Early Career Teachers: Sense-check your CPD

This article was written for SecEd magazine.

Ofsted recently updated its initial teacher education (ITE) inspection framework, with the revised version having now come into effect (as of September 2020).

The new framework applies to all phases of ITE, including early years, primary, secondary and further education (Ofsted, 2020).

Ofsted has introduced a new key judgement called “quality of education and training”, which replaces the two previous judgements of “quality of training across the partnership” and “outcomes for trainees”.

The criteria Ofsted is using for this new judgement is, I think, also handy for newly and recently qualified teachers too – it can be used as a sense-check of your on-going professional development so let’s take a look at how Ofsted proposes to define ‘good’ practice and explore what this might look like for you…

In so doing, we will focus on six areas of your professional practice:

1. Develop your subject knowledge
2. Acquire a range of experiences
3. Engage with research evidence
4. Have high expectations
5. Teach for long-term learning
6. Lead your own professional development

1. Develop your subject knowledge

Under ‘intent’, Ofsted says that ITE programmes should be designed to consistently give trainees the necessary expertise required in the subject or subjects they teach. The ITE curriculum should be designed to ensure that trainees are introduced to the tools to develop their knowledge further, for example through sharing access to professional networks.

The explicit mention of subject expertise here is important, I think, because within our brave new world of curriculum thinking where we focus – in Amanda Spielman’s words – on the ‘real substance of education’, teachers need a depth of up-to-date subject specialist knowledge in order to plan an effective programme of study and in order to ensure their choices of curriculum content are appropriate and ambitious.

In the education inspection framework (EIF), Ofsted also notes the importance of continuing professional development for teachers that serves two functions: developing pedagogical content knowledge (that is to say, generic teaching strategies); and developing subject content knowledge (pedagogies specific to a particular discipline and the body of knowledge that comprises that subject field).

As well as continuing to access CPD on generic teaching strategies such as feedback and metacognition, therefore, as an NQT and RQT you might also wish to access subject-specific development opportunities including, though not limited to, membership of a subject association and/or network such as, in the case of English teachers, the National Association of Teachers of English or NATE.

Social media might also prove useful as a means of connecting with other teachers in your field, particularly if you are the only teacher of your subject in your own school.

External training courses might also be key here because they provide access to a subject expert trainer but also enable networking with other subject specialists.

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to ensure my subject specialist knowledge continues to grow and to engage with other experts in my subject?

2. Acquire a range of experiences

Under ‘implementation’, Ofsted says that ITE programmes should allow trainees to apply what they have learned from a range of different placement experiences and settings.

Many NQTs are restricted in terms of which classes they get to teach, with some heads of department – rightly or wrongly – seeking to ‘protect’ exam classes and post-16 cohorts from inexperienced teachers.

If you have not been timetabled to teach a broad range of classes during your NQT year, therefore, it’s important that you try to seek a breath of experience in other ways early in your career and this might mean peer-teaching or observing colleagues.

Try to teach or observe classes in every year group in your school and, where classes are set, observe a range of abilities.

Ask if it’s possible to visit other schools in different settings, too, to assess the extent to which your teaching strategies are transferable.

Gaining a breadth of experience early in your NQT or RQT year, will not only help you develop your knowledge and skills, it will also help you make informed decisions about your career path.

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to widen my experience to different contexts and settings?

3. Engage with research evidence

Ofsted says the ITE curriculum should be designed to equip trainees with up-to-date research findings.

It should also ensure trainees are taught how to apply principles from scholarship relevant to their subject and phase when making professional decisions.

Trainees should also learn how to assess the appropriateness and value of new approaches that they might encounter in future, by considering the validity and reliability of any research on which the approach depends, by considering its context and by relating it to their professional experience.

Trainees should know about up-to-date research for promoting inclusion and teaching pupils with SEND and are able to apply this knowledge in their subject and phase.

As such, as an NQT or RQT, you should ensure you continue to be a critical consumer of research, both in general pedagogical approaches and in your own subject field. You should continue to read widely and question your own practice. This can be achieved through academic reading, and by engaging with meta-analyses such as the Educational Endowment Foundation’s toolkit and John Hattie’s Visible Learning, as well as by attending conferences.

You should continue to consider the reliability and validity of any research you study and continue to sense-check it with your own subject and context. In short, you should be influenced by the evidence but informed by your own experiences.

