impact, and a formative evaluation of how it can be improved.

You want to ensure that all staff have an opportunity to feed into that as they are the ones who spend the most time with the pupils and have the most information on what the needs are and what the impact has been.

Changing what evaluating CPD means

Finally, we need to reconsider the purpose of evaluating CPD. Of course there are pressures on schools at a macro level to ensure that time and money are spent well. Similarly, it is important to look at needs across the school and ensure that any big trends are being addressed by the professional learning processes.

However, it is equally important to consider how staff are supported to evaluate the impact of their CPD and their practice. The very process of evaluating the impact of a change of practice at a micro level in the classroom is not only informative, it is also excellent CPD itself, and excellent classroom practice.

Teaching staff and many support staff work most closely will pupils and are in the best position to consider the impact on pupils, and this should be explored at classroom level, and then collated at a wider school level.

Evaluating the impact of CPD can be challenging and the impact can be multi-layered and complicated. Some aspects will certainly be harder to evaluate than others.

However, by using the work of Guskey and breaking down the need you are addressing and the impact you wish to have along all of these levels, you can be supported to see how your CPD is changing practice and learning in your school.

  • Bridget Clay is the network programme manager for the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for professional learning. Find out more at and for information on the TDT Network, visit


  1. Developing Great Teachers, Teacher Development Trust, June 2015:
  2. School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why, Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE), 2009:
  3. Evaluating Professional Development (Guskey TR, 2000, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press).


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