How and why was the TDT established?
As a teacher, I was becoming more involved in work around CPD and was beginning to undertake some consultancy work around professional development. My increasing involvement in professional development and teacher learning led to a sense of frustration at the poor state of ongoing training for teachers that I was witnessing in so many instances.
At the time, the government didn’t seem to have any policy on teachers’ professional development, other than hoping that teaching schools would take a lead on it. On top of this, the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the national body formerly responsible for teachers’ training and professional development, was shut down. I felt very strongly that something needed to be done, and that’s why I and two other teachers founded the TDT in 2012. My vision was that the TDT, as a charity, could be used as a vehicle to raise the profile of CPD, and campaign to make effective professional development a much higher priority, to the benefit of teachers in schools across the country. I was also encountering a lot of ineffective approaches to professional development, and there were widespread misunderstandings about what good CPD should consist of. I saw that more needed to be done to improve the standard of CPD that many teachers were getting, and to really get the message across about what effective CPD looks like, and it was my hope that the TDT could help schools to achieve this.
What is the role of the TDT? How has this evolved over the last seven years?
Initially, I think the key role of the TDT was to raise awareness of the importance of high-quality CPD, and to campaign for the effective continual professional development of teachers to become a much higher priority in schools. We also aimed to increase the level of understanding within the education system of what makes CPD genuinely effective and impactful.
As time went by, it became obvious that many schools wanted more support in enacting quality CPD, and the role of the TDT began to evolve and grow to meet this requirement. In July 2013 we launched the TDT Network to enable schools to share and develop evidence-based professional development practice. Other services that we now provide include an audit tool to help school leaders understand how effective staff development is currently within their schools, training in implementing and improving staff development within educational institutions, and consultancy services to provide institutions with tailored support.
On top of all this, we provide easy access to the latest cutting-edge ideas and research regarding teacher’s professional development, to help education professionals become as informed as possible. We have also produced lots of resources and tools over the years to support CPD and teacher development, and we also run a blog.
Another way in which we have evolved as an organisation is that we are now producing our own research, rather than just using the research that is already out there. An example of this is the report we commissioned, the ‘Developing Great Teaching Review’ in 2015, which is all about what makes for effective CPD. We also produce an annual report which outlines the amount that schools have invested in CPD in the past year in different regions throughout the country.
So, as you can see, the TDT has evolved quite a lot over the past six years since it was established!
In your opinion, why is investing in CPD so important for schools?
Research demonstrates a clear link between improved professional development and better outcomes for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged pupils (see the TDT’s research review ‘Developing Great Teaching’). Therefore, one of the most important things that governors and school leaders can do to give their pupils the best start in life is to make sure that teaching and learning is continually developed, and invested in, at their school, by engaging their staff in effective CPD. Some schools understand CPD narrowly, simply as training days or courses. We are trying to spread the message that CPD is about everything that helps to improve teachers’ performance and the quality of teaching and learning, and that is why it is so vitally important.
Effective teacher development has been shown to improve teacher wellbeing and morale, staff retention, and to lead to an increased positive reputation for institutions that make effective teacher development a priority. In contrast, a lack of teacher development in schools can lead to teacher performance plateauing, and teacher burnout, with schools finding it harder to recruit as they gain a reputation for being unsupportive. At a time when the teacher recruitment and retention crisis is causing real problems for so many schools throughout the country, I believe that a focus on the professional development of teachers can play a vital role in improving the situation.
What should schools expect to invest in to get this right?
Schools obviously need to invest money. With tighter budgets, this may not be easy, but it really is worth prioritising teacher development as much as possible, as the long-term benefits for your school will be invaluable. It is also really worth investing in getting the best CPD expertise possible to ensure you get maximum impact from your investment.
Schools also need to invest time into teacher development, especially as it has been shown that the most successful CPD is sustained and reviewed over an extended period of time. The best schools in this area are protecting time within the timetable that teachers can devote to their professional development, in order to continually improve their teaching and learning.
Finally, effective systems of professional development will mean that teachers need cover for lessons from time to time, and this is another investment that your school will need to make. My advice is to develop a strong system to deal with cover, either by utilising SLT or Higher-Level TA’s, or employing cover supervisors. This will ensure that teachers can attend CPD sessions when required, without having to worry about how their classes will be covered.
What are the key characteristics of effective CPD?
