Spending money on CPD? Don't let it go to waste

Keith Wright

Keith Wright is managing director of school information management specialist Bluewave.SWIFT. He has worked with hundreds of schools during in the past decade supporting institutional leadership and management. For the past six years Keith has worked with Leeds City Council to develop their quality standards framework for adoption by schools in the UK and overseas. He has also advised overseas education ministries on raising school standards through the effective use of school improvement support systems.

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No-one would argue against the place of CPD in schools today, but I believe that for many years there has been a lack of coherent processes and management systems guiding it.

This means that many CPD activities may not be as effective as they could be because many schools do not have a clear idea of exactly what works - and what doesn't.

Despite spending £180 million on staff development and training in 2011, the Teacher Development Trust estimated that 37 per cent of English schools have rarely or never evaluated its impact.

If schools don’t have a full picture of the effectiveness of CPD, how can they know where to target their investment in order to help teachers raise attainment?

A survey by BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) earlier this year adds to the picture. The organisation asked heads of curriculum, key stage leaders and heads of English, maths and science in over 600 schools for their views on CPD. Just 17 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary teachers stated that the quality of training they received was always or mostly of good quality.

With smaller budgets and Ofsted ramping up school accountability it’s clear that it has never been more important to know which kind of CPD delivers tangible improvements to teaching and learning.

Performance related pay makes the need for change even more pressing. From autumn 2014 pay awards will depend on whether staff meet performance targets, teacher standards and career stage expectations. It is vital, then, that they get the professional development they need in order to keep progressing up the pay scales.

I believe that schools could draw more value out of their CPD investment by ensuring that what they deliver actually helps their colleagues and the school move forward. Achieving this ideal is a complex management process but it can be done by sticking to some basic principles:

  • Get up to date. Get rid of paper and pen and use the online systems available to ensure you have the business intelligence that will inform your decision making about CPD.
  • Evaluate. Scrutinise CPD activities for short, medium and long term impact and revisit them regularly. If there is no expectation at individual or leadership level, ask why you are investing in it.
  • Plan. Make sure that staff CPD has a clear pathway of progress over the short, medium and long term.
  • Get real. Insist upon CPD activities having a solid justification. If a colleague insists upon a particular piece of CPD, ask why it needs to happen and what it is linked to in the wider context. Is it professional standards? The school development plan? Performance management objectives? Whole school reporting? Career development focus?
  • Be demanding. Even if the topic isn’t that enthralling, don’t allow your staff to engage with dull, dry uninspiring providers. If the learning is fun retention of knowledge will be better. Get feedback from your staff and listen to them!

Ask the right questions. When thinking about evidence of the impact of CPD, don’t ask the question 'how and where did this activity make an impact?' Ask instead, when contributing evidence to individual and whole school initiatives 'which, if any, of my CPD activities helped me to achieve this?'

Limited budgets, increased accountability and performance pay means that schools must make sure that the money they spend on professional development works. Where else would we allow £180 million to be spent without knowing what we get for it? It’s now time to make CPD really count.

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