You should also ensure that you engage with research from a wide range of areas, not only within your own subject field. For example, keep up to date with the latest thinking on behaviour management, on teaching pupils with SEND, supporting disadvantaged pupils, and so on.

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to engage in research evidence and how has this informed by own teaching?

4. Have high expectations

Ofsted says the ITE curriculum should introduce trainees to the scope and richness of the knowledge that pupils can acquire in each subject. The curriculum should be designed to ensure that trainees practise communicating shared values that improve school culture, sustain excellent behaviour and strengthen pupils’ vision of excellence in a subject.

As an NQT or RQT, you might wish to consider how you continue to contribute to establishing, articulating and maintaining your own school’s culture of excellence, and be mindful of how your own values, attitudes and behaviours uphold (or might contradict) that culture.

You should continue to engage in CPD aimed at improving your behaviour management skills and observe other teachers to see how they manage behaviour in your school context.

You should also consider how your high expectations of academic outcomes manifest in your classroom – how, through your everyday words and actions, do you articulate a vision of excellence to every pupil in your class and how do you stretch and challenge each pupil to achieve their very best work?

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to create a whole school and classroom culture of high expectations and to develop my own behaviour management skills? How do I ensure I communicate a vision of excellence within my subject context?

5. Teach for long-term learning

Ofsted days the ITE curriculum should ensure trainees know how to teach pupils so that they acquire expertise within their subject and phase. Trainees should be taught how to ensure pupils remember and/or practise components of knowledge and skills that they teach, and how to ensure pupils integrate new knowledge into larger concepts or accounts. Trainees should also be taught that some pupils experience specific difficulties with acquiring, recalling and using knowledge.

Here, as and NQT and RQT, you should continue to develop your understanding of the learning process – perhaps informed by cognitive load theory – in order to ensure your teaching is conducive to pupils knowing more and remembering more of what they’ve learned.

In particular, you may wish to consider the extent to which you are continuing to develop your skills in the following areas:

• Developing sufficient subject knowledge to identify and evaluate the content you intend to teach, considering matters of scope, coherence, sequencing and emphasis in your teaching
• Keeping up to date with evidence on effective classroom practice, including how to present subject matter clearly and explicitly, promote appropriate discussion, reflect and question, and how to use relevant pedagogy to enable effective teaching of your subject.
• Increasing your understanding of how to resource lesson sequences within your specialist subject and understand how sequences fit into and serve wider goals for that subject.
• Developing an understanding of how to adapt your teaching to promote inclusion, for example by giving access to texts, by allowing participation in discussion or by ensuring equal readiness for next steps in a curriculum.
• Developing ways of identifying misconceptions and explicitly remediating these through subsequent planning, teaching or feedback.
• Growing an awareness of how to recognise signs that may indicate SEND and know how to help pupils overcome barriers to learning.
• Developing your knowledge of how, why and when to assess pupils in your subject, and how to seek and draw conclusions about what pupils have learned.

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to ensure my teaching helps pupils to achieve long-term learning and to develop schema?

6. Lead your own professional development

Under ‘impact’, Ofsted say that trainees need to learn the intended knowledge and skills set out in the ITE curriculum and that their secure mastery of knowledge and skills should be evident in any planning.

When trainees complete their training, Ofsted say, they should be aware of their professional strengths and areas for improvement.

This also holds for NQTs and RQTs, not only as part of your induction but as an ongoing exercise in self-reflection. The Teachers’ Standards are a good way of reflecting on your professionalism and will probably form part of your school’s performance management framework. But it’s useful to collate a portfolio of your developing expertise and experience for your own purposes not just to pass an appraisal cycle.

In particular, you might wish to consider the following aspects of your professional development:

• How to manage your workload and to maintain your own health and welfare, as well as how to engage with relevant subject and/or scholarly communities.
• How to promote pupils’ safety and welfare, including understanding your statutory safeguarding duties and responsibilities.
• How to uphold high standards of teachers’ personal and professional conduct, including promoting a positive view of inclusion.
• How to respond appropriately to pupil needs arising from physical and mental health issues and how schools can promote good physical and mental health.

Reflection: What have I done this year, and what do I plan to do next year, to reflect on my own development and to assess my strengths and areas for improvement as a teacher? What have I done, or planned to do, to address my areas for improvement?

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