Planning Effective CPD: What could be more important?

The issue of the week has been CPD. As we look ahead to next year, planning the way forward for professional development is a dominant theme. What could be more important? I’ve had five key meetings in the last week:

1) a meeting with Sue Brindley from Cambridge University, exploring a research framework for our teaching and learning exploration groups (as featured in the ‘CPD Market Place’)

2) a meeting of the Eastern Region SSAT Heads’ group – I am the Chair – where we planned an exciting re-launch of SSAT activity with an ‘innovation in learning’ theme for future gatherings or Forums

3) a visit from the super-bright guru of CPD David Weston, aka @informed_ edu and new Chief Exec of the Teacher Development Trust.

4) a school Middle Leaders meeting where, following a mock inspection process, we had one agenda item: how do we ensure that all teachers are improving and are consistently operating within Good to Outstanding territory without becoming overly ‘OfSTED driven’ and retaining the passion for our own ‘zest for learning’ ideals? (See post on our Departmental Review process)

5) a meeting with Officers from ASHE, the Essex Heads’ group to plan follow-up events after an Alan November @globalearner conference.

Talking Texts in Art, from our Market Place CPD

In all these discussions some themes were common:

1) any group of teachers or leaders has within it a range of abilities, strengths and interests. CPD processes need to provide a degree of autonomy or the flexibility to match individuals’ needs. It sounds so ridiculously obvious but we still deal with too much onesizefitsall CP D. However, within this range there are people who have the capacity to drive their own professional learning whilst others, at all levels, do not. Identifying who needs what is a central leadership challenge.

2) there are some situations where the priority is to establish and then maintain minimum standards in core practice. The challenge is to address teachers’ individual professional learning needs in a way that is supportive and motivating whilst being clear that some standards are non-negotiable. Peer to peer processes can facilitate reflection and provide support but, because it is not easy for everyone to give tough messages, they rarely really challenge people to raise their game significantly. Ensuring that CPD has rigour and impact is another key leadership challenge.

3) too much CPD is about teeing up and not enough is about following through. Innovation can be flashinthepan because it is not embedded or sustained. In planning a CPD event it is important, therefore, to plan a follow- up process at the same time. All CPD should probably have an element of obligation to come back later to show what you did.

4) the one-off formal lesson observation model is rubbish in terms of CPD and it seems obvious that regular coaching or micro- feedback is the true path to improvement – if we could only get past the fear factors and defensive barriers. The culture that has led to teachers resisting observation processes is highly toxic; it needs to change. Fundamentally this is all about trust. The challenge is to build a high trust culture at the same time as tackling underperformance robustly. Not easy- but necessary.

5) there is CPD around mastery – improving confidence and competence with known skills – and there is also the R&D, research/innovate form of CPD where new ideas are explored. It is important to provide opportunities for both; they are not the same thing. However, although R&D work is highly rewarding, it must ultimately be evaluated, put into practice and disseminated to have real value – otherwise it can become indulgent fluff. Similarly, some people are already sucking eggs pretty well and need to be set free to explore.

6) leaders of innovation and models of expert practice can come from anywhere. In some areas, such as the exploding ‘edtech’ revolution, Heads can be facilitators or blockers but are unlikely to be leaders; this is going to a bottom-up movement. Hopefully a tidal wave. However, Heads rarely support initiatives they don’t believe in so CPD for leaders is needed to give them confidence to unleash the energies of others.

I will report back on developments from all five meetings in due course. Look out news of a big SSAT forum in Cambridge in the autumn and an Essex teacher-leader ‘techfest’ event. Also, keep an eye out for more work by the CamSTAR school research group.


  1. Dear Tom

    Thank you for sharing this commentary. It seems to me that it captures all that is sensible in considering the right approach to CPD and the important of making it an effective part of whole-school development.

    Many point that are made in this piece will strike chords with its readers. Making connections with other groups and individuals is surely important in opening up the format of CPD to new ideas or new affirmations. There is often a cultural element to CPD, sometimes born of an experience of less-than-effective INSET in the past, that can benefit from fresh thinking and in particular, external evidence of approaches that have been successful.

