Back Monday 12 Oct 2015 1:01 pm

A Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development

The Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group, an independent group of teachers, headteachers, academics and education experts working to define a new standard for teachers’ professional development, are currently consulting about what a new CPD standard should look like. This is EMC's response to the consultation questions.

Question 1

Can you give an example of great professional development practice?

Having been providers of CPD for over 40 years which has consistently been rated as exceptional by teachers, we feel that we are in a particularly good position to be able to identify some of the underlying qualities of excellent CPD.

The key elements that we have identified for great professional development practice are:

1. Practice – theory – practice

In other words, we believe that it is important to start with classroom practice, consider theoretical or research material, with intellectual analysis that might generate deeper thinking about that practice, and then return to practice, to try out how new insights might influence or impact on classroom work.

2. Learning through experience – understanding how it works

CPD should allow teachers to actively experience aspects of classroom pedagogy while the course tutors model and explain how the teacher could get the best out of the approaches. Reflecting on how and why strategies can be used, unpicking the underlying pedagogy and rationale seems to us to be essential. It allows teachers to reflect on what the student is learning and leads to richer discussions about how the teaching could be adapted for different contexts, ability levels and so on. Teachers often tell us that a useful bonus of a course run in this way is to be reminded of what it is like to be a learner, for example working in a group, or being asked to share a piece of writing with peers.  

3. Beyond the whizzy activity or the narrow performance focus

CPD should not simply be about offering a string of quick-fix techniques, or ‘whizzy things’ to do in the classroom. Offering classroom approaches in CPD is great but only when it is allied to serious thinking about how and why these approaches might develop learning, how they can be adapted or developed in other contexts and how they fit within a broader set of principles about how children learn.

4. Going away with high quality resources

Teachers are under huge pressure and love being given tried and tested resources that they can take back and use in the classroom straightaway. The great thing about having tried them out on the course day is that they have been discussed, analysed, reflected on and modeled, so for teachers considering changing or tweaking their pedagogy to take on board lessons learnt, there are ready-made, well thought-through and instantly available opportunities to do so. They can make small shifts in the confident knowledge that these new approaches have been done successfully with the group in the CPD session. We have found that this extra boost of both confidence and understanding of the underlying pedagogy is a strong encouragement for trying something new.

5. The CPD tutor as expert teacher

The modeling by the CPD tutor of excellent teaching can give teachers insight into how highly trained and experienced teachers teach. As Dylan Wiliam suggests in a recent TES article  judgement, expertise and experience are to be taken just as seriously as research-based knowledge; being able to draw on the experience of trainers with a track-record of highly successful teaching is extremely valuable. This is particularly so for new teachers, seeking to develop not only their thinking and their planning but also their classroom skills and ways of engaging with students.

6. The development of subject knowledge

The development of teachers’ own subject knowledge in relation to teaching is a key element of high quality CPD, for instance extending teachers’ understanding of current practice in universities in relation to the teaching of Shakespeare, updating them on new developments in the teaching of critical theory or giving them access to current work and thinking on authors, texts or aspects of language. At EMC, we sometimes bring in an academic to offer an overview of a topic, or genre, or single text, to give teachers a significant input on that aspect of what they will go on to teach. Teachers, even fresh out of university, often feel that they have gaps in their subject knowledge, particularly if they have followed a modular degree course at university and haven’t chosen modules with an eye to a future career in teaching. It is important to provide this kind of subject support, as well as material that stretches and challenges all teachers in relation to the subject itself.

7. Learning from others ­– beyond the school bubble

One important element in high quality CPD is the chance to go beyond one’s own institution, to hear about the experiences of others, perhaps in similar contexts or alternatively in very different ones. Schools and colleges tend to be quite unique organisms and when CPD is always internal, however good it is, ways of teaching and planning for teaching can become a bit insular. Teachers in schools or colleges where there is little external CPD sometimes complain of being in a little ‘bubble’, where they are unaware of different ways of approaching similar issues or problems.

On EMC courses, over the past few years, we attract teachers from the full spectrum of institutions – local authority schools, academies, independent schools, grammar schools, schools consistently rated excellent or in special measures, schools in every corner of the UK and even beyond. Often they can be sitting next to each other, working on the same issue. The shared ground and opportunities to learn from each other can be a real surprise both ways. It is never the case that one set of teachers has more to offer than another. This is a welcome aspect of CPD that brings together teachers from different places.

8. Thinking about what to take back to school and how

It is important, after one-day training courses, that teachers think about ways of incorporating their new insights or approaches into their own practice and consider how to share their new ideas with other members of staff. Sometimes teachers request that EMC come and deliver elements of the CPD they have experienced to the whole Department. Others feed back to Department meetings, or incorporate new resources in their planning and their schemes of work.

9. A chance to step back and reflect

Finally, one of the most important elements of CPD is that it provides teachers with an opportunity to stand back and consider what they are doing, to reinvigorate them, or re-inspire them. This is an under-stated benefit of external CPD. Squeezing it into an hour’s meeting at the end of a long teaching day, or even holding it in the same old office or the same old classroom, doesn’t have quite the same effect as giving someone a whole day, away from the school, to refresh themselves and their thinking. ‘Inspired’, ‘refreshed’ and ‘more confident’ are phrases which often crop up on our course evaluations and which give us great satisfaction as course providers.

10. Coffee and cake – a welcoming environment

Schools and colleges are such busy places with little time to start, let alone finish, an interesting conversation about pedagogy or sharing ideas. A day away from it all with a nice lunch, the chance to chat, fresh coffee and stimulating sessions can send people back feeling renewed enthusiasm. ‘Buy-in’ to CPD is all-important.

Our views on a few specific debates about valuable CPD:

1. One day CPD versus long term, sustained CPD

We believe that both have something important to offer. Many of the aspects of good CPD can best be delivered via one day CPD, particularly in relation to teachers’ subject knowledge and the application of pedagogical insights to the subject. Providing the sustained time for this, with expert support, in every individual school, is impractical.

However, other kinds of CPD benefit hugely from a sustained focus over a period of time.

EMC has been involved in both kinds of work – lengthy projects and one day training and has found equal, but different benefit in both. Examples of more sustained work include developmental work of an action-research nature, in which teachers make their own classrooms the testing ground for theoretical/pedagogical thinking, in order to take their practice, and that of their schools, further. We have done such work in schools on boys and writing, literacy across the curriculum, progression in media education and are embarking on some work with teachers on productive group work.

We note with interest the views on ‘duration’ and ‘rhythm’ referred to in the TDT report and regret the loss of opportunities for sustained CPD involving external support.  In the early days of EMC, as an ILEA teachers’ centre, there was a very productive  model involving a combination of:

  • one or two day CPD courses for individual teachers
  • linked days, involving a first day of input and a second or third day of reflection on the classroom outcomes that had been tested out by teachers in the interim
  • secondments out of the classroom for sustained work, for instance full-time for 1 year or 2 years, or 1 day a week secondments to work on specific projects or the production of classroom resources.

These different kinds of CPD fed into each other. For instance, teachers on longer secondments contributed to CPD on one or two day courses. Teachers on one or two day courses trialled aspects of pedagogy or content that had been generated on linked days, or by seconded teachers, and so on.

2. Subject CPD versus whole school CPD

We fully recognise the need for whole school CPD. Whole school developmental work on issues of assessment, or literacy, or special needs or behaviour, or other such over-arching issues is vital. In terms of developing pedagogy, there may also be occasions when the whole school needs to review and reflect on its use of particular methods and approaches to teaching and learning. However, as we and the teachers we have worked with believe, in the end many, if not most, of these issues need to be applied to the subject teaching, which is at the heart of making an impact on students and their learning. Too often, according to the teachers we work with, whole school CPD doesn’t allow for serious and deep reflection about the subject itself. Subject-specific CPD is vital:

  • to fill gaps in teachers’ knowledge and confidence
  • to update teachers on current research, changes and developments in the subject, drawing on new work in the universities
  • to apply broader thinking about pedagogy, classroom organisation, assessment etc and see how it applies to the subject. (This is referred to in the TDT report on professional development) but the above reasons for it are equally important.

