In new analysis being released today (Friday 21st October, 2022) in association with SchoolDash, we have found that, by 2021, schools’ spending on staff professional development had fallen by over 40% since 2018 in real terms. The fall was particularly acute in primary schools.

These figures, from the latest national data on school finances held by the Department for Education, raise particular concern given the huge additional pressures that have been hitting schools’ budgets in 2022. While the 2022 data isn’t in the public domain, there seems strong cause to be very worried at how this trend may continue or even accelerate. At the Teacher Development Trust, we have been told by a number of trust and school leaders that the late announcements of staff pay rise, without a matching rise in base funding, led many of them to make very rapid decisions to try and make emergency cuts in budgets. With so little flexibility, budget lines such as professional development have sometimes taken a further hit.

What are some possible explanations?

  • Could this trend be an impact of more free professional development being provided by government, such as NPQs
    • These budgets would have been planned before the announcement of DfE-funded scholarships, so schools can’t have been taking this into account when planning these budgets.
    • The trend was for decreasing, year-on-year, from 2018 already which also can’t be explained by a policy rolled out in 2021.
  • Could this be related to leaders realising, through Covid, that they can access quite a lot of CPD virtually or online?
    • Again, given the trend was for decreasing budgets from 2018, this is unlikely, although it may well be that schools realised that they could take a more blended approach and potentially reduce travel (and therefore cover) time and cost.
    • It is certainly a silver lining of the pandemic that there is more CPD available in a virtual or blended way and that more leaders and staff feel confident to use it. This does offer some hope for getting greater value out of any expenditure that is still allocated
  • Could schools be deciding that they weren’t getting so much impact from external courses and consultants and therefore be making a strategic choice to reduce budgets?
    • Given that the proportion of budgets spent on staffing have been rising continually during this period, it does rather suggest that the more likely explanation is that other budgets are being squeezed rather than purely strategic choices to invest in other ways, but this will be an important area to explore in future.
  • (Added 22-Oct, suggested by Kat Howard, @SaysMiss) Could schools be focusing more on in-house provision and therefore be deliberately shifting resources from external CPD spend to internal professional development
    • This is an interesting hypothesis. Anecdotally, I’m not sure I’ve seen this happening at scale although the new mentor roles for Early Career Teachers could be one factor that started kicking in from 2021. Another related hypothesis could be that schools in trusts are increasingly seeing their CPD budgets brought into the central trust budget instead of the individual school, itself a move with pros and cons around alignment and autonomy.

The drop in CPD budgets comes against an extremely difficult picture for recruiting teachers. For example, NFER’s analysis of current recruitment to Initial Teacher Training suggests huge shortfalls in most subjects, despite recent government announcements of the reinstatement of bursaries.

Commenting on these new findings, Teacher Development Trust CEO, David Weston said:

“Schools can only be successful if they can recruit and retain great staff and then give them access to high quality curriculum materials and professional development. Given that recruitment is getting much harder for schools, it’s extremely worrying to see schools having to cut investment in both curriculum resources and CPD. This will impact retention and it will impact outcomes for young people. And all of these worrying figures are 2021, before we got to the massive, additional finance pressures of energy price rises and unfunded pay rises.”

David Weston, CEO, Teacher Development Trust

With increasing pressure on recruitment, trusts and schools are increasingly focusing on how to retain and develop the staff that they have. As the TDT research working paper, A Culture of Improvement showed last year, research is clear that improving retention and outcomes for young people is going to require an intensive focus on creating the right approaches to leadership that foster working conditions that ensure that staff thrive and pupils succeed – a principle that is deeply embedded in TDT National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) for leaders and our TDT Associate Qualification in CPD Leadership.

Recommendations for school leaders:

  • Your CPD budget line is only a small portion of the resource that you invest into professional development – consider your salary costs for all of the days spent on:
    • INSET days
    • Performance management discussions and preparation
    • Whole staff meetings with a focus on developing teaching or improving standards
    • Team meeting time with a focus on developing teaching or improving standards
  • The costs for paying for this time can easily be four times as high per teacher as the average CPD budget per teacher, so consider how you are ensuring that you have the conditions and processes in place to plan and lead INSET, performance management discussions and team meetings effectively. You may wish to consider the TDT Diagnostic Tool as part of a TDT membership to benchmark how well you’re leading this are and get a clear map of how to improve this. In addition, consider investing in leadership capacity of your CPD or teaching and learning lead.
  • Investing in improving staff capacity and capability for pedagogical (or instructional) coaching and in research-informed teacher enquiry/research can ensure that each hour spent in development is more likely to have impact on standards, morale and retention.
  • Consider how you can generate efficiencies from working as a cluster or trust of schools as well as taking advantage of as much externally funded CPD that you can find – more details in this blog for Forum Education