Delivering 35 hours of high-quality CPD a year

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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Teacher CPD – is it too much to expect quality and quantity when setting out your school’s CPD programme for the year? Maria Cunningham looks at the results of a project challenging schools to deliver 35 hours of quality CPD per-teacher, per-year

School leaders will likely be aware that there is no statutory requirement for teachers in England to participate in career-long professional development.

Unlike other professions such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, who must log their annual hours to retain their licences, a teacher in this country can theoretically drift through their entire career without formally learning anything new or updating their practice at all.

The good news is that according to the 2018 TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) results, a practitioner being completely devoid of CPD is rare – with 97 per cent of secondary teachers having completed some sort of CPD in the past year (Jerrim & Sims, 2019).

However, quantity does not necessarily mean quality – 27 per cent of England’s secondary teachers felt that there was no relevant CPD available for them. This is below the OECD average of 38 per cent, but is still a quarter of teachers.

Indeed, I am sure we can all remember a time sat in the school hall listening to a colleague monotonously reading word-for-word off a set of irrelevant slides in the name of “CPD”.

When the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) visits schools and speak to teachers, it is common to hear them say they often feel so disengaged in staff meetings that they wonder whether their time could be better spent planning or marking. Which perhaps explains why we should not be going down the same path as medicine or law; while poor CPD exists, mandating annual hours for teachers is no guarantee of quality.

A recent report from the Wellcome Trust (Leonardi et al, 2020) reveals some interesting findings from a pilot project which aimed to explore just this: how would schools respond to the challenge of committing to more and better quality CPD for teachers? The “CPD Challenge”, led by Sheffield Institute of Education, saw 40 schools in Sheffield pledge to keep to the following commitments:

  • Thirty-five hours of CPD per year for every teacher.
  • CPD must meet individual teacher need and be at least 50 per cent subject-specific.
  • All CPD must be high-quality, i.e. align to the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (DfE, 2015).

We know that high-quality CPD for teachers is increasingly shown to have a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes. Recent evidence from Education Policy Institute (EPI) suggests that it even has “a greater effect on pupil attainment than other interventions schools may consider, such as implementing performance-related pay for teachers or lengthening the school day” (Zuccollo, 2020).

Yet readers will recognise that the criteria set by the Wellcome Trust are by no means an easy ask, and from my experience, they are also a world away from what happens in reality in many schools.

The project is showing promising results. Although schools are only part-way through the challenge, perceptions of CPD have improved, and the increased hours of high-quality opportunities for professional learning have had a positive impact on teaching, confidence and leadership skills.

Yet the Sheffield challenge schools, undoubtedly like so many others across the country, were noted to be hindered by “a number of operational difficulties”, including workload pressures and budget, which are themselves “inextricably linked”.

The issue is that culture is key. The TDT recognises first-hand that schools are such complex and unique places – there is no off-the-shelf solution to all teachers getting better, faster.

Audit data we have collected from hundreds of schools across the UK about the quality and culture of their professional learning reveals that there are a myriad of elements affecting the outcome when discrete CPD programmes intermix with the wider context of a school.

While not a quick fix, we can undoubtedly learn from the key factors that the Wellcome Trust found to either inhibit or promote successful CPD.

The key barriers included a lack of staff understanding of the breadth of CPD and what constitutes “high-quality”. The DfE Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development provide some useful descriptors and indicators in this regard which go some way to guiding teachers away from thinking that CPD is just a synonym for “whole-school briefing”, but it is still an underused document.

Unsurprisingly, in the financial climate, schools also cite limited budgets as a reason for reduced investment in CPD, let alone any accompanying cover costs.

Workload pressures during exam and revision season also saw professional learning pushed out of the window, while clunky, time-consuming processes of requesting and logging CPD for purely administrative purposes do not feel conducive to teacher learning.

On the other hand, one of the key pieces of learning that schools can attempt to replicate is the value of having an influential individual in each school responsible for changing internal systems, identifying needs and supporting staff to evaluate whether CPD has made a difference.

The Wellcome Trust and Sheffield Institute of Education called these their “CPD Champions” and they were found to be critical to supporting colleagues to better commission and engage with professional learning.

This requires full support from senior leaders or, even better still, the CPD Champion should be a senior leader with the necessary “clout” to make strategic decisions across the school.

None of these are quick or easy fixes and it is worth noting that the schools in the challenge received a £7,000 bursary to participate, and the interim report specifically highlights that investing sufficient time, capacity and resource is a key enabler to meeting the criteria.

So, are we really in a place to challenge all schools to do more CPD? The pilot schools seem to think so, with almost all participants believing that 35 hours of high-quality, subject-specific CPD would be “feasible and impactful for other schools if they were given the right support”.

In order to develop teachers and see real changes in policies, processes and leadership habits, we need sustained investment in school leaders having time and space to collaborate, to support each other to think strategically about how to help teachers get better, and to enact then evaluate this change effectively.

Only when we act on research findings, such as those released by the Wellcome Trust, can we reach our goal of every single teacher accessing the time, support and resources they need to improve – regardless of experience, seniority, where they work or the community they serve.

It is time to invest in the leadership of teacher development.

  • Maria Cunningham is head of education at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective CPD in schools and colleges. A secondary school governor and former primary teacher, she leads the TDT services for schools; working with senior leaders to improve the quality and culture of their processes for staff professional learning. She tweets at @mcunners. Visit

Further information

  • DfE: Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, July 2016:
  • Jerrim & Sims: The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018: Research Brief, DfE, June 2019:
  • Leonardi et al: Progress towards the Wellcome CPD Challenge, The Wellcome Trust, February 2020:
  • Zuccollo: The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students, EPI, February 2020:


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