The CPD Paradox: Addressing educational disadvantage through improving professional development in schools

Josh Goodrich – @Thecpdparadox

What is ‘The CPD Paradox’?

One thing that all schools have in common is some form of CPD.  Over the country, a vast amount of teacher time and energy, and an equal amount of money, is spent on the task of improving teaching.  But is all this training working as well as it should be?

I don’t think so.  And I think that this is a result of the CPD paradox:

The paradox (part 1)

The CPD paradox has parts, both of which contribute to the dilemma.  The first relates to the aim of Professional Development programmes.   I think it fairly uncontroversial to define this aim in the following way: to ensure that teachers are effective and skilled practitioners so that students in their classes get best teaching they can, leading to the best exam results and overall student outcomes.  It is an aim that both teachers and schools are committed to; if the aim is achieved, everyone benefits.  Given that both teachers and schools have numerous reasons to commit to the efficacy of CPD sessions, you could expect that in-school teacher training would, on the whole, be a resounding success.

But despite this – despite the time and energy that is spent by teachers and schools on training – it is often clear that very little, if anything, from school CPD sessions actually turns up in anyone’s day-to-day teaching practice.  Why is this?

1) Teacher exhaustion

As any teacher will happily admit, teaching is a stressful and cognitively challenging day-to-day job that can leave them feeling mentally exhausted.  After a day spent taking part in literally hundreds of emotionally-charged interactions with other human beings, there is little room left for personal development.  To put it simply, a standard day’s teaching, especially for a teacher new to the job, is not conducive to effective learning in after school CPD sessions.  Any effective CPD programme needs to be designed to take account of this.

2) Workload

Even if teachers do arrive at CPD sessions feeling engaged and ready to learn – a momentous victory in itself – there is another challenge.  At the end of the session waits a daunting pile of work. This could be marking books or exams, planning lessons, or any number of other important and urgent tasks.  By the time the teacher finally reaches the summit of this mountain they go home, only to arrive back at work the following day to face another uphill struggle.  What they covered in the previous night’s CPD session gets crowded out by the rest of the job. As a result of this, effective CPD also needs to find a way of providing the mental space so vital for learning and reflection. Without this, much of what is covered in CPD sessions simply disappears into the ether.

3) The Poorly Planned Session

Often, CPD sessions are planned and led by middle or senior leaders with thousands of other things to do: things that fall under the category of ‘more urgent’.  As a result, CPD sessions are often poorly planned and therefore – because off-the-cuff presenting is much quicker than careful planning – encourage passive listening rather than active learning.  This is nobody’s fault: it is a feature of the job that there is never enough time to do everything perfectly.  But, when combined with the barriers to learning already acknowledged,this causes a serious problem for school CPD. If a tired and overworked teacher is forced to sit through a badly-designed session, knowing that their to-do list requires a further three hours of work before they can go home, they can be left feeling completely turned-off by the very idea of CPD.

The paradox (part 2)

Of course, none of this would matter if CPD wasn’t vitally important for teacher development. If we could all engage privately in our own personal development, then the CPD paradox would cease to exist.

Unfortunately, it is the very barriers that make effective in-school CPD so difficult that make it so vital.  Due to the mentally and physically demanding nature of the job, as well as the demands on the time of the average teacher, they just do not have the mental space required for really effective independent professional development.  Wading through all the different pedagogy books, blogs and academic papers, building ourselves a private programme of study and then working reflectively and relentlessly through it is just not something that (most) teachers have the time to do.  I’m not saying that this never happens – clearly there are people who have the self-discipline to work in this way – but the vast majority of us need someone to provide us with the impetus and direction to get better.

To summarise, the CPD paradox is viciously circular.  School CPD is not effective because teacher exhaustion and workload mean that the material covered does not ‘stick’, and is not actively embedded in practice.  Yet teacher exhaustion and workload are exactly why an effective training programme is so crucial: if done well, such a programme provides teachers with the direction, resources and support to make changes that they would not have the time to make on their own.

