“Strong cultures of collaborative professionalism are like strong teams. They thrive on diversity and disagreement, promote good variation of style, strengths, and overall approach, and increase individual as well as collective talent.”
Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (2016).


Teachers are consistently rated as some of the most trusted professionals in England. When polled by Ipsos MORI, 86% of Britons said they trust teachers to tell the truth. This question has been frequently revisited since 1983, making it the longest-running series on trust in key professions in the UK. It shows that public trust in teachers has always been high: since 1983, public trust in teachers has never dropped below 80%.

Yet, despite the incredibly high level of trust the public in general places in the profession (second only to doctors), teachers consistently experience distrust and hostility within the education sector itself. There are conflicting ideological agendas, as well as various economic, social and cultural factors between a range of stakeholders including government, unions, school leaders, teachers, students, and parents; the lack of trust that permeates England’s education system can be demoralizing. Trust is fundamental to building a professional culture in any type of organisation. In teaching, mutual respect and trust between different participants is at the heart of building a professional culture that is developmental, collaborative and focussed on improving pupil outcomes.

The most successful schools and leaders place substantial focus and resource on the professional learning and development of their staff – it is a long term investment in improving the quality of teaching. There is an understanding that professional development is what underpins the notion of professional capital. Described in another way:

“If you want good return on investment in teachers and teaching, you have to attract, select, and develop teachers with high levels of human capital in terms of knowledge, skill, and talent; you have to deliberately improve these qualities over time through the decisional capital of structured experience and feedback that continuously supports and challenges all educators as professionals; and you have to move this knowledge around or circulate it through the social capital of shared commitment to and engagement in all students’ success.” (Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. 2016).

With recruitment becoming ever more difficult across the system, there is a strong argument for focussing in particular on Fullan and Hargreave’s second point, and to paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash, “love the ones you’re with”. It is absolutely vital that school and system leaders prioritise teachers’ professional development and learning, in order to foster a teaching profession that is motivated, highly effective, scholastic and joyful.

Moreover, there is strong evidence to suggest that schools with high relational trust are much more likely to demonstrate marked improvements in student learning. Bryk and Schneider conducted a longitudinal study of 400 Chicago elementary schools engaged in improvement efforts, and found that relational or social trust played a central role in the success of such efforts. Bryk and Schneider define relational trust as “an interrelated set of mutual dependencies embedded within the social exchanges in any school community” (Bryk and Schneider 2003). For example, a Head Teacher depends on a Head of Department to understand their own departments strengths and weaknesses; a Head of Department relies on their Head Teacher to provide the time and resource to gain that understanding. Creating a culture high relational trust across a school community supports wider school improvement and student achievement.

If you demonstrate a commitment to professional development through allocating directed time for teachers to talk about their teaching, peer observe one another and co-plan lessons, it follows that the level of pedagogical discussion taking place in school should increase. If you ring-fence the schools CPD budget and provide bursaries for Masters-level degrees and further study, it follows that more staff will pursue some form of accreditation.

However, we know that improving professional development in schools is not always that simple. With workload pressures, financial constraints and a punitive accountability system, what are some practical steps that school leaders can take to improve the leadership, culture, structure and processes of professional development in their schools?

As part of my work with Teacher Development Trust, I have the privilege of working with many schools around the country on improving their CPD processes, supporting them to implement collaborative enquiry and design more effective CPD Programmes. Culcheth High School is one such school that has worked to improve their CPD offering through investing in staff CPD and making sustainable changes to their CPD approach.

Culcheth High School prides itself on the strong professional development programme it offers to staff. Upon becoming Head Teacher in 2014, Chris Hunt knew the direction in which he wanted to move the school, which included reinvigorating teaching and learning, and the desire to build a rigorous learning culture for both staff and pupils. There had previously been a revolving door of senior leaders, and Chris knew it was important to bring about changes in a sustainable way, developing trust and building professionalism. In 2015, Culcheth High School was awarded TDT’s Bronze award after undertaking the CPD Quality Audit. With the support of staff members, Adam Brown and Jodie Lomax, the school began to focus on improving areas for development that the CPD audit had highlighted. This included building on their #alwayslearning CPD Programme by dedicating time to collaborative enquiry, focussing on specific pupil outcomes, ensuring balance between general pedagogy and subject-specific pedagogy and assessment, and refining performance management processes.

Introducing Lesson Study (teacher-led enquiry)
This approach to CPD was different for staff but the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) ensured that Lesson Study was introduced through a formal presentation to, emphasising the non-judgmental nature of the observations and providing a template for recording notes that focused on the students’ activity in a factual manner. To make staff more comfortable they were able to choose whom they collaborated with within their CPD focus area group.

