CPD in schools – what’s going on?

Recent research shows that only around a third of teachers believe that performance evaluation and CPD play a crucial role in improving teacher practice

For many teachers, the request to ‘drop in’ and talk about their progress with the senior leadership team is often a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, there is the knowledge – backed up by research – that Continuous Professional Development (CPD) not only benefits members of staff keen to develop and enhance their skills, but also has a knock-on effect in terms of improved pupil outcomes.

On the other hand, however, the same teachers can be forgiven for groaning inwardly. After two years of pandemic hell and, as exam season approaches, the return to what passes for the ‘new normal’, teachers might well consider an extra dollop of CPD as an unwelcome addition to their already-stretched workload.

In addition, and more worryingly, close to 40% of headteachers hold the same view. At the same time, though, it appears that the majority of teachers with less than five years’ experience see at least moderate value in CPD on their practice. Unsurprisingly, this statistic drops somewhat among teachers with more than 20 years’ experience, yet the figure is still reasonably high.

So what is going on? Why should CPD be seen as generally a good thing while evidence supports the theory that in practice, there is still plenty of ‘feet-dragging’ when it comes to application? There is no doubt that the time factor is a challenge. The roll-out of the government’s Early Career Framework (ECF) has promoted calls for schools to make sure their new teachers are able to focus on their professional development at the expense of other duties. Faye Craster, Teach First’s director of teacher development, said last year that new teachers and their mentors should be freed up to focus on CPD. But, “What is this ‘something else’ that has to drop to allow our early career teachers and mentors to focus on their development?” she asked.

A reduction in classroom or management duties is, of course, fine in theory. However, we know full well that it doesn’t always work out so smoothly, particularly in smaller schools where duties are myriad and time is at a premium.

The question of cost

Then there is the question of cost. In recent years there has been something of a downward spiral in spending by schools on professional development as they deal with funding pressures. Many school management teams have questioned the quality of external CPD providers, considering that the money paid out to such organisations could either be spent elsewhere, or that CPD training could be taken in-house. There is an argument that schools are simply being cleverer with their budgets; however, it is a fact that some schools have spent next to nothing (or nothing at all) on CPD, highlighting the issue of on-going under-funding from central government.

The irony of this situation is contained in a report by Pro Bono Economics for education charity PTI, which provides a wide range of CPD courses. The report states that the government would make far better uses of resources were it to channel them into professional development rather than the focus on recruitment of new teachers. The additional cost of some 35 hours of professional development a year for all teachers, so the argument goes, would be offset by improved retention rates, contributing significantly to difficulties in teacher supply.

A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it now… training [needs to be] appropriate and consistent for individual needs

Whatever the reasons for reluctance to implement coherent and effective CPD strategies, there is little doubt that ongoing CPD does have measurable value for teachers. It shouldn’t be treated as a ‘bolt-on’ or a tick-box exercise, nor should it be something you do in your own time. If it is to be implemented into a teacher’s timetable, it is clear that other areas of responsibility will have to give.

Furthermore, real thought needs to be given to its relevance. A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it now – senior management staff taking responsibility for CPD delivery (either in-house or via the engagement of outside providers) needs to make sure that training is appropriate and consistent for individual needs. By thinking smartly, the issues of time and cost savings can be tackled in a way that is both beneficial to teachers and their employers’ budgets.

Pepe Di’Iasio, president of the Association of School and College Leaders and headteacher at Wales High School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, said:

When resources are as tight as they are and a headteacher is faced with so many competing factors, you have to remember that your staff are the greatest resource at your disposal. It is they that make the biggest difference to outcomes; it is they who can inspire and model aspiration; it is they that can change students’ life-chances; and it is they that that you should not think twice about investing in.

In partnership with Juniper Education and Education Technology, Independent Education Today hosted the recent webinar “Staff Development – are you just ticking the box?”

We heard more expert insight from Pepe, along with Jo Lynch from Juniper, which you can watch on-demand here:

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