How do we avoid the CPD Paradox?

Thankfully, with a couple of fairly simple tweaks, the problems that dog so many CPD programmes can be avoided.  Adopting the following principles has helped me to avoid the paradox in my own CPD programme:

  • Participant led –CPD sessions should be, as far as possible, driven by the participants themselves.  This helps to avoid the issue of poorly planned sessions from busy senior leaders, putting the onus on the participants themselves to deliver sessions that are effective for them, designed to address the issues that they are interested in.
  • Accountability for change   – Because teachers have so little space for personal projects and reflection, CPD programmes need to be designed to ensure that they are forced to make changes to their practice.  This need not be as draconian as it sounds: peer-to-peer observation, for example, will remind participants in sessions to try out what they have learnt.  Equally, devoting part of the planned session time to practicing skills then and there means that participants are held accountable for trying out new things.
  • In-built uptake time – To avoid the ill-effects of teacher exhaustion and workload, sessions need to be designed so that teachers get an opportunity to put learning into practice.  This can be through practising skills in groups, planning a lesson or marking books during the session itself. This will maximise the chance that things learnt in the abstract find their way into teachers’ daily practice.  contains a teacher training programme I spent two years developing, and designed to avoid falling foul of the CPD Paradox.  Available on the site, for free, is a full ready-to-go year long programme.

What does this include?

  1. A discussion of the principles for running an effective CPD programme
  2. A year long CPD schedule, with one scheduled session per week, built to match these principles
  3. Tools for tracking and assessing teacher progress
  4. Tools for improving the quality of mentoring
  5. Nearly 30 CPD sessions in a variety of areas

Who’s it for?

  1. School leaders with responsibility for whole school CPD
  2. Induction Tutors looking after the training of un- and newly-qualified teachers
  3. Mentors in charge of the development of one or more teachers
  4. Teachers looking to improve their skills

Where do I start?

Below is a short summary of the main sections of the site, with links to the resources.

Section 1: What is the CPD Paradox?

This section contains an extended version of the above article.

Section 2: Setting up and administering an effective CPD programme.  The four posts in this section of the site address the following questions:

Section 3: CPD resource and strategies.  In this section I share many of the CPD resources that I have created.

  • Planning and Lesson Design

Demonstrating Progress in Lessons

Learning Objectives and Backwards Planning

Planning Lessons with Pace

Activating Students as Teachers

Objectives, Outcomes and Progress

Tracking and Narrating Progress Throughout a Lesson

  • Questioning

Agree, Build, Challenge (A,B,C) Questioning

Questioning: Student ownership, accountability and attention

Asking Probing Questions

Ensuring Accountability and Attention during Questioning

  • Behaviour Management

Creating Hard Working Students: Effort Tracking This post contains a system I developed to track the effort that students are making across lessons, using targeted rewards and sanctions to increase this over time.

Setting and Maintaining Behavioural Expectations

  • Marking, Feedback and Assessment

Developing Quality Peer and Self Assessment

Using an Exit Ticket to Guide Planning

Quick and Efficient Marking

  • Teach Like a Champion Reading GroupIn this post I share the resources for a reading group on Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion’, a book I consider to be the best for the training of teachers at an early stage in their career.
  • 10 Minute Skill Builder Sessions This post contains nine short (ten minute) sessions designed to develop and sustain core skills ( learning objectives, outcomes, assessment for learning and questioning).
  • Outstanding Planning SeminarThis is a participant-led coaching session designed to move lesson planning from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’. It involves teachers presenting lessons to the group and coaching each other to improve.

All the resources on the blog are free and available to download (and adapt as you see fit).  They are constantly being updated so please ‘follow’ the blog and comment if you like any of the stuff on offer.

Please contact Josh at  if you have any questions. (@Thecpdparadox)