Common questions from school leaders around CPD

Guest post: Nathan Easey – Insights manager at The Key @TheKeyNathan

The Key for School Leaders was used in three-quarters of all schools in England during 2014. Looking at how all these school leaders use our websites – what they view and the information they request – gives us a real insight into the full range of leadership issues that affect them. We’ve taken our analytical scalpel to the brains of headteachers and deputies, as well as middle leaders, for example, and found that the staff area of our website is where they view most articles. I was keen to unpack this a little more. In particular, I wanted to know what’s on the minds of school leaders who are looking for information on managing continuing professional development (CPD).

For every hundred school leaders who used The Key during 2014, we recorded around thirty views of articles on CPD in our staff area. Articles on specific topic-based CPD accounted for the biggest share of these, closely followed by articles that dealt with identifying staff CPD needs. These were viewed more than articles on managing CPD, or on CPD targeted at the leadership team. We can see the mix of themes more clearly by looking at the individual articles on CPD that were viewed the most during 2014:

  1. Do you have a skills audit for teachers based on the Teachers’ Standards?
  2. How can we present the new National Curriculum at an INSET day? (this one’s no longer visible we update our articles as changes are announced, and sometimes we ‘retire’ them)
  3. How can coaching raise staff performance?
  4. Are there any examples of skills audits for teaching assistants?
  5. Do you have a skills audit for the new computing curriculum?
  6. Can you suggest materials for staff training on differentiation strategies?
  7. How can I develop my leadership team?
  8. How can we develop a CPD programme?
  9. How can peer observation be used to support CPD?
  10. Do you have any resources to assess staff knowledge of phonics?

Some of the big changes of the last five years are reflected here, with school leaders focused on bringing staff up to date on phonics, the new computing curriculum, the revised Teachers’ Standards and the new National Curriculum. Examples of skills audits are also a popular request – they help school leaders to identify who needs what CPD.

I also wanted to find out if the level of interest in CPD articles was the same across the country. On the map below, I’ve coloured the nine English regions according to level of interest in articles about CPD. To do this, I looked at views of CPD articles as a share of views of staff articles in 2014 in the different regions.

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Looking at the numbers, the share varies between 4 and 6%. School leaders in the west Midlands, London, the south east and the east of England seem to be more focused on our articles on CPD. There was less variation when I looked at the most popular articles. Across the country, school leaders were consistently clicking most on the same handful of articles.

I was interested to see if school leaders in the regions where interest in CPD articles was lower were focusing on something else instead. One pattern did jump out when I looked at the data on other topics in the staff area of our website.

Articles on lesson observation were very popular on The Key in 2014, with more than 50 views per 100 school leaders using the service. Breaking this down by region, I noticed that the two regions whose school leaders were less interested in articles on CPD showed above-average levels of interest in lesson observations.

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I’m not suggesting that school leaders can only be interested in one or the other of these topics (our data on the East of England shows high levels on interest in both). Still, I find it interesting to see these differences across the country, and I wonder what’s driving them.

I was interested to read the responses to the government’s recent consultation on improving teachers’ professional development. Although the final report noted some recurring themes, it also acknowledged “a wide range of responses from differing viewpoints”. When The Key surveyed its members in mid-2014, there was similarly a wide range of responses. The most common motivation for engaging staff in CPD was identified as an analysis of student needs by 40% of respondents. 26% of respondents said the main motivation was an analysis of teachers’ knowledge and skills needs such as audits, echoing some of the more popular CPD articles on The Key. And for almost as many (23%), the main motivation was an analysis of teacher performance such as through a lesson observation. Perhaps this difference between school leaders’ perceptions around CPD help explain the differences in their article viewing habits on The Key.

Now the DfE has announced its independent Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group. This new group, chaired by the TDT’s David Weston, is tasked with defining a new standard of teachers’ professional development. Michael Holland, The Key’s researcher who specialises in CPD thinks:

 “The proposed ‘new standard’ should recognise that CPD needs will vary significantly depending upon each teacher’s individual expertise and experience. Any proposed new standard should ensure that best practice is shared across all career stages, from senior leadership posts through to newly qualified teachers.”

I suspect that it’s this individual context that is driving the regional differences we’ve seen in The Key’s data. A successful standard will need to work well for school leaders in very different situations, and I suspect we will see any future impact reflected in school leaders’ questions to The Key.

Nathan is the insights manager at The Key. He collects and analyses data on how members of The Key use the services and considers what insights it provides about the challenges facing schools.

The Key provides impartial, trusted leadership and management support to over a third of the schools in England and Wales. Our high-quality information, guidance and events help busy school leaders and governors work with increased confidence, knowledge and capacity. At the heart of everything we do is a passionate commitment to supporting schools in delivering better outcomes for children and young people.




Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author