Teachers are our greatest asset, so why do we invest so little in CPD?
The core job of teachers and school leaders is learning. Every day our classrooms are alive with teachers bringing to life new concepts, developing social and emotional skills, and building new knowledge in our children.
We know the greatest impact on a child’s learning is the quality of teaching and this is especially true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For these children, the difference between a good and great teacher is an additional year’s learning. The second greatest effect on the quality of a child’s learning is the quality of leadership.
This raises two key questions. Firstly, if our greatest asset in transforming life chances is our teachers and leaders and we believe learning is critical, why do we invest so little in professional development? Secondly, why, when we are so strong at building learning in pupils, do we not understand more about the best way to develop our adults? Investment in CPD, which is one of the greatest levers to raise pupil outcomes, is also one of the first things to go when schools are facing financial pressures as they are now.
I believe that if we don’t invest in the professional growth of our teachers and leaders, we won’t deliver the future learning we want for our children. I have seen schools with a culture of investing in high-quality professional development transform practice, increase retention and improve student outcomes.
But planning and delivering effective CPD for your staff isn’t easy; it must be strategic, long-term and whole-school, rooted in the needs and context of your school, staff and pupils with a focus on evidence, impact and opportunity.
Building the capability for continuous learning is going to become critical to the future of the education. The demands for new skills and knowledge of teachers and leaders are changing all the time. And with the drive towards greater autonomy, this trend will continue, as the emphasis on teachers and leaders to create their own solutions continues. Whether it is from new policy directives from government such as assessment without levels, implementing new research and evidence about what works, or leadership working in new ways through teaching school alliances or multi-academy trusts, the ability to adapt and learn will be a key driver for the future success of teachers and leaders.
A continuous learning culture doesn’t just appear though. It requires leadership from the top. The headteacher and SLT must create the direction and show it is valued. This must be followed up by high-quality delivery, regular monitoring and a dialogue with staff. Together these can create the cultural change required. Teachers and leaders have to cultivate their own growth mindset, see themselves as continuously developing in their jobs, and be ready to respond to any changes.
To achieve this whole-school cultural shift there are five key things to focus on:
The best learning and development strategies are embedded into the strategic objectives of the organisation. Training does not have an impact unless it is sustained and embedded in context. This means identifying how your learning and development priorities for staff impact on the learning and outcomes for pupils. That should be the first test of any approach, particularly when investing time and money in professional learning. As a chair of governors, my school has focused on assessment, questioning strategies for more able pupils (a target group for this year) and developing holding to account in our middle leaders.
Changing the way you think about learning and development from training, which has to be delivered to staff, to long-term capability building for the school, will shift how you approach CPD. Think about how you want your teachers and leaders across the school to behave in the future. For example, do you want all of your leaders to be collaborative and evidence-based? If so, how does your CPD plan address this? How do you make space and time to address this? To what extent are you filling short-term gaps in specific areas, eg quality of feedback in writing in Y4, versus planning for long-term development, eg developing middle leaders to lead cross-school curriculum planning?
Nothing speaks louder about how important something is than time and money. Commitment comes from focus and sustained effort. How are SLT focusing on the key priorities in their questioning, learning walks and line management meetings? Staff will quickly pick up what the development priorities are from what you are interested in. How sustained are your efforts through the year? Investment comes from how much time and money you put into training and how sustained this is over the year. It also comes from your willingness to look outside of your school to learn from others or bring in targeted support where required.
Just as you align the CPD priorities to your SIP or AIP, you should set clear success measures for your investment in CPD. These should ultimately link through to improved outcomes for children. Along the way you should set checkpoints against which you can monitor progress. You might commission external or peer reviews to check that progress has been made. For example, we have used external reviews of Pupil Premium interventions to see if teaching had improved as a result of training in this area. Regular internal reviews and evaluations of the quality of learning and development is key to ensure you are maximising impact and value for money. Staff feedback, especially from middle leaders, is telling here and gives your learners a voice as well as increasing engagement with the school’s focus on learning and development.
Finally, no change will ever happen unless teachers and leaders feel they can have the space to learn and make mistakes. Leaders need clear direction that they can take on new responsibilities or attempt new interventions on the understanding that they may not work. This relates to culture as much as processes. For people to truly learn effectively, they must be given the security to make mistakes. That means being able to ask for help and guidance, and for the development opportunities they are given to match their development needs. This can be a big culture shift, especially in schools which have external, short-term accountability challenges.
The strategy you choose will vary depending on your context but it must be coherent and given real commitment. Staff are the organisation, and supporting them to develop can’t be a bolt-on. It has to run through the way people behave and think. Leaders, including you, must be really clear about why staff CPD is important for your students, and role model the behaviours you want to see.
James Toop is the CEO of Ambition School Leadership. @jtoop, ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk