Back Wednesday 20 May 2015 2:19 pm

What Makes Good CPD?

Barbara Bleiman, Co-director of The English and Media Centre, takes a look at the underlying features of good CPD.
main image for blog post 'What Makes Good CPD?'

David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, recently wrote a very informative article about how the most effective schools run their CPD programmes.  In the article he addresses seven common problems with CPD, most of which relate to internal school issues. However, he also draws attention to the need for high-quality external expertise, explaining that ‘Our best schools have taken tough decisions to maintain or even increase CPD budgets while financial pressures grow. They have understood the research that shows external expert facilitation to be a key ingredient of professional development that genuinely improves student outcomes.' As CPD providers and consultants we would, of course, support this view! However, as Weston points out, external CPD needs to be of high quality.

What are the essential features of such ‘high quality’ CPD? We believe that, having been providers of CPD for over 40 years which has consistently been rated as exceptional by teachers (see below), we are in a particularly good position to be able to identify some of the underlying qualities of excellent CPD. Most of these chime with David Weston’s views.

Given that there is going to be a DfE expert group to create new standards on CPD, we thought it worth spelling out some of these underlying features, to contribute to this process.

1. Practice – theory – practice

EMC, from its early days, has always had a credo  of ‘practice – theory – practice’, in other words the idea that you start with classroom practice, you consider theoretical or research material, with intellectual analysis that might generate deeper thinking about that practice, and then you return to practice, to try out how new insights might influence or impact on classroom work. This is something that David Weston draws attention to in his recent article. As part of this, we believe that CPD should draw on shared experiences of teaching and learning that can be reflected on and discussed, with general principles being pulled out to make the insights applicable to other scenarios or contexts.

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.  A few teachers tell us that they would prefer to be ‘talked at’ but most say that this model makes them more likely to put into practice learning from the course.

3. Beyond the whizzy activity or the narrow performance focus

David Weston particularly cautions against the type of CPD which focuses on performance and technique at the expense of a real consideration of how to move students on in their learning.  This is something that we feel very strongly about. 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. Teachers often comment on this aspect of CPD in their evaluations of EMC courses.

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. We always try to provide material that stretches and challenges teachers in relation to the subject itself so that they feel they’ve had an injection of fresh ideas and information.

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, we find that teachers hugely appreciate the chance to exchange ideas and learn from each other, so that they can take back fresh ideas to their departments.

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.e

10. Coffee and cake

We’re only half-joking! 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.


'So nice to attend a course where the onus isn’t on levels, grades, data, but instead on a genuine love of literature and ways for all learners to access poetry.'

Jaspreet Kaur, The Elmgreen School – 'Teaching Contemporary Poetry for Edexcel A Level (2015)' Course

'This is my third EMC course and once again I have come away enthused and inspired. So useful to have the opportunity to work with teachers from a range of different schools.'

Charlotte Browne, Wycliffe College –  'Teaching Literature: New Challenges at KS3' Course

'Extrememely well-organised, useful resources, very good speakers and top quality sandwiches.'

M Greenwood, Strode’s College – 'Language: Inspiring Investigations' Course

Our Autumn Course Programme is now available – browse courses online or download the programme here.



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