How to effectively evaluate our CPD

Written by: David Weston | Published:
Image: MA Education

How can we build effective evaluation of impact into our professional development? David Weston advises

With pressure on 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.

However, when you get it right, you can gather powerful evidence that each programme of activities is having direct and measurable impact on pupil outcomes.

Teachers and other staff can feel empowered and see greater relevance in their work as they are given tools to identify the improvements they are making, tracing a line from the genuine problems that are challenging them in classrooms to real solutions.

The following advice is focused on the types of CPD which are designed to improve student outcomes. This probably constitutes the bulk of the professional development work that should be going on in schools. Other activities may include training on systems or procedures (e.g. IT, medical, safeguarding, statutory), on organisational processes, or simply raising awareness.

Key principles

There are a few key principles to bear in mind when designing evaluation as part of CPD processes.
Participants need to see and measure the impact they are having. Three big questions of effective CPD are:

  • What will student learning look like when my learning is effective?
  • What tools and approaches can I use to objectively check if I’m making a difference in pupils’ learning?
  • Have I made a difference yet?

It is therefore only possible to evaluate effectively when CPD leaders and participants:

  • Have identified a specific area of learning they are trying to improve for an identified cohort of students.
  • Are able to identify some objective tools and assessments to help them see if they are having genuine impact.
  • Are given repeated opportunities to try implementing and improving approaches, evaluating impact then reflecting and discussing this with colleagues.

Embedding evaluation can be the difference that makes CPD have long-lasting impact. However, embedding evaluation is likely to fail or even backfire if:

  • The evidence is not designed to be of most help to participants – e.g. senior leaders design evaluation approaches primarily to help them monitor impact at the school level or to contribute to monitoring of staff performance. Staff will see through this very quickly and it changes the tone of the CPD entirely.
  • The approach to gathering evidence is bureaucratic and seen as unhelpful – e.g. IT systems where teachers have to re-enter previously gathered pupil data, where there are “one-size-fits-all” evaluation forms to fill in that don’t feel relevant or helpful.
  • There is no dedicated on-going time built in for evaluation and assessment and it is “just another thing to do” – e.g. when teachers have to find time for writing up CPD reflections as a competing demand against on-going planning and marking.

CPD with embedded evaluation

In this worked example a science department begins with a look at examinations and curriculum and evaluates the impact of their learning on a key topic.

In this exemplar school, departments have been given additional meeting times which have been carved out of the additional weekly CPD 90-minute slot which comes on a Wednesday afternoon. There is a fortnightly rota – one week is given to subject teams, the next is given to whole-school or pastoral work.

The head of department augments this time with her weekly meetings with the whole department. She pushes administrative and awareness-raising agenda items into emails and notices, leaving more time for structured discussion and collaboration in meeting times.

In one of the two INSET days in September, the science department as a whole comes together to reflect on GCSE results. Using question-by-question analysis and cross-referencing with their own internal data, the teachers identify key topics and sub-topics where students have struggled.

One of the topics they identify is electric circuits, so they begin by looking at the curriculum and schemes of work in key stage 3, bringing samples of test papers from this topic, and cross-reference that to key stage 4 work and test samples from the same topic.

Through doing this, they identify some common misconceptions that seem to be inadequately dealt with in year 8 and which then resurface and persist in year 10. The physics co-ordinator uses resources from the Institute of Physics and the National Science Learning Centres to explore leading-edge approaches to this area. She looks for:

  • Research on key misconceptions, how they form, and how they can be dealt with.
  • High-quality assessments and activities that can be used to surface misunderstandings.

The whole school has a focus on closing attainment gaps for Pupil Premium-eligible students. While the physics co-ordinator is engaging in research, three members of the department spend going back through the work samples and test data to try and explore the differences in this topic between Pupil Premium and non-Pupil Premium students, looking for patterns.

They also work with the whole-school Pupil Premium co-ordinator and explore whether wider issues of literacy could be causing problems. They hypothesise that a larger proportion of disadvantaged students are struggling with science vocabulary and decide to gather a small group of year 8 pupils (who have not yet studied the topic) to do a few interviews to find out:

  • What they currently know about circuits and what misconceptions they have.
  • How secure they are with key vocabulary they will need to access the topic.

Next time the department meets, they bring the ideas and evidence together and redesign the first few lessons in the year 8 and year 10 electricity topic with a greater focus on misconceptions and vocabulary.

The head of department tries to juggle the scheme of work so that as many classes as possible will teach these first lessons in the next two to four weeks. This turns out to be extremely challenging due to limitations on the availability of equipment, so she asks senior leaders to organise cover for the first 20 minutes of a few teachers’ lessons so that they can be released to watch colleagues teach the lessons.

Once most colleagues have either taught or observed the first one or two lessons being taught, the team comes together and brings work samples and homework scores with them. The homeworks had been designed specifically to test the major misconceptions they were tackling and to further test the hypothesis about vocabulary issues.

The local Teaching School Alliance has a very knowledgeable physics Specialist Leader of Education who works nationally and has been involved in major curriculum development and examining. He is invited in for the meeting to work with colleagues to explore the progress they have made and help them refine and improve the lessons. He spends 10 minutes modelling a particularly effective demonstration and helps colleagues design further tasks to check for understanding.

After another cycle of implementing and checking for impact, the head of department gathers key test data, work samples and reflections from colleagues and the external expert. This is discussed in her line meeting with senior leadership who are exploring the impact of the work. The impact of the work is not only seen in the electricity topic outcomes, but also in the more secure subject knowledge of non-physics-specialist teachers, in greater awareness of challenges of disadvantaged students, and in more general pedagogical ideas about doing demonstrations that teachers then adapt in other topics and lessons.


This type of enquiry approach maps very well to the research on the most effective types of professional development. By empowering teachers and subject teams to solve real learning problems, CPD is more relevant and is easier to evaluate.

For more support in implementing and evaluating the most effective types of CPD, for auditing your school’s CPD approach against best practices, and for connecting with the most ambitious and development-minded school leaders, have a look at the Teacher Development Trust Network, a national network of more than 120 schools.

  • David Weston is chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust ( He is a former science and maths teacher and a governor of a primary and a secondary school. He is the chair of the Department for Education’s Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group. Follow him @informed_edu


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