In her first blog as TDT’s new Head of Education, Maria Cunningham surveys the landscape of CPD policy.

What the future holds for CPD… Future policy and research trends

“What if we were to put as much effort into developing teachers as we did into developing students? How do we find a way to put the collective expertise of our profession at every teacher’s fingertips? Why can’t we make every school a place where teachers thrive and students succeed?”

These are three questions asked by Bridget Clay and David Weston in their introduction to Unleashing Great Teaching (Routledge, 2018), and they are ones that we at Teacher Development Trust continue to pose to the sector time and time again, campaigning for policy-makers to explore and pursue them with the importance they deserve.

As the national charity for effective CPD in schools, we work with hundreds of schools ranging from infant schools to colleges, academy trusts, independent schools, special schools and international schools. In so many cases, I’ve seen first-hand that professional learning is key to supporting teachers. I’ve interviewed teachers wiping away tears of frustration and disillusionment, had leaders talk me through in detail the “expiry dates” of their staff, but also been met with a renewed buzz of enthusiasm from experienced staff members once on the verge of walking out. When done well, professional development boosts morale, efficacy and motivation.

Earlier this year, TDT and SchoolDash found that staff development budgets had fallen by 12 per cent in secondary schools, and 7 per cent in primary schools. The drop was the first reduction this decade and suggests that tight school budgets are forcing schools to spend less on the development of their most valuable and high-impact assets; teachers. We’ve been urging government and policy makers to make this a major priority. Of course it’s not just what’s being spent, but also how resources are being maximised. We have been calling for a system-wide push to help school leaders use the best, most proven approaches to developing the quality of teaching and support. The good news is that this is gradually starting to take effect.

Even over the past few years, the landscape of CPD for teachers, leaders and staff in schools has changed significantly. The growing prevalence of Multi Academy Trusts has sparked more school-to-school collaboration and in-house provision, while the emergence of a Chartered College of Teaching is connecting teachers together to share practice and raise the status of the profession.

We are in a window of opportunity for CPD and there is plenty to look forward to in terms of upcoming policy and research trends which have a real potential to shake up the sector as well as create sustainable change. The Early Career Framework, which felt like one of the most significant and well-received policy announcements from the DfE for some time, will offer financial provision to extend the support for early career teachers from one year to two years, including funding for schools to reduce timetables, to release and better-train mentors and funding and support for SLT who lead on CPD and Teaching and Learning in order to create a supportive environment.

The government are also developing new specialist NPQs for areas including Teacher Development, assessment and pastoral needs which will provide alternative career pathways for those less inclined to pursue headship or management. I know this will be a welcome initiative for so many of the teachers whom I ask about career progression, and say they feel compelled to sacrifice their interests and leave the classroom behind if they want to gain greater seniority. At an organisational level, having a specifically trained CPD lead in schools will improve the quality of teachers, and in turn help improve staff retention by improving colleagues’ self-efficacy and motivation.

The DfE also recognised that whilst the Teachers’ Standards for Professional Development published in 2016 was well received, teachers and school leaders had voiced challenges in putting them into practice. In response to this, the CPD Expert Group reconvened and has been working over the past few months with a remit to develop tools and guidance for exemplification which can support the sector to recognise and seamlessly embed high quality CPD in a range of contexts. Conversations have focussed on ensuring that the Standards and accompanying tools are embedded in other aspects of the system such as ITT, Early Career support and other key government programmes. In due course we expect and anticipate producing documents that help Teaching Assistants, NQTs and senior leaders understand how the Standard applies to them.

There will be new research to look forward to; in particular, I hope to hear more discussion about what we can draw from the emerging evidence base around performance management and appraisal in schools, as well as new findings about how teacher autonomy – including professional development goals – relates to job satisfaction and retention. At TDT we’ve been building and refining an exciting programme of pedagogical coaching support for schools based on the increasing amount of studies showing the positive impact this form of professional development can have on teacher instruction and student achievement.

Finally, it is so important to ensure that the landscape effectively ‘joins the dots’ between schools, participants and providers of CPD. We have been working with providers for some time to improve their quality of delivery, and are continuing to contribute to an exciting and long-needed project alongside Sheffield Hallam University and Chartered College of Teaching which aims to tackle the – often tricky – question of quality assurance, helping providers to build and demonstrate their effectiveness; stimulating market expectation from the ground upwards.

In amongst all of this, what no one can deny is that on-the-ground there are some inspirational change-makers in schools who are championing high-quality development and empowering colleagues at all stages of their careers to thrive in the profession and leave every school year a better practitioner than they were the previous September. At TDT, we want to recognise and showcase journeys like these and for those champions be able to in turn ‘spread the gospel’ to others, which is why we’re establishing regional hubs in areas to give schools the chance to be strategic about CPD together and contextualise all of these developments in policy and research to their local needs.

I believe that we can make every school a place where teachers thrive and students succeed. For my colleagues and I, we will continue to work to turn this from a ‘what’ to a ‘how’, and welcome any improvement in the way that teachers, schools and the wider system thinks about CPD.

You can follow TDT’s Head of Education, Maria Cunningham, on Twitter at @mcunners.