This article appears in the May edition of Education Investor magazine.
Better schools will need better teachers. And that means better CPD, says David Weston.
Research has repeatedly shown that the number one influence on the quality of student attainment isn’t leadership, buildings or IT: it’s the quality of teaching. Student background and quality of parenting are hugely important, too, of course – but schools struggle to affect such external factors. The most effective thing a school can do to improve the lot of its students is to improve the quality of its teachers.
However, most schools spend only small quantities of money and time on staff development. What’s more, the training they choose is often poorly chosen and ineffective, and the evidence about how to fix this is not widely known or understood. Here at the Teacher Development Trust we’ve been doing some digging to illustrate the scale of the problem.
English schools reported spending just under £200 million on staff development last year – equating to only £25 per student, or 0.5% of the national education budget. Of that, around half the money spent went on supply cover costs to free teachers from the classroom. In other words, just a quarter of one percent of the national education budget was spent on actual training or coaching.
As to how this money was spent, teachers most commonly reported they chose whatever course they fancied. (The next most common answer was that they went on whatever course they were told to.) The majority of these courses weren’t even very effective: of the training courses sampled by the recently-closed Teacher Development Agency, just 10% were able to embed new ideas in the long term, and just 1% were of the quality that could transform poor practice into more effective teaching. The most commonly reported method of training was sitting passively listening to a lecture or presentation – exactly the sort of thing teachers are taught to avoid doing with their own classrooms.
Once training was completed only 63% of schools evaluated its effectiveness. And just 7% of schools – and 3% of secondaries – considered the impact on student attainment.
It’s a grim picture – but it doesn’t have to be that way. We now have a strong evidence base for what constitutes good teacher development, and it doesn’t require vast sums to be spent.
First of all, let’s be clear about what good practice doesn’t look like. It doesn’t mean:
- forcing teachers to follow lists of ‘best practice’ methods and checking compliance through repeated observations and scrutiny of lesson plans;
- mandating fixed structures for lessons;
- bolting on ‘tips and tricks’ to existing teaching;
- buying in and parroting pre-prepared schemes of work and lesson plans.
Any one of the above methods could produce a short-term and limited ‘bump’ in student attainment. But what they won’t do is to create self-sustaining improvement. Ultimately, they just lead to lower staff morale.
Fortunately, there’s an increasing body of research to suggest that truly effective professional development follows fairly specific rules.
- It must begin by identifying teacher development needs based on the learning needs of the students being taught, and it must build on teachers’ existing skill.
- The coaching or training must maintain a balance of focusing on ways for the teacher to help these students while providing skills that transfer to the rest of the teacher’s work.
- The development process must be collaborative, with teachers of similar skill and confidence supporting, observing and coaching each other.
- The development process must be actively sustained for at least two terms for a large number of hours (i.e. more than 40). And it must follow cycles of trying, reflecting, and adjusting, while maintaining the focus on improved student learning – and not teacher behaviour.
- External expertise is vital to keep the improvement on track, avoid false glass-ceilings and disrupt ‘group-think’ that can develop in departments and schools. This could be an expert teacher from a nearby school, or an external consultant.
Schools need to deeply embed these ideas in the day-to-day running of their schools. Time spent by school leaders engaging with teaching and learning is significantly more productive than any other activity in raising student attainment, so it follows that teachers should be viewing their own development as a much higher priority. However, it’s easy for such processes to be subsumed beneath every-day planning, marking, discipline, and bureaucracy.
At the Teacher Development Trust we’re putting in place three strands of work to support the education sector in adopting these practices. Firstly we’ve created the free GoodCPDGuide.com website, a quality-assured database of training and coaching that helps teachers assess their needs and evaluate the impact of training. Secondly, we are working with training providers to help them deliver higher quality courses, with resources, training and inspection processes.
Finally, we are working with schools to support them to change their working practices. The goal is to put high-quality teacher development at the heart of everything they do and create reflective, adaptive professionals who are confident and effective in their classrooms. That could do more to improve schools than any structural change.
David Weston is a former teacher, and the founder and chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust.
I concur with the sentiments expressed especially to the fact that research has repeatedly shown that good teaching/ effective teaching makes a huge difference in increasing student achievement. With regard to professional development of teachers, there is need for school leaders to rethink how they decide which areas and model/s of professional development could best be suited tothe specific school. As too often many school leaders treat professional development as a piecemeal activity, lacking coherence and structure.. where teachers sit through presentations/ lectures as passive recipients of information … information which at times have little bearing on facilitating the specific needs of students in their schools. There are several models of professional development and schools should not mainly resort to presentations/workshops
The blog and the comment make huge sense.We did the evalaution David’s blog talks about and worryingly, Schools providing CPD to other schools were soemtimes making the same mistakes as other providers. That’s partly because schools haven’t been applying what they know about learning environments for pupils to creating an effective learning envirnment for staff. You can see evidence about the links in my “Sauce for the Goose” leaflet which connects pedagogy for pupils and teachers http://www.curee.co.uk/resources/publications/sauce-goose-leaflet-pdf-format . Or look at our SKEIN service for helping schools identify nad increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the leanring environment they create for teachers at http://www.skein.org( skein is the collective noun for geese flying in a v formation and it means reflect in Norwegian).