35 hours? The case for an annual CPD entitlement

Written by: Nick Brook | Published:
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An entitlement to 35 hours of high-quality CPD for every teacher and more effective support for new headteachers are two keys to school improvement according to the School Improvement Commission. Nick Brook explains


It is an oft-repeated phrase, but no less true for it, that “schools are only as good as the people in them”.

Our goal is for every pupil in the country to be taught by an expert teacher, with strong pedagogical content knowledge and an understanding of how children learn, and who belong to a profession that continually builds its collective expertise.

To achieve this, we need schools to be geared up to be effective learning organisations, not just for pupils but for the people that work in them – nurturing, valuing and recognising their on-going development.

School improvement does not happen overnight, it takes time, delivered more often through small incremental changes at individual classroom level rather than through “big-ticket” structural changes. Great teachers are made, not born. Yet we know that not all teachers and leaders have access to good CPD.

High-quality professional development can significantly improve pupils’ learning outcomes and improve both teacher and pupil wellbeing. An Education Policy Institute report earlier this year (Fletcher-Wood & Zuccollo, 2020) suggested that high-quality CPD has a greater effect on pupil attainment than a number of other school-based interventions, including lengthening the school day.

The School Improvement Commission, set up by the National Association of Head Teachers, published its final report last week. At the heart of our findings is our belief that access to high-quality CPD should be the norm for all teachers, at every stage of their career.

Now this is hardly a radical concept. Greater investment in the development of staff has been called for many times before. This is not new. Yet time and time again, the change that we want to see in the system simply fails to materialise.

If we want to drive real change, we need to be resolute in our commitment to make it happen. Which is why the commission is recommending working towards a firm deadline to introduce an entitlement to CPD for all teachers and leaders.

In making this recommendation, the commission drew heavily on the work of the Wellcome Trust and partners, through the “CPD challenge” pilot (see further information). Their work is providing important evidence as to the potential impact of a 35-hour annual entitlement to high-quality professional development, as well as the challenges associated with delivering this – in particular, the critical importance of providing proper scaffolding and support to school leaders in developing their own understanding of and expertise in high-quality CPD. Getting the culture right in schools will be key. SecEd has previously written about the CPD challenge and the 35-hour CPD idea (2020).

As a precursor to a CPD entitlement for all in 2025, the commission calls for every school to designate a senior leader as the professional development lead for the school, to oversee, coordinate and champion the development of high-quality teacher professional development.

If we want leaders to be able to create the sorts of environments in which teachers can thrive, we need to support, develop and trust them too. Just as teachers need the right conditions in which to thrive, so too do school leaders.

Unfortunately, leadership recruitment and retention is in crisis. Currently too few teachers aspire to headship. Those that do are often poorly supported to succeed and too many leave the profession prematurely.

The government has recognised that far too many recently qualified teachers leave the profession within a few years of qualifying and has taken steps with the Early Career Framework to better support them in the critical first few years of teaching.

Well precisely the same challenging conditions exist for new headteachers, yet support for new leaders is patchy, and in places non-existent. Too often there is a sink or swim mentality, which results in 30 per cent of headteachers leaving the profession within three years of their first headship. This is clearly not sustainable.

In our report, we reiterated the call from the commission in 2018 that government develop a new headteacher support package. This is urgently required. We cannot wait until we emerge from this current crisis to address the issues that cause too many leaders to leave the profession prematurely, and too few talented individuals from aspiring to be leaders.


  • Nick Brook is deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Read his previous SecEd articles via https://bit.ly/2Kz1hiA


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