Maximising the impact of CPD

First posted on Herts & Bucks TSA blog on 11 December 2017.

Effective continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential component of outstanding teaching and learning. There is now a vast amount of research that demonstrates the pivotal role CPD plays in facilitating improved pupil outcomes through sustained and well constructed CPD programmes in schools in the UK and USA (Cordingley et. al. 2015; Craft 2000; Harland & Kinder 1997; Harris 2002). Moreover, if we are to consider a wider spread of research that incorporates international comparisons and statistical correlations from various countries, we see that CPD is a vital aspect of school improvement and change in countless educational contexts (Day 1999b; Hargreaves 1994). Nonetheless, despite the volume of research on the benefits of effective CPD,  questions arise as to whether particular types of CPD have more immediate and sustained impact than others (Cordingley et. al. 2015; Goodall et. al. 2005). Additionally, any useful reflection on CPD needs to account for other aspects of the school environment that may hinder or advance effective CPD, such as time constraints, demographic challenges, pay and conditions and, importantly, leadership of CPD (see Robinson 2009, for example); in this sense all of these aspects are interrelated and need to be seen as a holistic whole, especially if we are to maximise the impact of CPD in our schools.

Just how effective is CPD in relation to teaching and learning?

If we are to consider CPD as part of a holistic whole, as described above, a helpful starting point for considering effective CPD is the report What Makes Great Teaching? (Coe et. al., 2014), which lists six common components that school leaders, especially CPD leads (CPDLs), should consider when assessing the impact of CPD in relation to quality teaching and learning. Essentially, the report statistically stratifies how strongly these components improve pupil outcomes; this is based on a meta-analysis of previous research as well as the authors own research. They identify ‘pedagogical subject knowledge’, ‘quality of instruction’, ‘classroom environment’, ‘classroom management’, ‘teacher beliefs’ and ‘professional behaviours’ as the six components, but suggest the first two components have the greatest impact on pupil outcomes and quality teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the report still suggests that CPD, which comes under the ‘professional practice’ heading, has ‘some impact’ on pupil outcomes and has a role in the development of ‘great teaching’ (ibid, p. 3). In a similar vein, Kraft & Papay (2014) conducted a study on effective practice in US schools, which resulted in them identifying six key areas that schools need to excel in to improve pupil outcomes. Like Coe. et al., they found professional development to be significant, but not as significant as other key areas, such as ‘behaviour for learning’ (BfL) and ‘school culture’.

Nonetheless, Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (2007), suggests teachers should develop their practice around an extensive CPD framework that can be used as a ‘road map through the territory [of teaching practice], structured around a shared understanding of teaching’. Although her framework is as extensive (and as extensively researched) as Coe et. al.’s and Kraft & Papay’s studies, she gives equal importance to teachers reflecting on their teaching, especially through participation in collaborative professional communities and active engagement with CPD.

Furthermore, whereas Coe. et. al. suggest that CPD only has ‘some evidence’ of overall impact on pupil outcomes as opposed to a ‘strong impact’, Hattie’s synthesis of 800 meta-analyses concludes that CPD has a large effect size on pupil achievement (+ 0.62), which puts CPD in the top 20 of the 800 practices analysed. This suggests that in order to make the other ‘strong impact’ components highlighted by Coe et. al. or Kraft & Papay effective, teachers and school staff need to have high impact and relevant CPD to envision and enact the best evidence based practice available. Therefore, despite the labelling of CPD as having ‘some impact’, Coe et. al. and Kraft & Papay still have it as one of their six essential components/areas of effective practice, which combined with Danielson and Hattie’s work, demonstrates how central CPD is to great teaching and learning in some of the most cited and trusted meta-analyses of educational research in recent years; basically, none of the other components can flourish without – as stressed above – a holistically extensive CPD programme.

Moreover, the Kraft & Papay (2014) study not only includes professional development as a relevant area to improve outcomes, but CPD arguably fosters effective ‘collaboration’, ‘BfL’ and ‘school culture’, which all rank slightly higher in terms of pupil outcomes than CPD in their study. In this sense, CPD needs to be seen as part and parcel of holistic school improvement and effective CPD will need to develop teachers’ capabilities in all of the areas identified as essential to teaching, learning and pupil outcomes in these meta-analyses. Interestingly, these two areas (that are separate to CPD) in Kraft & Papay’s study, are integral to the Department of Education’s (DfE) new standard on CPD (see, DfE 2016). Therefore, as a CPDL, I need to see the components/areas of the four meta-analyses cited here as a whole when developing a reflective CPD programme for teachers. For example, if‘pedagogical subject knowledge’ and ‘quality of instruction’ have the biggest impact on pupil outcomes, then CPDLs need to build this directly into effective CPD. In this sense, CPD is the binding that brings all of these components/areas together. Indeed, numerous research suggests that professional effective CPD can have a positive impact on subject knowledge, curriculum design and general pedagogy, as well as enhancing their commitment to, and relationships with, their students (Talbert & McLaughlin 1994). Additional research has also highlighted that quality holistic CPD frameworks are a key characteristic of successful school improvement (Gray 2000; Harris 2002; Maden & Hillman.J. 1996; OFSTED 2000).

