Tough choices? How to navigate the CPD marketplace

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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With so many experts, partners, consultants and providers, how can school leaders better navigate the CPD marketplace? Maria Cunningham looks at new research into quality-assurance, and its implications for your school’s CPD commissioning


In April, a consortium of the Chartered College of Teaching, Teacher Development Trust (TDT) and Sheffield Institute of Education launched a report in which we shared the outcomes of a project commissioned by Wellcome to design, develop and pilot a system for quality-assuring teachers’ CPD (Chedzey et al, 2021).

The aim of the project was to first and foremost design a system which enables school leaders to make decisions about CPD more easily. When we held consultations with school leaders, they said things like:

  • “Personally I feel there is a lot of pressure on me to make the right decision, and a lot of money being spent. A tool would improve that and put me at ease. I would find it really valuable.”
  • “At our school, we really care about outcomes. What is the impact on that person going on CPD, and what will the long-term impact be on our young people? But not all CPD providers offer these things in their marketing.”
  • “If providers did want to gain a badge it would make a lot of schools’ lives easier. We spend a lot of money ... it is a minefield, and trying to prioritise high-quality CPD is very difficult.”

Our learning suggests that the quality-assurance system we have developed has the potential to be robust, fair and valuable for school leaders and the wider system. This is a huge development in the landscape, as we know that not all CPD available to schools is equally effective – with huge variation in quality of design, service and delivery.

This is a significant issue when you consider that teachers in England only spend an average of four days per year of their precious time on professional development (Chedzey et al, 2021).

However, it is also important to remember that the existence of a quality mark only provides one side of the story. A CPD programme might meet all the criteria that research suggests indicates quality, but if the content is not relevant to your organisation, staff or students right now, or if in-school factors such as unmanageable workload prevent colleagues from fully engaging, then that programme is unlikely to have the same impact it would in a school where working conditions are optimal (see Cunningham, 2021) and the expert input is closely matched to specific pupil needs.

Before selecting partners, consultants, providers or experts to work with, you need to be able to present your needs as clearly and specifically as possible, and ensure that colleagues within your school have a basic understanding of the principles of effective CPD so that they can meaningfully contribute to evaluation of whether the input or training has met its intended purpose.

Here is some guidance that we developed alongside the CPD quality-assurance project to help you do exactly that.


Who or what is the target of the CPD?

Before selecting a provider to work with, you need to be able to present your needs to a provider of expertise as clearly and specifically as possible. A CPD quality mark might confirm that provider has systems in place to support participants and/or school leaders in identifying CPD needs and requirements and to ensure that the content presented is suitable, but success also relies on you as a leader identifying in advance:

  • What depth of expertise should the CPD programme be aiming to achieve (e.g. a webinar to raise awareness against an extended approach over time with expert input to secure entrenched practice)?
  • How does the intended CPD contribute or relate to your school improvement plan?


What will success look like for pupils?

The blueprint we lay out for a CPD quality-assurance system (Chedzey et al, 2021) uses criteria that provide an indication of what makes high-quality CPD based on the latest available evidence and looks to assess various factors that are most likely to contribute to this.

While one of these criteria is that the provider “undertakes robust evaluation of the effectiveness of their programmes”, our proposed system does not involve assessors relying on evidence of pupil outcomes to inform their judgements about whether the CPD is high-quality or not.

Any badge or means of accrediting CPD should not be taken as a failsafe road to raising attainment.


How will I evaluate the impact?

When we at the TDT do our CPD diagnostic reviews of schools, a common misconception we come across is that evaluation of professional development must mean lots of feedback forms!

While collecting participants’ immediate responses to a professional learning activity is an important way to work out whether the content felt relevant, the delivery was effective or whether they enjoyed the experience, research also shows that whether teachers are “conscripts” or “volunteers” does not matter as much as a positive learning environment, provision of sufficient time, and how the professional learning fitted in with their classroom and school context (SecEd, 2017).

As such, the proposed CPD quality-assurance blueprint does not take into account customer reviews, nor does it incorporate any sort of satisfaction ratings. However, it will check that providers actively seek feedback from participants and their schools and draw upon this to improve their on-going quality and effectiveness.

Ideally this will align with your in-school processes and use of on-going tools or frameworks to gauge sustained impact on students over time – which as Thomas Guskey recommends (SecEd, 2016), are best identified at the planning stage. Evaluation is not just something that “comes at the end”.


Greatest value for money?

CPD programmes that are quality-assured should have had to demonstrate that value for money for schools has been considered in the design process, but as a leader it is up to you to make a judgement as to whether the price of the service can be justified within your budget, or if there are other genuinely equivalent services, experts or courses which might provide similar for less, or indeed better value for money.


Some top tips

Finally, we spoke to school leaders in TDT Network member schools, who shared their top tips for finding the right provider for you and your school:

  • Pick up the phone: Use the criteria above to identify your needs, clarify some minimum expectations and be a discerning customer – if you are paying for a programme of development, do not feel that you cannot have a conversation about it.
  • Look for opportunities to adapt: Many providers will arrange a meeting, send a form or survey in advance in order to better understand your needs. Check that this is available to you if you do not think something “off-the-shelf” will achieve your aims.
  • Ask to be put in touch with other users: Many leaders say it is more helpful to hear testimonials directly from past participants – providers should be happy to arrange this.
  • Involve participants: If you are commissioning CPD for individuals or teams other than yourself, make sure to include them in the process to ensure it is fit-for-purpose. Do they require a facilitator with specialist experience? Can subject leaders corroborate the content and research used to inform specific programmes? 


  • Maria Cunningham is director of education at the Teacher Development Trust. A school governor and former primary teacher, Maria has led and contributed to national programmes including the DfE-funded CPD Excellence Hubs, Wellcome CPD Quality Assurance Project and Nesta EdTech R&D Programme. Read her previous articles for SecEd via http://bit.ly/seced-cunningham


Further information & resources

  • Chedzey et al: Quality Assurance of Teachers’ CPD: Design, development and pilot of a CPD quality assurance system, April 2021: https://bit.ly/3xjvC8S
  • Cunningham: CPD: Creating the right conditions for professional learning, SecEd, February 2021: https://bit.ly/3dRv7LZ
  • SecEd: Teacher choice in whole-school CPD, Clay, February 2017: https://bit.ly/3n9CdxP
  • SecEd: Five principles to help you evaluate your CPD, Clay, April 2016: https://bit.ly/3va9743


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