A paradigm shift in professional development?


“For a profession so dedicated to learning, teachers seem to take little care of their own learning” (Ward, 2017)

After becoming an independent education consultant, after 10 years as a school adviser, I adopted the same CPD activity model historically used in education – a single day where participants have a day out of school, a nice lunch, opportunity to network, top tips for teachers, and hopefully learnt some new skills. Feedback from participants have always been excellent but I have never been convinced of the effectiveness of this model. Does it really make a lasting impact on the participants, the schools or young people? Timperley et al (2007) noted, “a one-day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on pupil outcomes”

I’m currently completing an MBA, an essential element of the programme is reviewing and developing your own business practices. While studying my latest module, Designing and Managing service processes, I reviewed CPD delivery models as well as reviewing participants feedback on long term impact.

Schools are accustomed to the single day CPD activity model and feel they support individual professional development. Participants enjoy the opportunities to network, provided with new ideas and ‘tools’ to use at school, and have an inspiring day. However more detailed analysis of long term impact is less positive. OfSTED noted that, “Effective professional development should be seen as a key driver not only of staff development, but also of recruitment, retention, wellbeing, and school improvement.”

Reviewing a range of CPD models a number show great promise. For example the Primary Science Quality Mark  (PSQM) is a developmental programme over 9 months and involves subject leaders writing an action plan and then delivering it with the support of the experienced hub leader. Another is the Tapestry Partnership model – developing teacher learning communities. Both models demonstrate that CPD can be very effective in school improvement.

In 2016 the Department for Education published their Standards for Effective CPD. Based on work of an expert group it highlighted that for CPD to be effective it should:

  1. have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. be development programmes, sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:

  1. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

While professional development can take many forms, the best available research shows that the most effective professional development practices share these characteristics.

What does the model look like in practice?

Reviewing my own CPD provision I have moved away from single day activity to a developmental programme approach where participants work collaboratively over a 3-4 month timeframe, meet up for 3-4 ½ day sessions and apply what they have learnt or developed into their own school setting. Underpinning this is a professional dialogue, mentoring and coaching.

The Standards for Effective CPD How our programmes meet the DfE standard for effective CPD (DfE 2016)
Focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes
  • The programme equip the participant in improvement approaches and evaluative techniques to support pupil progression over time
  • Action planning and intercessional tasks focuses on outcomes to explicitly improve T&L/AfL approaches across the school
Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise
  • CPD programme is informed by effective CPD research
  • Activities drawn from highly reputable and credible community
  • Mentoring and coaching to support professional development
Collaboration and expert challenge
  • School collaboration through intercessional tasks ensures effective application of knowledge and skills
  • Programme is led by an experienced Specialist Leader in Education
  • Ongoing online, phone and mentoring support throughout the programme
Sustained over time
  • The programme develops the participant and equips them with tools and approaches to sustainably develop and lead improvement in their school
Prioritised by school leadership
  • Participants are encouraged to work with the school leadership in developing their own leadership practice to ensure value for money and lasting impact

Where I have used this approach the feedback and long-term impact has been profound, “I feel I have developed as a leader over the year. I am now more confident to lead a subject and know how to ensure progress is made. The directed activities and deadlines have meant I have had a focus and the opportunity to reflect has enabled me to identify how we can develop further.”

But are schools ready for a new way of working?

Although evidence shows this approach works we need a paradigm shift in how schools focus on CPD, are schools ready for this change?  A few years ago I ran a programme called Learning and Teaching Research Project, participants were funded to spend 3 days over a 7 month period to learn about research, identify an area they wanted to work on and then implement their plan, finishing with reflection and review of impact. The impact on the individual and their own practice was significant. However, although the programme was free take up was not great – the biggest barrier was the view that schools could not commit to the programme as the outcomes were not clear.


“Effective professional development for teachers is a core part of securing effective teaching. It cannot exist in isolation, rather it requires a pervasive culture of scholarship with a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop so that pupils benefit from the highest quality teaching.”

To be more effective we need to become more focussed on developing supported learning communities that enable teachers to develop and grow, supported by effective mentors and coaches.

I’ll be reviewing and updating this post over the coming year after reviewing my new CPD programmes. Please do share your experiences and views.


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