    The phrase ‘not being Ofsted-driven whilst retaining a zest for learning’ makes an important topical tension between a reductionist approach based on an imagined ideal suggested by Ofsted criteria, and the development of inspirational teaching that doesn’t always fall into easy definitions, but which drives the profession forward.
    The second discussion point describes this well. Professional growth is what makes great teachers, and that journey needs to be about support and entitlement, while clarifying the professional standards that are expected.

    CPD, I would suggest, also needs to recognise the relationship that exists between effective teaching and effective learning. If looking into ‘gap’ issues of pupil performance we need to be able to separate pupil effects from teaching impact effects.
    There are schools that achieve great things with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and these schools set the yardstick by which other schools are now measured. We need to understand how they can achieve this if we are to be like them.

    Observing teaching, described in point 4, will be the activity that closes the feedback loop. From my own work with schools I would suggest that many schools would benefit from reviewing their approach to observations.
    The TES forums have frequent postings from teachers describing how their SLT colleagues are observing lessons in ways that are not always constructive or do not provide the detailed feedback necessary to enable improvement to take place.

    Observations can have different purposes. There can be a development focus or they can be about appraisal. If it is about the latter, it is important that Ofsted criteria are used and are clear to observer and observed. It is a sign of good leadership that headteachers can accurately describe ‘The Teaching’ in their school. It also follows that where teaching needs support, a school can show that its CPD monies are used to support those who need that support, and to be able to report on the effect that it is having in closing the gap between the most and least effective teaching.

    If you have had David Weston speaking with colleagues, then no doubt he talked about the importance of having the metrics available to support the decisions made by school senior leaders. I would suggest that schools need to be knowledge-driven rather than data-driven. Developing data systems so that they are as good as those in the best schools should be a target for all schools. That way, CPD decisions and their impact over time can be based on a better understanding, informed by good evidence.

    Mike Bostock


    • Mike, thanks for this comment. Really interesting. I like ‘knowledge driven’; For instance a one-off formal lesson observation may yield a ‘3’ for various factors when my knowledge of that teacher is that they are superb. How do I know that? It will be the accumulation of informal observations, parental and student feedback, examination data – a range of evidence – or knowledge. But still, yes, David Weston was very probing on the issue of how we know CPD has had impact and so on. We are not as good at doing this as we should be and often rely on hunches and rather anecdotal impressionistic evaluations.


  2. Thanks Tom for this blog – illuminating.

    My shoot-from-the-hip reactions, many of which I believe you have covered off, now I have read about the CPD Market Place and your connection with Sue.

    1) So ridiculously obvious that we have obscure theories such as in Cybernetics where the issue is ‘variety’ and how we deal with it. You can attenuate – one size fits all – or you can amplify – match variety in the system with variety in the intervention. It applies to approach, pace, level and content I would argue and the best CPD allows for that. When we talk together rather than are talked at, we are amplifying our intervention, although not always perfectly.

    2) Can and should teachers be coerced? Does this achieve best results? I feel that motivation is at the root here, and my view is that this must come from within. At best we achieve that with our learners – why not with our teachers as learners?

    3) Confident you are right. In Ultralab/Ultraversity we called this ‘exhibition’. Again, the obligation needs to be motivated from the teacher who wants to share what they’ve achieved and what they have found challenging because they are confident that others want to hear from them and will offer both moral support and valuable knowledge exchange.

    4) Perhaps find out who amongst the team colleagues would trust?

    5) Action Research, but without the caricature of ‘projects’ with no outcome.

    6) If bottom-up, what role can the headteacher play? Providing license, time and resources?


  3. Just came across your blog here and thought that it could be of interest to you and your followers to know that some of us teachers have ideas that we would love to share to help make a difference in departments like ICT and are pro actively doing so on a more independent basis. I have moved on from teaching to consultancy recently as I feel that the burden of observations and forgive me, top down management, were stopping me from exploring my own passions and investigations into optimising my performance such as it was. I feel ready to share this with those that might find it of use. My website can give more detail and I also have a course on the GoodCPDGuide which David Weston is the Chief Exec of! Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.


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