There is a lot of evidence that professional development for teachers can have a huge impact on schools, but the latest research makes it even more compelling by linking high quality CPD to teacher retention.  This comes at a vital time for schools who are seeing teachers, strained by COVID-related challenges, thinking of leaving the profession in large numbers.

The new research, from the Education Policy Institute, suggests that offering teachers in England 35 hours of CPD each year, at a cost of £4 billion over 10 years, could significantly improve retention in the short term, and “generate a net societal benefit of around £61 billion”.

This may be received with skepticism by some teachers and school leaders, but the key issue, as set out by Cat Scutt of the Charter College of Teaching in this article is that the training must be ‘high quality’. 

What does ‘high quality’ training look like? Here are four key principles that have been identified as important by research. Many are a long way from the traditional idea of bringing all members of staff together in one room to listen to one speaker delivering one message 

1. For All

High quality whole school training is very difficult to get right. This research article suggests that schools considering this need to set aside time for teachers to plan their own way to respond to a whole school target and consider how to adapt development to different subjects.

Self-reflection is a very good way to start this process. It allows individuals to identify practical areas for development. Sharing this insight within different subjects can pinpoint what technical training is needed – alternatively sharing outcomes across a school means  people with broader teaching needs such as behaviour management can work together.

2. Sustained

The importance of the word ‘continual’ in ‘continual professional development’ is often overlooked. Many new initiatives will be met with initial enthusiasm, but this can be overtaken by the day-to-day demands of teaching, and in particular the difficulty of finding time to meet colleagues in a busy school day. Schools have overcome this by arranging regular twilight sessions, online learning and external coaching – see this article for a great example in Early Years.

3. Real

One major problem with teacher training is that it can be very theoretical and abstract – it is interesting to contrast this approach to sports coaching or medical surgery training which is almost entirely focused on reviewing actual practice. In the past this might have been caused by the lack of actual ‘windows into the classroom’ – but the latest video technology makes it easy to gather and share footage. Our work with the Doon School in India shows the impact of talking through real issues, even at a great distance!

4. Constructive

Professional development and performance management have often had an antagonistic relationship in teaching, with reviews more focused on delivering against pupil targets than looking for development opportunities. The Teacher Development Trust points out that teachers improve most when given ‘opportunities to discuss with each other both the theory and practice of new ideas, to test practices and ideas out in classrooms, to see practices expertly modelled and to receive expert feedback on their own efforts’. Separating performance management and CPD might be a good start on this process.

For more information about teacher professional development, read our article on how it has developed and how it is set to improve in the future.