Improving your CPD and boosting staff retention

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
Image: MA Education

Developing a school culture that supports and encourages teacher retention is crucial for all good schools. Maria Cunningham draws out elements of effective CPD practice that can inspire your staff and motivate them to stay in the profession

Last month, the LKMCo released a new report, The Talent Challenge, based around teacher recruitment and retention. We know this is an increasingly urgent crisis faced by schools in England, as pupil numbers are set to rise to 3.3 million by 2025 and an extra 26,500 teachers will be needed to ensure these children are educated.

With “shockingly high” unfilled vacancies at secondary schools and more than one in 10 teachers leaving the profession for other sectors, schools need to do their utmost to create a desirable working culture that makes staff want to stay for the long-run.

The research is clear that investing in high-quality, sustainable CPD activities not only taps in to your staff’s need to feel valued, but also ensures that regardless of their level of experience, teachers are able to keep improving, year-on-year, for the benefit of pupil outcomes.

Enabling powerful professional learning is one of the most important things you can do as a school leader not only for your staff, but also your pupils.

Through our network of more than 200 schools across England and Wales, we have the privilege of visiting our members to understand, examine and review their CPD practices. Below are some key principles which allow these schools to develop a motivated, engaged workforce that sticks around for the long haul.

Prioritising teacher development

It is important to set a vision for effective professional learning and ensure that its value within the school is understood by all.
For professional learning to be a priority it needs to be visible at all levels, so it is important that headteachers or senior leaders do not neglect their own CPD needs, rather, actively modelling their own development and even taking part in a potentially vulnerable process such as volunteering to be observed or filmed in the classroom for peer-sharing.

At one of our member schools, St Mark’s Primary in Bromley, deputy headteacher Jennifer Richards enrolled herself this year on to our professionally recognised Lesson Study course co-developed with Sheffield Hallam University. She said: “I’m always learning, I talk about that all the time. It’s important that my staff trust me, but know that I’m still improving.”

Time and space for professional learning

In an educational landscape where budgets are shrinking, there has never been a more important time to safeguard your CPD budget allocation. Great development and a supportive environment can improve morale and reduce stress.

By investing a portion up-front into a dramatically improved CPD programme, schools can reduce long-term costs of high staff turnover and the stress of the annual recruitment challenge.

However, when we visit schools and speak to staff, they frequently cite time as one of the greatest barriers to making CPD visions a reality. Time is indeed one of the most precious things in a school, but our most successful members allocate as much as possible to CPD so that senior leaders and teaching staff alike recognise that professional learning is a priority activity.

This means thinking beyond the realms of INSET days or disaggregated twilight sessions and being more creative. Many schools begin by organising regular weekly or fortnightly CPD time, which could for example comprise year-group joint lesson-planning for 90 minutes per-week in a primary school, or two hours of subject time in a secondary school.

One multi-academy trust we’ve worked with blocks off an afternoon per half term to assemble teachers from across its schools to work on Lesson Study, a Japanese teacher enquiry model, while others host “teach-meet” style gatherings over breakfast to share research, ideas and best practice.

Of course, how this time is used is also crucial. The most effective professional learning is sustained over the year, with iterative opportunities to reflect, collaborate and refine practice. CPD activities should also draw upon research evidence and external expertise to identify the most pressing issues and align with the most plausibly successful teaching approaches.

In many schools, a research champion draws upon syntheses such as the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, as well as banks of academic journals such as the TDT Network research library or a university library.

Collaborative and developmental

The quality of mentoring and coaching available in a school is one of the key variables that contributes to a positive culture for professional development. We all lose perspective at times and in the most successful schools coaching is seen as something to which all staff aspire, rather than an approach reserved only for NQTs or to remedy deficits.

Recently, we visited Coleshill Heath School in Solihull, where assistant principal Kathryn Morgan has adopted a model of coaching based on Appreciative Enquiry. She says this practice has been pivotal in shifting the mindsets of teachers from “I need to do this because I’m not very good at” to “this is a real strength of mine, so I’m going to play to this more because I see the impact that it’s having upon...”

The senior leadership team plans in regular quality time for “useful conversations” with colleagues, where the teachers are in the driving seat and talk confidently about their own pupil impact as well as inquire into their own potential to develop this further.

Engaging with collaborative teacher enquiry models, such as Lesson Study, can be a particularly effective way to give staff autonomy over their work, as well as collaborate on a very specific pupil issue, to research around it and to evaluate the impact of their approach.
Since the basis of Lesson Study is to observe pupils and their learning, rather than teacher practice, professional learning is driven by a real desire to help students improve and make a difference in their learning.

Relevant CPD, driven by pupil need

An under-pressure leadership team can sometimes feel that they are imposing their teaching priorities on staff with very diverse needs. This inevitably makes it feel that the CPD isn’t truly relevant – for many teachers they suspect it is just helping the senior leadership team to tick boxes.

While research doesn’t necessarily support the idea that all staff should be entirely free to pick all of their own learning activities, giving teachers choice can be a positive driving force for a culture of contribution and avoids a school’s CPD programme from becoming too “top-down”. It places value on staff’s professional judgement; it can help build trust, as well as helping enable relevant CPD.

What should definitely be a common thread throughout is that all CPD is driven by pupil need. Teachers join the profession because they want to make a difference to children and young people, and a key principle of effective CPD is that it maintains a tight focus on specific student outcomes throughout the process.

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. Teachers, teaching assistants and all those who spend the most time with students should all play a key part in identifying pupil needs and then matching their own CPD to meet these needs, through a highly collaborative process that then boosts workforce morale.

Career development opportunities

Schools and groups are increasingly recognising the benefits of talent management, spotting members of staff with potential to develop outstanding practice and allocating resources to well-supported opportunities that are just outside their comfort zone.

Typically, this would consist of more formal programmes of leadership development, academic study and accreditation (including Specialist Leaders of Education or HLTAs for non-teaching staff). Not only is this a way of retaining talented and ambitious colleagues who might otherwise seek promotion elsewhere, but it also acts as a lever to improve student outcomes.

It is important not to fall into the trap of using only the most experienced teachers to deliver training to others, while neglecting to offer these same staff their own opportunities to receive input and support. Leaders need to ensure that within whole-school priorities, all staff’s individual CPD needs are met.

Improving staff development is no simple matter, but with the right support, networks and leadership it is one of the most important investments that a school can make. As teachers feel increasingly trusted, valued and supported to continually further their practice, the foundations are set for a flourishing school environment that is able to keep the very best staff.

  • Maria Cunningham is a network officer at the Teacher Development Trust, the national charity for professional learning in schools. She is a former primary school teacher and supports schools across the TDT Network with developing their CPD processes.

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