“Teaching is not something one learns to do, once and for all, and then practises, problem free, for a lifetime, anymore than one knows how to have friends, and follows a static set of directions called ‘friendships’, through each encounter. Teaching depends on growth and development and is practised in dynamic situations that are never twice the same. Wonderful teachers young and old, will tell of fascinating insights, new understandings, unique encounters with youngsters, the intellectual puzzle and the ethical dilemmas that provide a daily challenge. Teachers, above all, must stay alive to this.”

William Ayers, To Teach

The continuous professional development of staff is essential to the success of our schools and our children’s learning. National research, impactful practice in other schools, and shared professional inquiry, are all essential for achieving a deep culture of professional learning and improvement. The question is – how can we make the most of these sources to achieve effective professional development within schools and partnerships?

For some time now it has been argued that simply ‘going on a course’ and listening to others’ accounts of ‘best practice’ has a limited impact on changing our professional behaviours and ways of working. Indeed, Professor David Hargreaves in his work on ‘self-improving’ school systems, has said that the most powerful form of professional development is that of Joint Practice Development because it is ongoing, involves regular peer dialogue and feedback – including the use of experienced coaches and mentors, and integrates the learning process with daily activities and practice in schools.

What is Joint Practice Development?

“The emergent model is less about attending conferences and courses and more about school-based, peer-to-peer activities in which development is fused with routine practice. Professional development becomes a continuous, pervasive process that builds craft knowledge, rather than an occasional activity that is sharply distinguished in time and space from routine classroom work.

Joint practice development (JPD) is a term that captures the essential features of this form of professional development:

  • It is a joint activity, in which two or more people interact and influence one another, in contrast to the non-interactive, unilateral character of much conventional ‘sharing good practice’.
  • It is an activity that focuses on teachers’ professional practice, ie what they do, not merely what they know.
  • It is a development of the practice, not simply a transfer of it from one person or place to another, and so a form of school improvement.”

Prof. David Hargreaves & National College; A self-improving system: towards maturity. 2012

The Professional Learning Community model

Schools within Kyra have been developing the PLC model for sometime now. For example, leaders such as James Siddle at St Margaret’s in Withern have capitalised on strong partnerships and collaboratives between local schools and have developed ongoing professional learning communities that have seen teachers collectively sharing and developing practice on an ongoing basis – with positive results. 

So what does this look like in practice? In the case of James’ group, colleagues have used the Education Endowment Fund’s evidence on effective feedback for learning as a starting point. The research shows how effective feedback can contribute to improved learning experiences for pupils – an issue that all those involved in the community wished to explore further. The sessions involve opportunities for the group to review and discuss the relevant research, to compare how they have applied their learning in their own settings (often within their sub networks) and what the impact of this has been, and to build on the sharing of information by action planning for further development and testing of their practices.

The sessions usually take place every four weeks and last no less than 75 minutes each. The standard format of the sessions – which is evidence-based and draws on the work of leading thinkers such as Dylan William and others – is usually as follows:

  • Introduction (by the ‘Community lead’ – usually someone with particular expertise or with a deep interest in the area of focus) 5 minutes
  • Collective Discussion – individuals summarise what they have done /implemented since the last session, including what has been trialed and tested through their action plan (developed at the previous session);
  • A Research Activity – Group discussion of a relevant research paper or article. This may take the format of a ‘book club’ based on reading recommended at the last session;
  • Planning action plans – Group and individuals plan their next steps for further refining their particular practice. This may include planning work for sub-partnerships or groups. This session may also include planning of lesson observations and further action research. In James’ words “everyone should leave the room with a self-improving agenda, the outcome of which will be shared with the group at the next session – if not before.”

James’ shares a number of key lessons for developing successful and sustained Professional Learning Communities:

  • Ensure the PLC is accessible to all. The format allows for all starting points as the discussion is always based on a sound research base and includes elements of individual planning which can then be implemented at a local or individual school level;
  • Start with a robust and sound evidence base upon which to build discussion and trial new practices. In James’ group, they have started with the EEF toolkit, which is based on research and analysis contributed by thousands of schools and subject to academic
  • Ensure groups are led by someone with the necessary enthusiasm, commitment and expertise to sustain them. We believe SLEs should play a key role in developing this approach to CPD based on their areas of knowledge and expertise.
  • Tap into existing partnerships and networks at first before expanding the group. This will ensure a culture of trust and openness is achievable from an early stage. Professional capital – i.e. sharing knowledge and best practice to the benefit of all schools and children – is an essential basis.
  • Draw upon and align with Randomised Control Trial projects where possible. This provides a framework for trialing various approaches and hypotheses with a clearer understanding how different variables contribute to improvements in children’s learning. The principles of RCTs should underpin these communities wherever possible.
  • Keep regulation of the community to a minimum. Whilst it is important to work with evidence-based formats and methodologies, the members of the group should feel a strong degree of ownership and be able to access the community from a range of starting points.
  • Ensure that the culture of openness extends to data and the need to measure impact. This leads to better understanding and evidence around what works and – crucially – what doesn’t!
  • Finally, promote your findings widely with other schools and practitioners. This will lead to even greater opportunities to share ideas and evidence, to the benefit of more children.

James Siddle & Michael Pain

Further reading:

Scaling Up Formative Assessment by Dylan William : http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers.html

Towards a self-improving system: towards maturity by David Hargreaves & National College for School Leadership: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/15804/1/a-self-improving-school-system-towards-maturity.pdf

Creating a strong culture of professionalism by Michael Pain, Forum Education: http://www.forumeducation.org/article-on-high-performing-systems-a-culture-of-professionalism/

Since the introduction of the new curriculum for mathematics, there has been much talk, in various forums, about how the teaching of mathematics has radically changed. It is unequivocal that the new programmes of study are more demanding. Content has moved to earlier year groups and expectations between key stages are higher, for example; NC14 states that by the end of Y4, children should know their multiplication tables up to 12×12.

The new programmes of study have broad aims that are embedded throughout the curriculum; some of the key areas are that pupils are being asked to develop higher levels of fluency and the ability to reason mathematically. This has been achieved through an emphasis on problem-solving, making connections across mathematical ideas and applying knowledge in other subject areas.  This is empowering us to teach mathematics beyond pure factual and procedural recall. Although these are both important skills that children need to develop, it is essential that children explore mathematics through a conceptual approach; this means discovering the ‘why?’ rather than the ‘what?’ and the ‘how?’

So, what is new? Well, the biggest developments in mathematics teaching have linked to the old!


School’s are now re-resourcing the hands-on enactive mathematics resources that have been thrown out or pushed to the back of the maths cupboard. Cuisenaire rods, base 10, place value counters are all on the comeback and rightly so.   These manipulatives enable children to solve ag-related (if not higher) problems with a greater proficiency.  The uses of concrete and pictorial representations of number are now being used to support written calculation policies. This is building on from the National Strategies ‘Models and Images’ documents to show a progression of calculation rather than a formalisation of calculation as seen in many policies. Further to the traditional paper policy, schools are now using handheld technology to digitalise their policies and hosting them so that children can access high-quality explanations from home; this is extending the learning opportunities for our children through innovative and engaging platforms.  Further to the use of manipulatives, schools are beginning to develop problem solving through introducing schemes such as OUPs ‘Inspire’ or ‘Maths no Problem’ to complement their current provision. The NCETM are currently researching the effectiveness of these programmes, which are based on the Singapore Bar Method, using their Maths Hubs – Year 1 teachers in 68 primary schools are currently part of the trail. 


There are huge developments in how the new curriculum is being structured. With the new programmes of study not having blocks or units, it has been up to schools to map out their mathematics provision. This requires a whole-school vision, of the school’s strengths and weaknesses of mathematics, to ensure that areas of weakness are addressed early in the year and threaded through other topics. A common area of development that I have seen has linked to ‘problem solving’ and when it should happen. A simplistic answer is that it should be happening all of the time. The new curriculum is asking us to provide opportunities to explain, prove and justify – these are difficult skills to develop if children are not exposed regularly to them.

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) is a fantastic resource to support you develop problem solving or investigative-rich schemes of work. I advise all teaching staff (including Teaching Assistants) to sign-up to this website as it provides incredibly high-quality resources to support the teaching of mathematics. This includes: subject knowledge support, academic articles, possible activities linked to every strand of the new curriculum as well as videos that showcase how we could teach some of these new and challenging areas of mathematics.

Josh Lane is a Specialist Leader of Education and can be contacted at: jlane@prioryacademies.co.uk