This article first appeared in Optimus Education’s CPD Update on the 27th of April, 2012.

As the education world negotiates further changes and developments, responsibility for professional learning appears to have slipped through the net. But a new non-profit organisation – the Teacher Development Trust – is emerging directly from the profession itself. Elizabeth Holmes takes a look at the trust’s aims and its plans for a new phase in CPD for school staff.

‘He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.’

With the closure of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) in April 2012, there is now no government department or agency with specific responsibilities for teachers’ professional learning.

While this seems shocking, given the immensely positive impact that good-quality CPD can have on pupil achievement, there is a grass-roots alternative in development, designed to support members of the profession at all stages of their careers.

Improving the quality of CPD

The Teacher Development Trust, formed in March 2012, ‘aims to improve the quality of professional development and learning in education’. Working alongside schools and training providers, the trust seeks to ensure that ‘all training and consultancy is carried out in line with international best practice’.

The chief executive of the trust, David Weston, a maths and physics teacher and a consultant at Informed Education, is convinced that teachers must have access to really good on-the-job training. He explains: ‘These are interesting times. While we no longer have national strategies imposed from the top down, CPD across the profession does need leadership and guidance. It’s not good enough that CPD is hit and miss, depending on the school.’

David is keen for teachers to want to explore how they are doing, using data, with the aim of discovering what improvements they can make. To support this, the trust has three main strands:

  • stimulating demand in schools for high-quality CPD
  • ensuring that schools can find and can access good CPD
  • working with schools to help them improve their CPD processes, including basing training needs analysis on student learning needs, more robust post-training evaluation and better collaborative processes to embed new teaching skills.

The Good CPD Guide

The Good CPD Guide, a free professional development database developed by the trust, is an important aspect of this goal. It will have an element of ‘TripAdvisor’ about it (teacher reviews will have an emphasis on the impact on student learning) as well as quality assurance features.

The trust believes that truly effective professional development has the following characteristics.

  • 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 hours). And it must follow cycles of trying, reflecting, and adjusting, while maintaining the focus on improved student learning – and not on teacher behaviour.
  • External expertise is vital to keep the improvement on track, to avoid false glass-ceilings and to disrupt ‘group-think’ that can develop in departments and schools. This could be an expert teacher from a nearby school or an external consultant.

Using research evidence

In time, CPD providers will be able to pay the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) to inspect an element of CPD provision, to determine, for example, how contextualised it is (or is able to be) and how it encourages collaboration.

According to a synthesis of research done by the trust, English schools reported spending just under £200 million on staff development last year. That works out to only £25 per student or 0.5 per cent of the national education budget. And even those figures aren’t as representative as they might be, as around half of the spend went on supply cover costs, rather than on CPD. As the trust discovered, just a quarter of 1 per cent of the national education budget was spent on training or coaching.

The pattern of evaluation of CPD isn’t too healthy either. According to the trust’s research synthesis, just 63 per cent of schools evaluated the effectiveness of training. Worse still, just 7 per cent of schools (3 per cent of secondaries) actually considered the impact of training on student attainment.

A profession-led approach

The Department for Education, the Teaching Agency and the National College for School Leadership are all very supportive of the Teacher Development Trust. This is essentially about a profession-led approach to CPD and new structures that have the potential to support schools on their journey to improvement.

The trust itself will not be a provider of CPD, but will serve to guide and develop professional learning through research and collaboration with organisations such as CUREE and with higher education institutions and subject associations. It seeks to support the development of informal networks and to have an impact on teacher morale and retention.

Exciting times

These are exciting times for CPD. As David Weston explains: ‘We want teachers to be supported in becoming experts in a particular field and to share that expertise with others. This is about the creation of opportunities for professional growth as well as recognition for development achieved. It may involve a cultural change, but this needn’t be expensive. Our ultimate vision is that in five years, England stands out above other nations in the developed world in the value and priority it gives to CPD. We can do this if we grow what we have achieved so far, rather than starting from scratch.’

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Author details

After gaining a degree in Politics and International Relations, Elizabeth studied for a PGCE at the Institute of Education in London and taught in secondary schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex before leaving full-time teaching to write…