We need to bring the buzz of weekend conferences to continuing professional development delivered during working hours, says Karen Wespieser
As we reach the first half term of the new academic year, there have already been a series of high-profile education conferences. Nick Gibb and Justine Greening have given keynote speeches, and many hours of continuing professional development (CPD) time have been racked up. There’s just one catch: they nearly all took place at the weekend.
Weekend conferences have grown massively in popularity over the past few years, driven primarily by grassroots, teacher-led groups such as ResearchED and WomenED. They argue that these events, organised by and for teachers, provide unique access to a choice of CPD opportunities beyond the regular school-level offer.
Miffed at missing another one of these events in order to chaperone my kids to their rugby and gymnastics classes I composed a peeved tweet questioning why these events are still weekend fringe events; if the profession values CPD, why does it not happen during paid work hours?
I was overwhelmed by the response. The question touched a nerve for many, with staunch views shared on both sides. But what do we actually know about the value we place on teacher CPD?
If the profession values CPD, why does it not happen during paid work hours?
Last year in NFER’s analysis of teacher retention, we looked to see if providing appropriately for a teacher’s professional development was significantly associated with a greater desire to remain in teaching or to leave the profession. We were surprised to find no significant association at all.
Responding to the finding, CPD guru David Weston suggested that teachers tend generally to have very low expectations of what “appropriately providing for professional development” actually looks like, meaning that they are likely to report positively on self-report surveys, even if the quality is relatively poor, hence the low correlation with intention to leave.
These low expectations are supported in the evidence. Figures compiled by the Teacher Development Trust earlier this year found that across the whole sector, schools spend an average of just 0.7 per cent of their income on developing their teaching workforce.
The research also shows that the most common training involved sitting watching a PowerPoint. When CUREE conducted a snapshot of training provision in 2011, barely one per cent of the training they looked at was effectively transforming classroom practice.
This all fits then with the rise in weekend “do-it-yourself” CPD. If schools are not providing appropriately then it is only natural that a market will begin to flourish to meet that need. It may also fit the need of a younger, more mobile workforce.
But what needs to be remembered is that whilst this is a fix that will benefit some teachers, it will not be reaching a majority who cannot or will not give up their own free time (and often money) to travel to weekend CPD events.
What can be done about this is a harder question. Last year the Department for Education published a new standard for teachers’ professional development for all schools in England. The standard describes five key concepts:
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.
Of these, only items one to three have the potential to be fulfilled by weekend CPD. Therefore, whilst it is a nice add-on we must ensure that this does not come to replace school-coordinated CPD within working hours.
We need to take what is best about these weekend events – the high energy and the varied mix of speakers and sessions – and find ways to replicate them so that that schools can provide and prioritise professional development that will create a buzz for all staff and, ultimately, effectively transform classroom practice.
Karen Wespieser is head of impact at the National Foundation for Educational Research