Recruitment, retention & CPD: We're in it together

Written by: Polly Butterfield-Tracey | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The benefits of school-to-school collaboration for effective CPD, teacher recruitment and retention can be powerful and long-term. Polly Butterfield-Tracey looks at how a group of schools in the South East is overcoming the barriers to collaboration

Earlier this year, the government launched a new strategy for the recruitment and retention of teachers (DfE, 2019), recognising that there are on-going and significant challenges to ensuring that teachers are attracted to and able to stay in the profession.

Its key priorities include early career support, a reduction in teacher workload, and creating a diverse range of options for teachers’ careers.

To build a career offer that attracts potential teachers and remains attractive, schools must work together to build local communities with a high engagement in professional learning.

In the South East we serve a highly disadvantaged community. Many wards rank within the top 10 per cent most deprived in the UK (IDACI) and urban coastal schools have among the highest proportion of unqualified teachers. This has an impact on recruitment and retention and more than 25 per cent of secondary and eight per cent of primary schools reported vacancies or temporary appointments in the wider South East region in the Department for Education’s (DfE) 2015 Workload Analysis.

We know from research by the Sutton Trust (2011) that the difference between the effects of poor teaching versus highly effective teaching is just under half a year’s extra progress for most students, and that disadvantaged students stand to gain the most from effective teaching.

Professional development matters not only because of the impact on pupil progress, but also to help retain teachers within our local area – not just in our own schools. It is time for a shift in the way we think about retention and for schools to start working together to address regional challenges.

In January, we launched the South East’s Teacher Development Trust (TDT) Regional Hub at Astor College in Dover and more than 20 senior leaders and leaders of CPD attended. Although some colleagues had collaborated previously, the range and diversity of school contexts proved that meaningful collaboration is valued by leaders in all types of schools and all types of circumstances.

The launch event and subsequent hub meetings have created a safe environment for school leaders and CPD leaders to share and collaborate. We have found that new dialogues have opened between schools enabling us to share best practice, develop expertise and build up strong local communities dedicated to professional learning. Here are just a few of the benefits arising from our collaboration...


Funding is one of the most pressing issues facing school leaders and justifying the cost of external expertise can be challenging. To overcome this, schools in the Dover, Deal and Sandwich district have shared their school development priorities and looked for opportunities to split the cost of commissioning external providers. This has enabled access to expertise that would have otherwise been unavailable due to financial constraints.

Reduction in workload

When CPD leaders from local schools in my area first met as a group we were struck by the similarity of the tasks we were completing each academic year.

Although there were no surprises that all of us were focused on similar priorities for development, we were also independently designing very similar CPD programmes for teacher development. By pooling our expertise and sharing sessions between sites we have not only reduced workload but also enabled meaningful professional relationships to develop between our teachers.

Although this may contribute to an increase in movement between schools, what matters is that we are retaining teachers, and the knowledge and skills they have developed, within our district.

Building collective efficacy

When teachers believe that together, they and their colleagues can have an impact on student achievement, they share a sense of collective efficacy. This belief is essential if professional development activities are to be effective.

School leaders in our district have pooled their contextual knowledge to better understand the day-to-day challenges faced by teachers in the classroom. As a group of local schools, we have allocated time for departmental networks to meet and share their experiences, and to engage with and contextualise research.

We know there are challenges to setting up meaningful collaborations, even between schools in the same town, and competition and resentment can be tough barriers to overcome. However, competition is the enemy of collaboration and it is amazing what can be achieved by working together. Through collaboration school leaders have the potential not only to solve some of the persistent problems faced by the area, but also to change the way that teaching is spoken about in terms of being an attractive and rewarding profession.

Tips for getting started

  • Start by putting your own reservations aside. In Kent we have schools with vastly different intakes and contexts. However as leaders we are focused on similar priorities for development.
  • Take the first step and get in touch with other CPD and teaching and learning leads in your area to arrange a meeting to discuss ideas for pooling resources.
  • Share positive experiences about external CPD with other CPD leads and collate together into a shareable local CPD provision map “co-created” by all of the leaders involved. This can be a powerful resource to support local schools with effective commissioning of external CPD.
  • Consider working with a local university to facilitate an action research project across your district. Not only is this a great way to attract other schools to collaborate but it also has the benefit of enabling your staff to accredit their professional learning, either through TLA recognition or M Level credits.
  • Get in touch with your nearest Research School. The support we received from the Durrington Research School team was invaluable in helping to us to engage in and contextualise research. Research schools also put on a variety of free research-informed CPD which supports development and enables teachers to meet others in similar contexts.
  • Join the TDT Network to connect with other schools or your nearest Regional Hub.

  • Polly Butterfield-Tracey is project director for CESET, a regional collaboration in South East England. She is also director of research at Astor College and an associate leader of CPD with the TDT, a national charity for effective CPD in schools and colleges.

Further information & resources

  • Teacher recruitment and retention strategy, DfE, January 2019:
  • Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK, The Sutton Trust, September 2011:
  • The next TDT Regional Hub at Astor College will be held on July 11. For more details on the work of the TDT, including its network of Regional Hubs, visit
  • Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, DfE, July 2016:
  • Developing great teaching, Cordingley et al, TDT, September 2014:


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