Making time
There was a strong commitment in the timetable to maximise CPD for all staff, including disaggregating 2 extra Inset days, allowing for an extra 8 hours throughout the year. To ensure that they were able to reap the benefits of Lesson Study, staff were able to select the most appropriate time for observations to take place and where necessary, members of the SLT covered their lessons. Additional time was also given to allow teachers to analyse and provide feedback as part of a dedicated whole-school #alwayslearning approach, meeting in their CPD focus groups throughout the year.

Pupil Focus
All teaching staff have a CPD objective as part of the school’s Performance Development system with staff meeting their Performance Development coach at the start of each year. They select an area on which to focus their CPD; be it modeling, questioning or practice and explanation. Staff meet in these four CPD groups and the first session sees all staff set themselves a PICO (Pupil, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) question linked to their CPD and based on the needs of a class or classes. Staff are then required to complete a coaching plan throughout the year on which they record their PICO question, the research they have engaged with, actions they have carried out and Lesson Study collaboration work that they have undertaken. This culminates in a presentation to members of their department or faculty, rather than the CPD focus group, allowing for further dissemination of experience and for actions to be determined for the next academic year.

Dedicated research lead
As part of their revised CPD programme, the SLT decided to introduce a dedicated ‘Research Lead’ to support staff with their educational research and to disseminate good practice across the school. This process has since allowed for additional personalised support to be given to staff who have requested it, providing research evidence to help inform curriculum changes.

Jodie Lomax, the Research Lead at Culcheth High School said:

“My priority initially was to make research accessible to staff and make it easy. I have done this by developing our #alwayslearning page which is on our staff portal. This includes links to recommended blogs, our research twitter feed as well as a range of folders that link to our school improvement needs, including a large range of research materials, book recommendations, blogs and articles for teachers to browse and utilise. This is also where we store our CPD Coaching Plans that staff members can access at any time to see what other people are doing to develop their own areas. 

I feel that my role and Lesson Study has benefited staff development, there has been a clear shift in professional dialogue amongst staff around development and their own professional practice.”

I most recently visited Culcheth in May 2017 to further discuss CPD with staff as part of their second CPD Quality Audit, where they progressed to achieve a Silver award. Since Lesson Study has been introduced, staff have commented on their increased confidence and ability to develop their own pedagogical knowledge. Two interviews particularly struck me. One was with an Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), who noted that

“the Head of Department fully trusts us, I’ve been trusted and supported to plan even though I haven’t necessarily taught the subject before. I’ve also been given a top set year 9, which is a huge responsibility that I’m taking very seriously.”

I later spoke with the relevant Head of Department who also commented, “there is a huge amount of trust [at Culcheth]. There is not a whiplash approach, rather it is about feeling accountable for yourself and taking the time to implement things.”

The fact that both members of staff felt such high levels of implicit trust from their superiors demonstrates the developmental shift in culture that has taken place in recent years at Culcheth. The school’s most recent Ofsted report (May 2017) also echoed this, stating “the leadership team run the school with an honest integrity which nurtures a high-trust environment where pupils and staff can flourish.” Ofsted also recognised that the strong investment in CPD has been central to establishing high relational trust within the Culcheth community, “Teachers are provided with a well thought out programme of ongoing training which has the teachers’ standards at its core. Staff value this [highly].”

The focus on the professional development and learning of teaching staff at Culcheth High School has not only improved levels of trust in the school, but staff have been energised by the clear emphasis on the mechanics of teaching and learning, and have developed both a strong sense of individual and collective efficacy. The school has also seen an improvement in pupils performance since they developed their new CPD programme with the schools A*-C including English and Maths percentage rising by 15% to 77% and the Pupil Premium gap, narrowing by over 30%.

It is clear that at Culcheth High School, teachers are trusted and valued to get on with the job of teaching. Perhaps soon, the rest of the sector will catch up to the vast sway of public opinion.


Bryk, A. S. & Schneider, B. (2003), Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform, Educational Leadership [online], 60 (6), pp. 40-45. Available at https://tinyurl.com/#

Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (2016). Bringing the profession back in: Call to action. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward. Available at https://tinyurl.com/#

Jessica Brosnan is School Programme Manager for TDT Network at the Teacher Development Trust, the national charity for professional learning in schools. She is a former Music teacher and works with schools on developing their CPD processes. Follow her on Twitter at @jessmbrosnan and the charity at @TeacherDevTrust.

Culcheth High School is a secondary school located in Cheshire. The school is home to 1,100 year seven to 11 pupils with 80 teaching staff and 40 support staff. Further information on the school can be found here.

For further information on the Teacher Development Trust’s CPD Quality Audit visit https://tdtrust.org/cpd-quality-audit or follow the Teacher Development Trust on Twitter @TeacherDevTrust.