CPD that is made up of a ‘one-off’ session is unlikely to have much, if any, real impact, and it has been shown instead that the most effective CPD is sustained over a period of time. Teachers need to come back to the same idea more than once, and effective CPD needs to be a process, where the initial ‘input’ of an expert is just the beginning. Teachers then need opportunity to ‘try out’ the new ideas, evaluate, and discuss implementation, and impact, with colleagues. Then, ideally, there will be another CPD session with the expert to review progress so far, and how best to continue to move forward. This cycle allows CPD to be truly embedded into classroom practice. Therefore, for CPD to be effective, schools must plan beyond the initial CPD input and consider how they can accomplish this sustained kind of CPD, ideally setting time aside for teachers to implement, discuss and collaborate, evaluate, and review with an expert.
The culture of the school is also very important in enabling effective CPD. If a school prioritises CPD, and offers staff the time, support and encouragement to develop their teaching and try new things, then it is more likely that CPD will be embraced by staff, and properly embedded, resulting in a much greater impact.
How can schools measure the impact of CPD?
There are a few misconceptions out there about how the impact of CPD can be measured. For example, using lesson observation in order to try and observe the impact of CPD in an individual lesson. There is no evidence that lesson observations can effectively measure the effects or impact of CPD, or help to embed the CPD long-term. Another misconception is that the impact of CPD can be measured by exam results, especially whether results improve, or not. The fact is, exam results are dependent on so many things that the impact of CPD on the results is almost impossible to measure in any meaningful way.
The best way to measure the impact of CPD is to have a really specific focus. This focus should be narrow and sharp, so that the individual teacher, and the school, can see any impact really clearly. Prior to implementing the CPD, the teacher should have already identified a specific area to improve and evaluate. A good example of a specific focus would be something like: improvement in understanding of angles for Year 5 pupils, eligible for pupil premium. It needs to be something really tangible, where you will clearly be able to identify any difference.
It’s also a good idea for schools to gather the opinions of their staff as to how useful they have found any CPD which has been provided, and how much of a positive difference they feel the CPD has made to them in their own practice. This could be done through staff questionnaires. At the TDT we also offer a service to schools to audit their CPD provision, to find out what is and isn’t working well, and the extent to which their current CPD practice is having a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning at the school.
What do you currently see as the key challenges and opportunities around CPD in the education system?
I think one of the key challenges is making sure that the conversation about CPD continues to widen. At the TDT, we want to help all schools to understand that the term CPD encompasses everything that can improve the standards of teaching and learning in schools. That it’s not just about inset days, and one-off training sessions. I think that this change in the perception of CPD is taking place at a rapid rate, but it hasn’t taken place in all schools yet, and that’s something that we need to change.
Some of the other challenges will be very familiar to many schools. Reduced school budgets are an obvious challenge. However, I would emphasise that schools need to see the costs of professional development as the most important investment they can make in their school. Also the current teacher recruitment and retention crisis has had a negative impact on professional development in many schools, as it’s harder to find time in the timetable for staff to dedicate to CPD. Also more and more CPD is having to be dedicated to staff inductions, or plugging gaps in knowledge, rather than focused on improving teaching and learning.
However, there is a flip side to the recruitment and retention crisis and how that is affecting attitudes towards professional development. The crisis has meant that the Government are having to focus much more seriously on making sure that teaching is a rewarding career, in order to attract and retain more teachers. This is a great opportunity for us to highlight to the government, and to schools, the vital role of professional development in attracting, developing, and retaining great teachers. In fact, support for early career teachers is already improving due to a drive from the Government; this support includes a greater amount of mentoring, coaching, and support materials for new and early career teachers. The new Recruitment and Retention Strategy, which includes a new Early Career Framework that I helped advise upon, is a great example of how the Department for Education is taking this more seriously. I really hope that we see this focus on continued development and support expand further, and eventually benefit all teachers, and this is what the TDT will continue to push for. I passionately believe that the more teachers feel valued and supported in developing professionally, the more likely they are to remain in the profession.
Another exciting opportunity to improve professional development nationwide is the recent establishment of the Chartered College of Teaching. The TDT played a key role in its emergence, bringing together a coalition of organisations, teachers, and other supporters to present the proposal for its creation. Once this proposal was accepted, we also played a significant role in supporting the development of the College, which was officially opened in 2017. The College aims to connect, inform, and inspire teachers by offering training, and sharing knowledge, with a central purpose of improving teaching and learning. I think it has great potential in supporting schools and teachers everywhere to take charge of their professional development, keep informed and up-to-date, and implement really effective CPD strategies. I very much believe that the establishment of the College will make a really positive difference for teachers and schools across the country, by ultimately helping them to provide the best possible education for the children and young people they serve.