Teachers’ CPD needs are massive: it needs more time and more flexibility

If you make a list of all the areas of knowledge that teachers need to work on, it’s extensive. Overwhelmingly so.   Here’s a sketch of that list…..

General curriculum concepts: coherence, spiralling, core-hinterland
Subject concepts: the heart of the curriculum – the details of what should be taught in the subject; the best way to sequence them.
PCK: pedagogical content knowledge – how to teach/explain concepts within a subject alongside knowledge of those concepts.
Cross-curricular connections – a wider knowledge of how one subject connects to others in order to make useful links between them.
Teaching techniques
Cognitive science concepts: – eg memory, metacognition, fluency, cognitive load theory, learning as generative, retrieval practice.  
General responsive teaching practice eg modelling, questioning, checking for understanding, guided practice.
Feedback: effective forms of written and verbal feedback, workload-saving methods for communicating feedback.
General principles: quality and difficulty models; formative and summative assessment; the inherent comparative nature of standards.
Assessment design: in the context of the subject, how to assess knowledge, test design, comparative judgement.  
Knowing the standards: moderation, levels of difficulty, progression through the curriculum; the meaning of assessment data.
Pastoral Issues
Behaviour management techniques: how to run a room; using school systems; safe and appropriate restraining methods;
Safeguarding: responsibilities and the law; signs and symptoms; appropriate responses; school procedures.
Equalities Issues: attitudes and responses to LGBT+ equalites; anti-racism; disabilities; approaches for Pupil Premium students.
Trauma-Informed Practice: something that’s gained currency recently: agreed approaches to potentially traumatic events in children’s lives.
Specific learning issues.
SEND: a raft of very specific knowledge to deal with the various SEND categories including social and emotional, physical impairment and various specific learning difficulties.
Literacy: universal principles for teaching reading and writing; addressing learning difficulties with literacy – eg dyslexia
EAL: strategies for teaching students for whom English is not their main language at various different stages of fluency
Technical Issues
IT systems: the data system; logging behavioural issues; the school network.
Classroom technology: using the IWB or visualiser, using googleclassroom; specialist equipment
GDPR: data protocols in principle and in detail of school policy.
Health and Safety protocols: universal areas such as fire drills, specialist issues in high risk areas (science, DT, PE), school trips…
Specialist Curriculum Areas.
Sex and Relationships: very detailed sensitive knowledge plus personal confidence to deliver it.
PSHE eg Drugs, depression: specialist knowledge needed to deliver the facts and give the appropriate messages.
Citizenship: again – knowledge content and ethos messages.

This isn’t even a complete list. It’s huge isn’t it! The problem is that, relative to the volume of knowledge and understanding teachers need to develop, there usually just isn’t enough time to do it all properly through standard CPD delivery modes. In general, it’s still the case that CPD time often feels like it’s begged and borrowed, eeked out rather than generous and often vulnerable to incursions from external demands. I’ve written elsewhere about how time can be wasted: 10 ways the gold dust of CPD time is wasted.

One of the traditional barriers is the pressure that schools leaders are under to cover numerous mandatory bases – giving themselves confidence that important areas are definitely delivered in their CPD provision. The need for them to be secure, for sound legal reasons, leads them to deliver things en masse. It’s very common for teachers to associate CPD with going to the hall for a talk. We need to make sure everyone understands ADHD: everyone down to the hall for the 90 minute session with Joan and John from the LA team.

Why 90 minutes? Because it would be rude to Joan and John if we give them any less time. (You get the picture). The problem is that, not only does this universal delivery ignore what people already know and eat into their time, going to a one-off talk about anything is not likely to change people’s habits and practices. And given the list of things there are to learn about – you just can’t do it all in this way anyway.

However, one of the pluses of lockdown was that schools often remained committed to continuing with various forms of CPD. Their responses showed that there are lots of ways that teachers can engage in meaningful CPD independently. A bit of professional flipped learning goes a long way. Several schools have opened the door to the idea that, often, the most important bit isn’t being there together to hear a common message – it’s just making sure people all access the message in some way. How does a leader ensure that everyone has heard it? By checking their understanding of it sometime later. If I can read a document in 10 minutes and show I’ve understood it via a set of simple response questions on a googleform, I’d prefer to do that than sit for another hour in the hall. Also, by doing this, I am checking my own understanding… it’s not purely an accountability process; it’s a professional learning process. Do I now understand the safety protocols? Let me see, by answering these questions..

By providing and videos and documents online and then asking people to engage in processes that demonstrate engagement and understanding, you create huge flexibility and time efficiency. You can apply check-for-understanding systems for statutory issues to the degree you feel is needed but, mainly, you create a culture where CPD resources are made available for people to access in ways that suit them prior to discussing how to implement them. This leaves the gold dust of team time to focus on the things teams need to discuss and agree together.

My advice to those in charge of CPD would be this: Firstly, give it all the time you possibly can. Build it in. Be generous to begin with and then protect it. Then, before you make everyone sit in the hall again for an information-giving session, consider whether it would be kinder, more respectful, more effective and more efficient to provide a recording of that session or a key document that contains the ideas for people to access flexibly. Keep the hall sessions short so that people can then get into their teams to discuss how to put ideas into practice. Of course you want some time together to create a shared sense of purpose, alignment, ethos, togetherness.. But how long do you need for that?

I see more and more schools moving to providing CPD tools online for independent access and it’s very encouraging. It has to be more than simply ‘go and take a look if you’re interested’; it has to be supported by expectations that teachers will actually access the material they need and feed it into their practice. But, done in the right spirit, I actually think a blend of short whole-staff inputs, maximum time for team sessions and well-resourced independent online training is the only realistic way to get teachers up to speed with all the things they’re supposed to know. If you’re not there yet, give it some thought.


  1. I think these are great suggestions of how to conduct professional development with higher expectations. It is the best of both worlds – remote saves time and using a google form sets the expectation that reading and contributing is still our shared standard of practise. Look forward to trying this while we continue remotely…


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