The quality of teaching appears to be hugely important to the outcomes of all learners, and particularly the most disadvantaged (Sutton Trust, 2014). In this article we lay out some of the key evidence around the processes, structures, resources, leadership and culture in schools that would appear to be most important in developing teaching staff.
- What are effective teacher development processes?
- What is an effective culture and environment for improving teaching?
- What leadership improves teaching?
- What is the quality of CPD in schools in the UK?
Teachers are most likely to improve when:
- they engage in sustained improvement programmes and support that has a regular rhythm of support and experimentation over a period of two terms or longer;
- their experience, needs and their vision of pupils’ success are taken into account during development processes – less ‘one size fits all’ and more effort on helping teachers understand how to relate new ideas with their own experience and the particular demands of topics and pupils that they teach;
- they get opportunities to discuss with each other both the theory and practice of new ideas, to test practices and ideas out in classrooms, to see practices expertly modelled and to receive expert feedback on their own efforts;
- they are clear on the intended impact of development upon pupils and use formative assessment to gauge the impact of ideas and practices, adapting their approaches (with expert guidance) accordingly;
- they engage in processes that both challenge/disrupt and deepen/extend their thinking – this is most likely to occur when some external ideas, support and challenge are included in their development so that they are not just having the same discussions with the same people and reinforcing the same orthodoxies and biases;
This evidence is drawn primarily from our own evidence review (in partnership with TES Global) conducted by Cordingley et al in 2015. Other important reviews of research in this area include:
- Timperley et al, 2007 – a seminal review upon which many others are still built,
- Yoon et al (2007) – a review that excluded many more papers by considering only the best quality randomised trials
- Kennedy (2016) – a really interesting recent review that took a different approach to categorising programmes
- Mandaag et al (2016) – a recent review that explores whether different approaches appear to be more appropriate for early or later-career teachers
- Darling-Hammond et al (2017) – a review for Learning Policy International.
- Kraft, Blazar and Hogan (2018) – a review that focused specifically on programmes using instructional coaching as a mechanism for improvement
It is worth noting a recent critique of the evidence base by Fletcher-Wood and Sims (2018) and a response from Cordingley et al (2018).
There is also a helpful literature on the evaluation of impact of professional development, with a helpful five-level framework provided by Thomas Guskey.
There is evidence (Kraft & Papay, 2014) that in schools where teachers improve, the following aspects of the professional environment seem to relate to whether teachers are improving:
- Behaviour: the extent to which the school is a safe environment where rules are consistently enforced and school leaders assist teachers in their efforts to maintain an orderly classroom;
- Peer Collaboration: the extent to which teachers are able to collaborate to refine their teaching practices and work together to solve problems in the school;
- Leadership: the extent to which school leaders support teachers and address their concerns about school issues;
- Professional Development: the extent to which the school provides sufficient time and resources for professional development and uses them in ways that enhance teaching;
- Culture: the extent to which the school environment is characterised by mutual trust, respect, openness, and commitment to student achievement;
- Appraisal: the extent to which teacher evaluation provides meaningful feedback that helps teachers improve their instruction, and is conducted in an objective and consistent manner.
Key evidence on leadership from Robinson (2009) of improvement suggests that the following elements are particularly important:
- Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development
- Planning, coordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum
- Establishing goals and expectations
- Strategic resourcing
- Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment
It suggests that there are 3 cross-cutting dimensions to all these elements:
- Creating educationally powerful connections
- Engaging in constructive problem talk
- Selecting, developing, and using smart tools
Two more recent studies stand out in particular around leadership.
Firstly, Kraft and Papay’s 2014 study suggests that professional collaborative culture, leadership responsiveness, support for behaviour-for-learning and provision of relevant and timely professional development are all associated with teacher improvement. (See above for more details).
Secondly, Helal and Coeli (2016) suggest that two key leadership factors are associated with improvement in results:
- Professional growth (access to relevant CPD with encouragement and interest of leaders)
- Goal congruence (shared staff commitment to well-understood school goals that teachers feel are aligned to their own goals).
Finally, we can also review evidence of how leaders use performance management – a cross-sector evidence review by Gifford et al for CIPD in 2016 found that performance management is effective when:
- goals are set with staff (not just given to them by leaders);
- goals for complex tasks are focused on effort, goals for simple tasks (in which the employee has substantial control) are focused on measurable outcomes;
- the effectiveness of the goal depends on employees’ reactions to feedback they receive about their performance against it – i.e. whether it is fair and useful;
- feedback must occurs on a regular basis – annual goal-setting and feedback is not effective.
This is backed up in a literature review of teacher professional development systems across the world (Cortez-Ochoa et al, 2018) in which it was found that:
- successful performance management systems tend to be designed and implemented collaboratively with teachers – buy-in is key to effectiveness;
- there is very little evidence that is reliable enough to make high-stakes judgements that are both reliable and valid – internal systems are often better focused on formative assessment, development and support.
We have published a new analysis of schools’ spending on CPD here.
Sadly, most of this money didn’t do much to help improve classroom practice. Research shows that the most common training involved sitting watching a PowerPoint and the most common reason for selecting a course was ‘the teacher wanted to go’ – not hugely systematic. When CUREE conducted a snapshot of training provision for the TDA, they found that barely 1% of training they looked at was effectively transforming classroom practice. Finally, in research from NFER, when teachers got back to classrooms only 7% of schools checked to see if there was any effect on student attainment.
On the whole, the most commonly booked courses tend to be in reaction to external threats and changes (e.g. Ofsted inspections, new regulations, changing exam syllabuses).