TDT School Programme Leader, Michelle Barker, surveys NFER’s new research and draws out some opportunities for positive change in schools.

CPD and Teacher Autonomy

Pressures on existing teachers have long been at boiling point. Analysis from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) and accompanying resource from the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) suggests teachers’ feelings of autonomy make a huge difference to their morale and intention to stay in teaching.

Through this first large-scale quantitative study on the subject for teachers in England, the NFER find that autonomy, as in many other occupations, is clearly linked to job satisfaction and retention, including positive indicators such as the perception of a manageable workload.

Surprisingly, only certain aspects of autonomy seem to make a significant difference. In this blog we outline some key findings leaders need to know from this exciting new report.

Autonomy for teachers doesn’t rise without promotion

It’s an ongoing challenge for school leaders to maintain schools where the best teachers are able to remain teaching while developing in their roles.

Findings suggest that autonomy varies across different areas of teachers’ work. More teachers report that they have a lot of influence, for example, over classroom management, teaching methods, and planning and preparing lessons, and less influence over curriculum, assessment, and feedback.

These factors might not come as a surprise to readers, but one finding is stark: teachers experience no growth in autonomy over their careers, unlike nearly every other profession. In fact, there are no significant differences in the average level of autonomy among classroom teachers with more than six years experience.

Why are teachers who stay in the classroom not experiencing the same growth in autonomy as their counterparts in managerial positions?

Classroom teachers have little involvement in setting their Professional Development goals

Professional development is reported by classroom teachers in England as an area of low autonomy, with 38% of teachers reporting to have ‘a little’ to ‘no’ influence over their goals.

The research shows that perceived autonomy over professional development goals has the greatest association with improved satisfaction and intention to stay. This suggests that the greatest potential for increasing teacher job satisfaction and retention lies in increasing autonomy over professional development goals

How could schools use these insights?

Leading professional development well has great impact on student outcomes with benefits to staff retention, morale and stress reduction. Reviewing goal setting practices provides an opportunity to involve teachers in establishing and committing to goals which are also linked to the school vision.

The free TDT resource provides recommendations on improving teacher autonomy in teaching, learning and CPD policies. In particular, we outline where these opportunities may be created and the benefits leaders can expect to see by helping teachers see the relevance of their professional development plans to them as individuals, to their pupils and to the wider organisation.

Download the full report and plan for change:
Listen to Naylor’s Natter in association with TDT: David Weston in conversation with research author Jack Worth

The Teacher Development Trust is a national charity for effective professional development in schools with a growing network of practitioners who supported the qualitative elements of this research.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research.

Further Information and References:

Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?, Kraft, M.A. and Papay, J.P., Educational Effectiveness and Policy Analysis, 36, 4, 476–500, 2014.

Developing Great Teaching, Cordingley et al., TDT, 2015.

Engaging Teachers: NFER Analysis of Teacher Retention, Lynch et al., NFER, 2016.

OECD (2016). Supporting Teacher Professionalism: Insights from TALIS 2013.

Self-determination theory, Deci, E. and Ryan, R., Canadian Psychology, 49, 182–185, 2008. DOI: 10.1037/a0012801

Teacher Self-Efficacy and Perceived Autonomy, Skaalvik, E. M. and Skaalvik, S., Psychological Reports, 114, 68–77, 2014.