Improving CPD (Part One)


This is the first part of a two part blog. Part Two is here. It was first published in January 2014. Some content may therefore be out of date. 


In the first term of the 2013/14 academic year, I wrote about what I thought outstanding teaching and learning was in practice: it was, I argued, when students were challenged, engaged, and made progress over time.

I then set out the ‘Big 3’: the three aspects of classroom practice which I believed held the key to delivering outstanding teaching and learning.  These were: feedback; questioning; and pitch.

I then suggested that, if we are to help all our colleagues deliver outstanding teaching and learning like this, we – schools and colleges – need to do two things:

  1. Redesign our evaluative system, and
  2. Improve the quality of professional development.

We needed to redesign our evaluative system, I argued, because the current one – which is largely comprised of formal, graded lesson observations – was broken.

Now, for my first post of 2014, I’d like to turn my attention to improving the quality of professional development because, if we are to take seriously the act of improving teaching, we must take equally seriously the need for quality CPD…

CPD matters

CPD matters.  Teaching is not a job; it is a profession.  We need to wrest control of our profession from policy-makers and ensure that we continue to take seriously the development of our knowledge and skills.  We wouldn’t want to be operated on by an unqualified, unskilled surgeon with out of date knowledge.  We wouldn’t want to fly in a plane piloted by an amateur.  So why would we want our children to be educated by unqualified, unskilled teachers?

International comparisons teach us that the most successful education systems in the world – such as the oft-cited Finland – recruit the best teachers, train them well, and continue to value and develop them throughout their careers.

The Teacher Development Trust found that the world’s best school systems spent over 10% of their school budgets and, perhaps more importantly, over 10% of teachers’ time on CPD. Schools in England, by contrast, spent just 0.5% of their budgets on CPD.

Raise the bar

Accordingly, we in England need to raise the bar for those entering the profession. Teaching is a highly skilled and valuable profession, we should regard it as such. In order to recruit the best, we need to raise the status and the salary. Raising the status should include developing a Royal College of Teaching akin to medicine’s Royal College of Nursing or a General Teaching Council akin to the GMC (as opposed to resurrecting the fruitless GTC of old). This body would safeguard the profession and be at the heart of policy-making, ensuring a long-term, joined-up approach to reform which is divorced from party political posturing.

Improve ITT

Once we’ve recruited the best, we need to train them well. I think a part of this is school-based training and I welcome the increased involvement of schools in the teacher training process via, for example, the Schools Direct model. But this alone is not enough. Training should also involve college and university schools of education in order to ensure academic rigour and the continuance of educational research. Those working in schools rarely have the time or expertise to deliver rigorous ITT provision. ITT, in a joint venture between schools, colleges, and universities, however, could be high quality and become a masters qualification in its own right.

Improve CPD

But perhaps it is the third stage which really holds the key to improving the quality of teaching and it is certainly the means by which we can help improve the practice of those teachers already plying their trade in our schools and colleges: CPD (with an emphasis on the C).

Once we’ve recruited the best teachers and trained them well, we need to cherish their talents and keep them safe. Moreover, we need to help those talents to keep on growing. We do this by developing a truly world class system of continuing professional development.

Making CPD unmissable

In some areas of the organisation I work for, CPD has been poorly attended and poorly regarded in the past.  This is partly because CPD hasn’t been of a high enough quality, has been spasmodic, and has tended towards the generic rather than the specific.  It is partly because colleagues haven’t recognised the link between CPD and their everyday jobs.

I know my organisation is not alone. As a sector we haven’t been very good at practising what we preach by ensuring that our CPD is well taught and engaging, and colleagues haven’t always appreciated the importance of CPD in helping them to improve. CPD has too often been seen as an annexe, divorced from everyday teaching, a box-ticking exercise which occurs once a term (if you’re lucky) and occasionally when a teacher has convinced a senior leader to spend a few hundred pounds on an external training course.

This has to change.  We must make sure that in future our CPD is of a higher quality – INSET must be seen as an unmissable event – and that it is tailored to meet the differing needs of faculties, teams, and individual teachers rather than be a ‘sheep-dipping’ exercise.  We must also make sure that everybody recognises the importance of CPD as a mandatory part of their jobs – not as a voluntary extra – and as something which is linked to performance management and appraisal.

Regular, embedded, and joined up

More importantly, we must move away from a situation whereby CPD is seen as a ‘once in a blue moon’ event.  CPD must be regular, embedded and joined-up. Moreover, CPD must be seen as a collaborative enterprise involving all staff working together, rather than something which is ‘done to’ them by senior leaders. We must also revisit the purpose of CPD…or should I say the ‘purposes’..?

Developing dual professionals

Many recent education reports and policies talk of a ‘dual professionalism’.  In other words, FE teachers (and I use the term ‘teacher’ rather than lecturer, assessor, or practitioner because this is how Ofsted now refers to FE delivery staff) have a responsibility to be industry experts and pedagogy experts.  School teachers, meanwhile, have a responsibility to be experts in their subject specialism as well as pedagogy experts.

