Thriving CPD on a tight budget

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Taking a mixed approach to the professional development of staff and making sure that every element links to school priorities can help to protect CPD spending as budgets bite, says Liam Donnison

The squeeze is resolutely on for school budgets, with a perfect storm of forces combining to make funding one of the most pressing issues for school leaders.
Professional development is one area recently highlighted as being under stress, with budget deficits squeezing staff CPD spending.

With the value of staff professional development so clear – research from the Teacher Development Trust links it to improved results for pupils and better staff morale and retention – it is vital to safeguard it from the squeeze.

Of course, if you are to protect your CPD spending you must be able to justify it in straitened times. One way of doing this is to ensure it has a clear impact on school improvement and that it contributes to staff retention.

Applying a “mixed economy” philosophy to CPD, combining a range of good value and no-cost approaches, is one way to do this. Here are some of the pathways taken by leaders we have worked with in recent years.

Become a CPD deliverer

Getting your key staff involved in the delivery of professional development programmes won’t simply be a boost for other schools, it can have real benefits for your school too.

Staff acting as facilitators and coaches on the National Professional Qualifications, for example, report big benefits in terms of career progression and increased professional confidence.

Peter Hitchen, a deputy headteacher at Dean Trust Wigan, became a facilitator on the NPQSL and NPQML programmes after completing the NPQSL programme last year. He explained: “Being a facilitator forced me to learn around subjects that I am not familiar with and deliver in a way that is beneficial to the participants on the programme.

“When I’m in school I am delivering to staff who typically report to me. But when I’m discussing leadership issues with people who are on the same or a higher level as me it broadens your horizons.”

He says the impact of facilitation has had a profound impact on his professional development and leadership practice: “I now have different conversations with my leaders at school – the facilitation has allowed me to do that. It’s shaped CPD at school for me. I have delivered leadership courses to them based on what I’ve learned through my NPQ delivery. It’s given me a lot of confidence to step up.”

Build leader networks

Creating learning communities within and across schools is a really effective way of sharing best practice and support – and providing very cost-effective CPD. One federation in the South West of England set up various system leader networks to get leaders and teachers across the trust to work more closely together in areas such as Pupil Premium, maths and English teaching, and SEN.

Dr Nick Capstick, CEO of the White Horse Federation MAT in Wiltshire, said: “It reduces our resource needs by creating a synergy and network of people working together.”

Put leaders in control of improvement

At Sirius Academy West in Hull, an academy improvement group was set up to identify and trial improvement strategies that could be used across the school.

Led by a senior leader, the group creates new ways of supporting the school’s development priorities in areas such as teaching and learning, assessment and data analysis. It includes staff with ambitions for progression and leadership potential and provides a retention and recruitment structure that gives members valuable professional development – and creates a pipeline of future leaders for the school.

Make CPD work for the school

Sirius Academy’s improvement group approach hits upon a key need for good value professional development: it must make a direct difference to school improvement.

Participants in the National Professional Qualifications choose a school-based project, informed by the school’s development objectives, as part of their programme studies.

One NPQSL participant focused her project on helping colleagues adopt new technology in the classroom. She had been working on a CPD programme designed to train all teaching staff in the use of iPads in the classroom.

The CPD had limited impact at first; staff attended the training but didn’t apply their learning in the classroom. She went back to the project as part of her NPQ.

Staff were put into sets according to their confidence and capabilities with the technology, with a small team of colleagues running the training.
The revitalised project led to improvements in attainment in classes that used the technology the most when compared to classes that used it the least, as well as improvements in the consistency of behaviour and engagement.

  • Liam Donnison is director of Best Practice Network. Working in partnership with Outstanding Leaders Partnership, BPN has developed four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Visit and


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin