High-quality programmes of professional development for teachers are more effective at boosting pupils’ attainment than performance-related pay or lengthening the school day, a new study claims.
The Education Policy Institute and Ambition Institute have today released a joint report on the impact of professional development on teachers and students.
Teacher development programmes compare favourably with other costly education interventions
The study, commissioned by Wellcome, found 35 hours of high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) a year could also improve teacher retention and is almost as effective for improving pupil outcomes as having a teacher with 10 years’ experience in the classroom.
The study conducted a “rapid review” by extracting key data from a number of randomised controlled trials, professional development interventions and international studies.
From 42 studies, professional development interventions were found to have a “positive effect on student learning”.
The report used effect sizes to quantify the impact across different studies.
Professional development was found to have a mean effect size of 0.09, a greater improvement than the estimates for the effect of school-based interventions such as performance-related pay and lengthening the school day, which had an effect size of 0.06.
But having teachers with a decade of experience (0.11) and one-to-one tutoring (0.28) were still found to be better.
The report claims professional development “has the potential to close most of the gap between the effectiveness of novice and experienced teachers”.
And the effect sizes for professional development “represent a greater improvement than estimates for the effect of other school-based interventions”.
CPD may also be the most cost-effective solution, the report found.
While one-to-one tutoring tends to have the “more dramatic” impact on pupils, the study found the programmes available in England cost far more than professional development.
For example the Embedded Formative Assessment programme achieved an effect size of 0.1 for all pupils at a cost of £1.20 per pupil compared with CatchUp Literacy which achieved an effect size of 0.01 at £54 a pupil.
James Zuccollo, director for school workforce at the EPI, said: “Teacher development programmes compare favourably with other costly education interventions, but can be overlooked as a route to improving young people’s outcomes.”
The study also found that increasing the availability of CPD improved retention, particularly among early-career teachers.
But teacher turnover was identified in the report as a “predictable barrier” to achieving goals set out by CPD, along with a lack of leadership support and the “obvious, but critical” demands on staff, schools and systems.
Zuccollo added: “Given there is also evidence that professional development can help to tackle acute teacher retention problems, policymakers are right to explore how they can improve teachers’ access to high-quality support programmes.”
This is not the first time the use of CPD has been touted as a solution to the teacher retention crisis.
In 2017 the education select committee urged the government to “recognise its own role in promoting the professional development of teachers”, including a “central statement of annual CPD entitlement” for each teacher.
But last year it was revealed that spending by schools on professional development for teachers fell by £23.2 million in just one year.
Education data specialists SchoolDash found schools spent £235.8 million on CPD for teachers in 2016-17, down from £259 million the year before.
The Department for Education’s focus has been on increasing starting salaries to boost recruitment.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Opportunities for teachers to develop throughout their career are essential for ensuring it remains an attractive profession while enabling all pupils to benefit from a world-class education.
“Our Recruitment & Retention Strategy sets out the biggest teaching reform in a generation by providing the solid foundations for a successful career in teaching, backed by at least £130 million a year in extra funding when fully rolled out.”