This post was written in 2013. Since then we have produced a new systematic review of the evidence into what makes effective professional development.
In this blog, Joe Kirby explores what makes effective CPD. This first appeared here, and you can read more of his work on his own blog. This is one of the articles in the TDT September Newsletter (sign up here).
Effective CPD focuses on improving teaching and evaluates its impact on learning.
“There is advantage in the wisdom won from pain.”
Aeschylus, The Oresteia, 458 BCEvery year since 1856, Oxford and Cambridge University rowing crews have competed in the Boat Race on the Thames. Today, millions of people globally watch the race. As my housemate competed in Great Britain rowing trials, I’ve seen how the training works. Rowing training involves phenomenal dedication, teamwork, coaching and practice. A year before the race, trials are run at the British Indoor Rowing Championships over 2000 metres. The use of ‘ergoes’ (indoor rowing machines) displays data as a core score: not just distance and time, but crucially, the speed or ‘split’ projected over 500m. After every stroke they take, indoor rowers get the split as instant feedback, which they use to hit the right pace. This focuses the mind and the team. Over six months, they put in 1,200 hours of training whilst doing full-time Oxbridge degrees. The heaviest, most powerful individuals don’t always win the boat race: skill, balance and teamwork often allow lighter, more effective teams to win. Getting everyone rowing in the same direction is an apt analogy for teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) in schools: it requires a clear destination, strong steering, balanced teamwork and dedicated practice. For CPD, there’s a lot to learn from rowers’ teamwork, focus on a core score and instant feedback. What’s so important about CPD? If improving teaching quality opens the door to raising student achievement, CPD holds the promise of acting as a key. After all, John Hattie’s synthesis of 800 meta-analyses puts CPD as a large effect size on pupil achievement of 0.62, in the top 20 of all the practices analysed. Instinctively, it feels as if CPD has the potential to raise the bar and close the gap in pupil attainment. It’s just that the keychain of CPD jangles with several hundred keys, and as of yet we’re unsure which ones unlock the door. school R&D hubs,marketplace carousels, social networking sites like Twitter, education blogs, online webinars, teachmeets, education festivals and research conferences, classroom videotaping – the options are many. How do school leaders know what the most effective provision is, and what’s not? When is CPD ineffective? Anecdotally, I’ve found that most CPD tends to be quite scattergun. Every year the school presents teachers with about 50 options for twilight CPD sessions. From this dazzling and dizzying array of choice, we are expected to select two options. There’s no real strategy behind why the choices are made, other than that they seem interesting. There’s no real follow up as to whether we’ve actually used it in class. Evaluation forms ask how much we enjoyed the session but not whether the training achieved its objectives or helped us apply its ideas. The options, all of which are one-off events, contain a great many things that seem to have very little to do with actual teaching, from ‘Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator’ to ‘Restorative Justice & Mediation’ to ‘SIMS’ and ‘Cyber Safety’ all the way to ‘Health and Safety Management’. CPD provision as I’ve experienced it has very little focus or impact. Many teachers agree, and have blogged about it: Top 10 CPD activities to avoid; The Ten Commandments of CPD; Why can’t training days be useful for once?; pyramid jelly cocktail sticks and pretending to be Pluto: these are just a few posts written by teachers on ineffective CPD. The research evidence says the same. In July 2010, the OECD said diplomatically: ‘In the UK the quality and nature of continuing training available is very uneven’. In fact, schools in England spend just 0.5% of their budgets on CPD, according to the Teacher Development Trust. In contrast, in the world’s best school systems like Ontario, Canada, over 10% of school budgets and teacher time is spent on CPD. Whilst students spend 1100 hours a year learning, teachers in England are expected to spend only up to 30 hours a year, less than an hour a week. But it’s not just that lack of money and time is dedicated to CPD. Research shows that barely 1% of CPD training is improving classroom practice effectively in English schools. Why is it so ineffective? As David Weston, the CEO of the Trust says: ‘A large swathe of training has no effect whatsoever on pupil outcomes. In fact, in some cases, teachers come away from irrelevant away-days having made poorly-understood and superficial changes to their teaching that not only make the lessons worse but also leaving them with the impression that they are now better teachers who require less training in future’… ‘The training most schools choose is often poorly chosen and ineffective, and the evidence about how to fix this is not widely known or understood.’ The main reason for this is a complete lack of evaluation. Once training is delivered, only3% of secondary schools evaluate the effectiveness of its impact on student attainment. The maxim here seems to be: if you don’t evaluate it, you can’t improve it. David Weston sets out some features of ineffective CPD:
- forcing teachers to follow lists of ‘best practice’ methods and checking compliance through repeated observations and scrutiny of lesson plans;
- mandating fixed structures for lessons;
- bolting on ‘tips and tricks’ to existing teaching;
- buying in and parroting pre-prepared schemes of work and lesson plans.
- Focus it on evidence-based teaching practice.
- Evaluate its impact on pupil learning.
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