Research: How can we improve access to high-quality CPD?

3 May 2021, 5:00

After languishing in international league tables, change appears to be afoot for teacher CPD in England. But what do we know about improving it, asks Cat Scutt

Extensive research shows how important effective teaching is for pupil outcomes – particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. But how can we best develop teachers’ effectiveness?

A number of factors are in play, including ensuring they are working in high-quality professional environments and that they have opportunities to learn and develop through collaboration with colleagues.

But one of the main levers is access to high-quality CPD opportunities. A new report from EPI, published this week, finds that teacher participation in at least 35 hours per year of high-quality CPD can not only influence their pupils’ outcomes but ultimately their pupils’ future earnings. So far, so good – but there are a number of issues here too.

To begin with, access to CPD is a problem. According to TALIS data, England’s teachers participate in fewer hours of CPD per year than the OECD average, and as the Teacher Development Trust has noted, there is huge variation in the CPD budgets of different schools. While budget is not everything, this is indicative of wider disparities in the sector in terms of the time made available for this crucial activity.

And even where teachers do have access to it, not all CPD has the impact we might hope for. Sometimes, this is because it isn’t of sufficient quality. At other times, it simply doesn’t meet the needs of the teachers undertaking it. A 2014 Department for Education consultation found that teachers often reported the CPD they engaged in was of poor quality and had little or no impact on their teaching.

It can be challenging for leaders to make good judgments about CPD quality

But why? First, while there is a relatively large and widely accepted body of evidence about what makes effective CPD, there has recently been some challenge to how robust this evidence is. Even if we are confident we know the key principles of effective CPD, such as those that form the basis of the DfE’s standard for teachers’ CPD, there are certainly gaps on a practical level. For example, research suggests we need to understand more about what high-quality facilitation looks like.

And although there has been an increased emphasis on selecting CPD that is likely to have impact, it can still be challenging for school leaders to make good judgments about its quality, based on the information available.

So with no mandatory entitlement to CPD, no systematic way for schools to identify the quality of CPD provision, and some limits to what we know about high-quality CPD, the drivers for improvement of CPD provision are limited.

But a number of developments are in the works that may help us to tackle these issues. The CPD Challenge is a pilot looking at how a CPD entitlement might be established and implemented effectively, and a new guidance report on teacher CPD is due from the Education Endowment Foundation later this year.

In addition, working with Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education and the Teacher Development Trust (and funded by Wellcome), the Chartered College of Teaching has just completed a pilot of an approach to CPD quality assurance, with some promising findings.

The pilot project’s approach involved consideration of evidence against a set of criteria by a panel of trained teachers and other experts. The evaluation suggests it enabled valid judgments to be made and set a high bar for quality.

Encouragingly, it shows that the potential to raise the quality of CPD is there. Providers will engage in reflection and development and teachers and schools can be supported to make more informed choices.

Of course, the roll-out of such a system is far from straightforward. Avoiding market distortion or privileging larger providers must be at the heart of such developments.

But we hope that through these activities, and many others across the sector, we are seeing the development of a new phase of teacher CPD in England, one where we can ensure teachers have time to undertake the best learning opportunities that will have the most impact in classrooms up and down the country.

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