Examining the Impact of Professional Development
TDT’s Head of Education, Maria Cunningham, welcomes new findings that support the case for high-quality CPD
Today the Education Policy Institute published a fascinating rapid review and meta-analysis commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, entitled ‘The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students’. Authors Harry Fletcher-Wood and James Zuccollo identified 53 randomised controlled trials of professional development interventions, adopting a quantitative approach to analyse data from these studies and identify the average impact of professional development on student learning. This separates it from previous or alternative studies which focus more on the “why”, including what ingredients contribute to effective CPD or the contextual factors which might affect these outcomes.
Key findings of the new research include:
- High-quality continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers is as effective for improving pupil outcomes as having a teacher with a decade’s experience in the classroom.
- Quality CPD programmes have a greater impact on pupil outcomes than performance-related teacher pay or lengthening the school day.
- Increasing the availability of high-quality CPD is likely to improve acute teacher retention problems, particularly for early-career teachers.
- CPD programmes are more effective if they receive sustained support from school leaders and are able to adapt to high staff turnover and teacher workloads.
As the national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges, the Teacher Development Trust welcomes this fascinating and relevant publication, the findings of which – though significant – are unsurprising. They very much chime with our experience of working on-the-ground with schools, leaders and providers to improve the professional development landscape.
TDT’s CEO and chair of the Department for Education’s CPD Expert Group, David Weston said:
“This is an excellent new contribution to the evidence around professional development in schools and adds to a growing, supportive evidence base around school improvement, school leadership and effective change. Investing in the development of teachers should be a key priority for government, system and school leaders – we need to ensure there is enough time, capacity and expertise for all teachers to engage in their own learning. This means creating workplaces for teachers which are supportive and conducive to development, not just thinking about professional development as a thing that is ‘done to’ teachers. It’s time to make this a policy and leadership priority.”
When thinking about the spectrum of research and evidence in this area, it is incredibly important to maintain clarity around how we define ‘professional development’. This report looks at a variety of specific programmes and identifies some useful learnings for providers or designers of future interventions, however as David highlights, we must not forget about what happens within the four walls of a school or how leaders are actually using their own time. For the majority of practitioners, their CPD is largely designed, delivered and experienced internally.
For this reason, it is particularly pleasing to see that a key finding from EPI and Wellcome emphasises the importance of the role of senior leaders, with the report also suggesting that ineffective leadership can make it more difficult for CPD to make a difference. This is a key tenet of the DfE Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development, which are “underpinned by, and require that professional development must be prioritised by school leadership”. So often, it is forgotten that developing teachers is more than just a simple transaction of cascading new information down through an organisation. Teachers, and indeed all staff in schools, need to be in a position in which they are supported to learn. Which means supporting leaders in protecting time for professional learning, as the Wellcome Trust have recently explored through their CPD Challenge pilot project, likewise TDT through our CPD Excellence Hubs. This could happen through re-purposing and maximising existing time in the school calendar, for example, middle leader team meetings, subject, phase or perhaps even whole-school meetings, or it might involve trialling approaches such as disaggregating inset days and twilights, adjusting the timing of school day and carving out more options of informal time for teachers to work together.
We strongly believe that culture is the make or break of professional learning. As a charity TDT are working towards a place where every school is an environment in which teachers feel entrusted to try new things, they know who to ask for help and feel comfortable in being supported, and where performance management or appraisal systems are conducive to thinking about professional growth without undue sense of accountability or risk. Our recent research released with NFER reiterates the importance of this, as does the accompanying practical guidance for leaders on improving teacher autonomy and professional goal-setting. There are so many different elements to what happens when CPD programmes intermix with the wider context of a school. It’s challenging, but we have seen schools remove these barriers and make enormous transformational steps so that teachers can get better, more quickly.
In fact, the report recognises the role played by organisations such as ours in championing the importance of CPD, with the authors (quite rightly) explaining that “while there has been an increase in enthusiasm and expertise in professional learning and development through the activities of organisations such as the Teacher Development Trust and ResearchED, it is hard to demonstrate a substantial improvement in quality and impact of professional development on a national scale.”
However, this challenge should not deter us from investing in professional development. Filling our schools with CPD champions, research leads or pedagogy fellows – regardless of semantics – is something which we wholeheartedly encourage, yet more importantly, this needs to translate into realised practice and realised change. That is why helping leaders to use robust evidence to design and adopt real policies, processes and leadership habits is crucial. We believe in sustained investment in school leaders having time and space to collaborate, to support each other to think strategically about how to help teachers get better, and to enact then evaluate said change effectively.
All teachers have an entitlement to great professional learning throughout their careers, regardless of what school they are in. This report only confirms that it is about time that we put as much thought into our teachers as we do our students.