What does good CPD look like?

Moving on from the argument that CPD needs to incorporate evidence based components of research on ‘great teaching’ or ‘improved outcomes’, it is essential to say something on what this holistic approach to CPD may look like and what it will not, particularly when reviewing how to maximise the impact of any CPD offered to staff.

Firstly, in order to ensure engagement with CPD, teachers own personal and professional needs will need to be accounted for. These needs may be dependent on circumstance, career histories and professional conduct in additional to the teachers’ general ability to teach. Nonetheless, assigning appropriate CPD to individual needs is important if we are to improve individual teachers’ weaknesses or even champion and develop their strengths (Day 1999a; Goodall et. al. 2005). Furthermore, if opportunities are poorly assigned, irrelevant or insensitive to the needs and skill sets of individual teachers, research indicates that there will be limited impact overall. In addition, CPD needs to assigned, promoted and conceptualised in a way that allows teachers to see a significant practical impact on their day-to-day practice (Cordingley et. al. 2015; Day 1999a). This would suggest an avoidance of one-size-fits all INSET where possible; with the exception of whole school briefings on safeguarding, policies and whole school initiatives that are deemed essential to all staff by senior leaders.

Secondly, studies have demonstrated that CPD which promotes inquiry, creativity and innovation have a higher impact on pupil outcomes and quality teaching (if measured on an agreed framework). In a similar vein to new DfE standard on CPD (mentioned above), there seems to be a clear argument that sustained and collaborative CPD works best across different institutional settings. Evidence of this includes enhanced CPD around coaching, mentoring and other forms of sustained collaboration, such as Lesson Study and action research (Cordingley et. al. 2015; Joyce, Calhoun et al. 1998; Little 1993). This CPD runs counter to the reliance on one-off whole school INSETs on educational fads or BfL, especially by external providers, as well as attendance on one-off courses on ‘Outstanding Teaching’ where a teacher is meant to learn, consolidate and apply best practice after a twilight session on stretch and challenge or a day out to look at effective group work, for example (for evidence of this, see Harris & Busher, 2001). Also relevant here is the evidence that the negatives of one-off INSETs can be compounded as the quality of external providers, both public and private, has been called into question (see Harris 2001; Harris, Busher et al. 2000).

Thirdly, if we combine the above points of meeting teachers needs with longer term sustained CPD, we can then make an important acknowledgement that CPD will need to develop the teacher as ‘a professional’, which has both intrinsic and extrinsic elements to it. This is intrinsic as effective CPD encourages teachers to review, renew and extend their “commitment as change agents to the moral purposes of teaching; and by which they acquire and develop critically the knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence essential to good professional thinking, planning and practice with children, young people and colleagues throughout each phase of their teaching lives” (Day 1999b; also cited in Goodall et. al. 2005). This is different to my first point above as the former merely tailors CPD to the teacher’s actual needs (to improve) whereas this point accounts for their wider confidence, self-awareness and feeling of worth as a teacher. It is extrinsic as it will not only relate to their feelings self-worth and purpose, but also develops teachers professional identities and roles, which could result in promotions and pay advancement, as well as possibly filling positions within the institutions they work for (Galloway 2000).

Therefore, CPDLs need to regularly review their school’s CPD offerings and consider current research on both CPD and teaching and learning. However, if they are to fully maximise the impact of CPD, they need to consider all of the issues touched on above in relation to their school’s and colleagues particular contexts. This, as stated already, will involve a holistic view of CPD that takes note of all areas of school life and the professionals associated with those areas; it will also need to see all of theses areas and roles as interrelated if the school aims to improve overall pupil outcomes, as anything that effectively supports pupils’ learning, welfare and potential will inevitably benefit their day-to-day experience of school.


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The featured image is by y Nick Youngson and used under a Creative Commons licence.

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