Good CPD focuses on subject or topic-based pupil issues and outcomes, uses collaborative problem-solving approaches over several months and moves away from the one-size-fits-nobody approach

Too much CPD is unproductive but the evidence suggests a better way.

No teacher has ever got to the end of their day with an empty to-do list; we’re an insanely busy profession and our days are stuffed full of frenetic activity. Therefore, any opportunity to take time out to reflect and learn is a double-edged sword – we can relish the chance to reflect and think but also resent any time that might be spent on more immediately pressing issues.

Our new report, Developing Great Teaching: lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development, sheds some light on the sorts of activities that are worth our while.

Schools that have stopped using external expertise are missing out

Written by researchers from Durham University, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and UCL Institute of Education, the report confirms that the right CPD not only improves teacher practice but also improves outcomes for pupils.

Key findings include:

1. The content of effective professional development should involve both subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy to achieve its full potential, with clarity around learners’ progress. Activities should help teachers to understand how pupils learn, generally and in specific subject areas.

2. The duration and rhythm of effective CPD requires a longer-term focus – at least two terms to a year or longer is most effective, with follow-up, consolidation and support activities built in.

3. Participants’ needs should be carefully considered. This requires stepping away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating content for teachers that integrates their day-to-day experiences.

4. There should be a logical and consistent thread between the various components of the programme and creating opportunities for teacher learning.

5. Certain activities are more effective – these include explicit discussions, testing ideas in the classroom and analysis of, and reflection around, the evidence and relevant assessment data.

6. External input from providers and specialists must challenge orthodoxies within a school and provide multiple, diverse perspectives.

7. Teachers should be empowered through collaboration and peer learning; they should have opportunities to work together, try out and refine new approaches and tackle teaching and learning challenges.

8. Powerful leadership around professional development is pivotal in defining staff opportunities and embedding cultural change. School leaders should not leave the learning to teachers, they should be actively involved themselves.

One thing is clearly not helpful: sending teachers on one-day external courses is likely to be wasted time unless participants also have in-school collaborative and iterative activities for preparation and follow-up.

But schools that have stopped using external expertise completely are missing out on a key ingredient of effective CPD. External experts and courses are an important element of in-school processes if we want to improve pupil outcomes.

Ultimately, teacher development activities should focus more directly on subject or topic-based pupil issues and outcomes. It is best to use collaborative problem-solving approaches over several months. And it is a good idea to move away from a focus on generic teaching practices delivered through one-size-fits-nobody, whole staff, one-off lectures.

For success, leaders should help teachers see their impact on pupils. There then must be enough time every week for professional development, collaborative planning, collaborative planning/moderation, and peer observation.

Doing this will mean the time used on professional development is much better spent.

Find out more and download the full report at TDTrust.org/dgt. It was created by TES Global and the Teacher Development Trust, in partnership with Durham University, CUREE and UCL Institute of Education.

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