3. In-school versus outside expertise?

In our view, both can be very valuable. One size doesn’t fit all. However, in making the case for elements of external CPD being important, we would draw on what teachers on our courses frequently tell us.

From a follow-up survey a few weeks’ after CPD one day courses:

‘It helps to meet people who are from other schools and experiencing the same issues with content and accessibility within the curriculum. An external provider also allows for misconceptions within a department to be clarified.’

‘Being able to meet with experts and other teachers in different parts of the country is so useful and reassuring’.

‘useful to be outside of school and speak to colleagues in other schools facing the same challenges.’

‘Relaxed, academic, interactive and collaborative.’

4. Should CPD be rigidly tied to whole school development plans

We would caution against rigidly linking CPD to whole school plans for a number of reasons:

i. because this can play into a pattern of constantly shifting priorities, with one initiative after another being given attention, without a sustained approach that constantly revisits and updates important areas. We have seen this for instance with ‘Literacy across the Curriculum’ initiatives, which may be given great emphasis for a year or two and then are put on the back burner when a new whole school initiative takes over.

ii. if the focus is on the school’s global needs, it can fail to address areas of weakness, gaps or particular concerns for individual teachers, or for individual subject areas and departments. For instance, a department’s lack of expertise in teaching poetry, or an individual teacher’s problems with their own subject knowledge around grammar, may be identified but not supported.

Question 2

How could the standard help to promote effective professional development practice which has a positive impact on pupils’ education?

We believe that the standard could help promote effective professional development practice by:

  • making explicit some of the elements that generally make for significant and effective CPD (see answer to Que 1)
  • avoiding an overly prescriptive approach that gives a ‘one-size-fits-all’ account of what constitutes good CPD
  • taking a generous and broad view of what an ‘evidence-informed’ approach to professional development might be, recognising that there is more to evidence than statistics and RCT research
  • providing questions that schools and teachers can ask themselves to help judge the value and impact of CPD
  • providing varied case studies of interesting, different models of CPD, which have, in their own diverse ways had a significant impact on teachers and their work in schools.

Question 3

How could the standard help shape or improve the provision of professional development (including school-based professional development activities)

We imagine that there may be a call for kite-marking or accreditation of external providers. We feel ambivalent about this. All too often these kinds of processes become box-filling, bureaucratic processes that do not really get to the heart of what is most significant about good CPD – the quality of the providers, the experience of the participants and the mechanisms for disseminating and building on the experiences back in school. We would therefore counsel against a one-size-fits-all, prescriptive set of standards.

We would favour an approach which gives schools clear advice and guidance about how to make judgements about providers, to allow them to make informed choices themselves. For instance, such guidance might include: what to look for; accessibility of teacher evaluations; openness in provision of information in advance; the track-record and credentials of trainers and so on.

Equally, we think the standards should rise above changing trends within education, so that they remain as free from ideological bias as possible. Thinking in education seems to undergo so many lurches and swings that it would be undesirable for a set of standards to impose a particular view of education allied to one side of a debate, or one new set of ideas. The standards should help define quality in the broadest terms, rather than attempt to define the nature of the training itself.

Question 4

What short-, medium- and long-term approaches might help to remove barriers to professional development and could be reflected in the standard?

Time and funding are clearly major barriers to professional development. EMC has shifted, over time, to a predominantly 1 day CPD model, largely because that is what we can realistically expect that teachers will be able to gain release for. We would be delighted to be involved in more sustained CPD, mixing different kinds and lengths of training according to the nature of the individuals, schools and training demands but current funding does not allow for this.

We would welcome a return to a model where there are some opportunities for teachers to apply for secondment out of the classroom for more sustained development work that can then feed back into schools.

To keep up to date with the work of this group and to add your voice to the consultation, go to the webpage for the Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group

Comments

Really interesting blog, Andrew. I would add that giving teachers time to:
1.Collaboratively and thoughtfully plan whole schemes of work
2. Team teach and observe each other's lessons
is, to my mind, the best CPD.

I can't think of anything better than having one day a week or a whole year to create sow specific to the needs of your school, with the support of EMC. In an ideal world, eh?
By Tina Courtenay-Thompson on 07th Oct 2016

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