The barriers to teachers accessing CPD are clear. In response to a DfE survey, 70 per cent said that cost was an obstacle, while 51 per cent said they had insufficient time to take it up. In fact, nearly one-third (32 per cent) did not even have time to look for CPD.
So with the government now offering fully funded places for all teachers on the new NPQs, and an influx of free or low-cost CPD popping up online, will CPD take-up be substantially higher than in the past?
Perhaps not. While the removal of the cost barrier is hugely welcome, the problem of time appears greater than ever. For example, those qualifying under the new ECF, as well as their mentors, have already flagged the challenge of finding time for the more extensive learning they are expected to undertake.
When pressure is on, there is a risk of CPD feeling like a burden, not an opportunity, potentially limiting its impact. So how can we change this dynamic?
1. Recognise the importance of CPD
First and foremost, CPD shouldn’t be treated like a ‘nice-to-have’, only to be done once the to-do list is complete (because it rarely is). High-quality CPD is associated with improved pupil outcomes and teacher retention. It is fundamental to being a teaching professional, and cannot be an afterthought.
Nor should it be something teachers are expected to do in their own time. With excessive workload a major cause of teacher attrition, we must avoid exacerbating this. A simple mantra is that whenever something new is added to a teacher’s plate, something must also be taken away. Well-implemented CPD is an investment in teachers, pupils and the wider school system.
2. Look for time-efficient CPD
One thing that we’ve learned during the pandemic is how to deliver high-quality CPD at a distance. This cuts not just travel time but expense too, because the cost of CPD is not just the price of the training itself. And with more flexible CPD, there may also be a reduction in cover costs. For example, many NPQ providers have designed their programmes to require very little cover time.
But a note of caution: this flexibility should be used so that cover requirements can be spread out, or for teachers to be released from non-teaching commitments to complete online elements of training, not to just push CPD beyond ‘normal’ work hours.
Time-efficient CPD can also seem to be in tension with the need for CPD to be ‘sustained over time’ in order to be effective. But ‘sustained’ doesn’t necessarily mean it has to take longer overall; a day-long CPD course could become multiple short sessions over a couple of months. It’s less about the specific time involved and more about the practices it enables.
The recent EEF guidance report on effective CPD identifies the ‘mechanisms’ associated with it, and programmes that take place over time certainly seem to enable many of these: revisiting prior learning, setting and agreeing goals, providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress, monitoring and feedback, and all the mechanisms associated with ‘embedding practice’.
Making sure CPD feels manageable also seems important. A shorter programme may feel less of an overwhelming commitment. This is why we’ve adapted our model for how teachers and school leaders can work towards becoming Chartered, creating a more flexible pathway that can be completed gradually over time.
3. Select appropriate CPD
Finally, it’s important that the CPD we undertake is not just time-efficient, or effective in the abstract, but that it is matched to teacher needs. Giving teachers autonomy over their professional learning goals appears still to be somewhat uncommon, yet is associated with improved job satisfaction and retention.
CPD also needs to meet the needs of the school and its context. As the DfE rolls out its golden thread of professional development, this is an area that will need careful focus, balancing the needs of individual teachers and schools with a move towards consistency, to ensure that all teachers, in all schools, get the support they deserve.