The CPD Disconnect

There is a national picture of CPD needs not being directly met. Here, I look at this in some more detail.

We all love a good inset day. The non-uniform, the buns, the bit where you get to go and do your own thing with your team. In the past few years, the quality of CPD on inset days that I’ve received has been good – really good. We’ve had in high-quality guest speakers and we’ve had days out in other schools, seeing how it’s done elsewhere. The planning for these days is grounded in the needs of the school. We have an improvement plan and our SLT tailor the inset-based CPD to the areas for improvement. This will (probably) sound familiar to other teachers.

However, there is a national picture of CPD needs not being directly linked to individual staff needs. This has long been recognised by OfSTED and educational research community. While the needs of the whole-school development plan are being addressed, teachers are not receiving training in the areas where it’s most needed. The research literature suggests that there is a discrepancy between the CPD available to teachers and the CPD needed by teachers. Ofper and Pedder (2010) found that “teachers are offered a narrow range of CPD opportunities which vary significantly by experience, career stage and leadership responsibility (and) both school-level conditions and teacher perceptions serve as barriers to CPD participation.” Teachers interviewed by Ofper and Pedder also reported a clear disconnect between what was offered, and their own demands. They highlight the discrepancy between teacher experience and the access to quality CPD. Their survey results showed that ‘more experienced teachers…(are) disinterested in development opportunities… holding negative views about the benefits of CPD’. Smith and Reading (2002) found that teachers perceived that all CPD added to their workload.

An OfSTED survey, undertaken 10 years ago (so take it in context) also found that some schools’ ‘CPD plans gave suitable emphasis to staff’s individual needs and career aspirations, though managers did not simply agree to their staff’s requests for training unless there was a clear benefit for the school.’

It’s clear that there needs to be some connection between individual staff needs (often identified through appraisal) and the training they receive. This brings us to appraisal.

Appraisal – links to CPD in the research

Appraisal became statutory for teachers in the UK in 2007, with the aim of improving transparency and efficiency, and enhancing CPD (Evans, 2011). Appraisal, along with the teaching standards, was then reviewed and refocused by Michael Gove in 2010, although the link between appraisal and CPD remains. The literature on how appraisal can be used to inform CPD needs raises questions on who is in the best position to determine these needs. Evans points out that “like any ‘developees’, teachers may not necessarily be best placed to determine the direction of their own development.” She concedes that teachers may be in a better position to ‘see and understand the practicalities… of their situation’. Evans’ statement that “whether they are right or wrong, teachers will inevitably oppose and resist a professionalism being thrust upon them which they do not recognise as ‘better’…’ The key element for consideration here is not the apparent assumption that ‘teachers will inevitably oppose’ something (which undeniably carries subtext of teachers being resistant to change) but the notion that appraisal ‘thrusts’ professionalism on teachers. It makes clear that sensitive HR management and participative methods of leadership are needed in the appraisal process.

All too often, teachers identify a training need in their skill-set or subject-specific knowledge base, yet external CPD provision doesn’t deliver on this. We’ve all experience the expensive courses which give you a great idea for making a washing-line of events in An Inspector Calls (with real pegs! Wow!) but you know nothing more on how to develop literacy in boys who won’t read. Evans (ibid) considers the concept of professional development: ‘Too often professional development is interpreted narrowly, as relating to what practitioners do, in the sense of physical action.’ She goes on to consider CPD as a ‘tri-partite entity that incorporates behavioural, attitudinal and intellectual components.’ Evidently, we need clarity of what is meant by ‘professional development’ if we’re to improve provision for individuals. It’s a complex, multi-faceted entity, yet is often reduced to the idea of simply ‘going on a course’.

A ‘moral’ reluctance to request CPD?

Another issue that arises in the research is that while teachers are willing to undertake CPD, they are not always comfortable with coming forward to request it. Opfer and Pedder also found that teachers reported not requesting CPD if they perceived there to be budget limitations. Applying for CPD became a ‘moral decision’ for teachers. It was possible to gather this information through the qualitative element of their research.

The curse of the short course

Another popular topic in the research is what makes CPD ‘effective’ and within these studies there seems to be a common trend in thought, as identified by Boyle, While and Boyle (2004) – that while traditional methods of CPD, such as short courses, workshops and conferences are useful for teachers when reflecting on their own practice, such methods are ineffective when it comes to embedding long-term changes to their professional practice. This means that it is vital to consider not only the ways in which CPD needs are met, but also the delivery method and length of the CPD. Boyle et al reaffirm what many other research papers have found; that “professional development that has a substantial number of contact hours and is sustained over a period of time has a stronger impact on teaching practice and is more consistent with systemic reform efforts than professional development of a more limited duration.” The body of evidence behind this hypothesis is huge. While it seems logical or intuitive, it does not seem to be applied to practice in UK schools, and nor is a longitudinal approach to CPD in place at the school in question.

So what’s the answer?

The systems and processes are the barriers here. As always, it’s a case of being willing to give time and going out on a limb to restructure processes. One school I know finishes early on a Wednesday and all teachers have an hour of in-house CPD during period 6. There are ways to improve CPD provision and make it relevant to individuals. I think that my school is on this journey.

Little and often or long-term training

We have developed Learning Focus Groups. Each member of staff undertakes a piece of Actin Research, linked to their Appraisal Targets and agreed with her/his line-manager. Time is given to this – roughly every 4th after-school meeting is an opportunity to work on our AR project. We then share, in carousel workshops, on inset day. We can all choose which ones we attend. It’s tailored, it’s personal and it’s really interesting.

Coaches and mentors

Nothing new here but coaching partnerships and triads work well. Those who were involved in the London Challenge and then subsequent regional off-shoots will know this set up well. This is set up as a formal arrangement at our school. Staff can self-refer or be referred (with their agreement). It creates collaboration across subjects and opens up the organisation.

External links and partnerships

These need to be actively encouraged. It’s easy to become introverted, especially if you’re within a MAT, but the practice that goes on outside your own walls is worth harnessing. The exam-board meetings provide excellent networking opportunities and they’re free, so the cost is just in the cover. Teachers need to be allowed out. Hosting a local hub, especially in this era of decentralisation, gives further opportunities for relevant learning. I know these happen in many places, but they definitely don’t happen everywhere.

We’re educators, but ‘educating the educators’ is, perhaps, an underestimated skill by many in the profession. Getting this right is, I truly believe, a core tenet to having an effective school.

We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.5


Evans, L., 2011. The ‘shape’ of teacher professionalism in England: professional standards, performance management, professional development and the changes proposed in the 2010 White Paper. British Education Research Paper, London: Routledge.

Guskey, T.R. 2002. Does it makes a difference? Evaluating professional development. (passim)

OfSTED – Consistent and innovative teaching and learning, 2012

OfSTED – Guidance for Inspectors, 2014. Appraisal Procedure documentation.

Opfer, D., and Pedder, D. 2010. Access to Continuous Professional Development by teachers in England. London: Routledge