All teachers have a duty to ensure they keep their vocational or academic knowledge and skills up-to-date and relevant, whilst also ensuring they continue to develop their skills as a teacher.  It is no longer acceptable to be an industry expert or the holder of a first class degree who imparts their wisdom but does not take seriously their role as a teacher responsible for students’ learning and progress.   It is no longer acceptable to be a pedagogy expert, conversant in the latest findings of cognitive science, but with out-of-date industry/subject knowledge.

I truly believe in this dual professionalism. I have worked with many a scholar – a burning intellect who knows everything there is to know about their chosen specialism – who’s proven an ineffective teacher because their academic intelligence has not been complimented by emotional intelligence and pedagogical skill. Equally, I’ve known many a great ‘teacher’ – an emotionally intelligent person who cares deeply about helping young people and who understands pedagogy – who’s proven ineffective in the classroom because they did not possess adequate subject knowledge.

Put simply, great teachers need to know their subjects and they need to now how best to teach them.  Great teachers anticipate what their students will and will not understand and be able to do. They understand the order in which subject content must be taught. They understand the skills that students will need in order to apply their knowledge.  In short, great teachers are great curriculum planners.

Accordingly, CPD must provide opportunities for colleagues to refresh their industry and/or academic knowledge – for example, through work experience or by studying towards an MA – in order that what they teach is relevant and accurate and provides students with a clear line of sight to the world of work.  And CPD must also provide opportunities for colleagues to improve their knowledge of the art and science of teaching.

The four pillars of effective CPD

I’m a fan of Judith Little, an American educational researcher who works at the University of California, Berkeley. Little says that most successful schools and colleges share four traits and I believe these four traits are key to the kind of quality, staff-driven professional development I’m advocating here. So let these four activities be our cornerstones of effective CPD:

1. Teachers talk about learning.

INSET is dedicated to talking about lessons, about students, and about teaching and learning in general. INSET is never used to discuss administrative matters, this is done by other means such as email, memos, a chat in the corridor, etc.

2. Teachers observe each other.

CPD provides opportunities for teachers to engage in a planned programme of peer observations and feedback. Peer observations are then followed by constructive, focused discussions about how teachers can improve and about how teachers can share good practice and celebrate each other’s skills and talents. Peer-observations and more informal ‘walk throughs’ (or ‘learning walks’) allow colleagues to take genuine snapshots of what happens every day, snapshots which can provide helpful suggestions for improvement as well as recognise and then reward genuine success. These observations are more effective than formal, graded observations but, even so, should form only a part of the evaluative process.

3. Teachers plan together.

Judith Little talks of teachers writing lesson plans together, teaching the same lessons, then discussing them. I do not favour detailed lesson plans (and now even Ofsted inspectors don’t expect them) because detailed plans encourage rigidity and ‘teaching to the plan’, not the kind of teaching which responds pragmatically to students’ needs. Equally, planning carried out too far in advance does not take account of prior learning. Assessment is planning: in other words, teachers should use assessments (teacher-, self- and peer-) to guide their planning. After all, only through assessing students’ progress can we know what they need to learn next in order to make progress.

So, with this in mind, I’d suggest that ‘teachers plan together’ be interpreted as teachers talking to each other about their medium- and long-term planning, and about their marking and students’ work. CPD involves teachers routinely scrutinising each other’s work and moderating each other’s assessments, perhaps engaging in a process of peer review of each other’s mark-books and students’ work. Where it is logistically possible, CPD includes the use of ‘lesson study’ whereby colleagues plan and teach the same lesson and carry out an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses.

4. Teachers teach each other.

INSET events and meetings are transformed into professional learning communities which provide opportunities for teachers to share practice and comment on what they’ve tried and what worked and what didn’t. PLCs are staff-led, collaborative enterprises not opportunities for SLT to stand and deliver.

Innovation and mastery

One logical conclusion of these four cornerstones is that CPD should perform two functions: innovation and mastery. In other words, CPD should not just be about learning new ways of working – or CPD for innovation – although this is undoubtedly important.  It should also be about helping colleagues to get better at something they already do – or CPD for mastery.  CPD for mastery is about recognising what works well now and what should therefore be embedded, added to, and shared.

I say this because there is a tendency for CPD to be regarded as pointless unless it contains a panacea. There is also a tendency for CPD to be regarded as being synonymous with a training course. Sometimes – no, most of the time – CPD is not a training course, it is about colleagues working together in pairs or small groups in order to improve on the things they already do as outlined above.

KEEPING READING: Part Two of this blog is here.

7 responses to “Improving CPD (Part One)

  1. Pingback: Improving CPD (Part Two) | M J Bromley's Blog·

  2. Pingback: How to improve the quality of teaching | M J Bromley's Blog·

  3. Pingback: Memory is the residue of thought | M J Bromley's Blog·

  4. Pingback: Lesson Study | M J Bromley's Blog·

  5. Pingback: 2014 – The Year in Review: Part One | M J Bromley's Blog·

  6. Pingback: Does a loss of teacher autonomy also mean a loss of professionalism? (Part 2) | M J Bromley's Blog·

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