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Solving the CPD conundrum: moving towards the professional development ideal

Solving the CPD conundrum: Moving towards the professional development ideal

A Bluewave.SWIFT white paper in association with the Teacher Development Trust

December 2013




The CPD conundrum

Conclusions – key advice

Case study 1 – Blatchington Mill School

Case study 2 – Manor Academy

Case study 3 - Dartmouth Academy

The Primary Perspective

Think piece

Further reading



In November 2013 senior school leaders joined Keith Wright, managing director of school improvement management specialists Bluewave.SWIFT and David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, for a round table discussion about the challenges of professional development in schools today.

The focus of the event, hosted at the Teacher Development Trust’s London office, was the question of how school leaders could achieve the professional learning ideal, in which individual CPD needs were perfectly balanced with the needs of the school and the wider system.

The discussion was fascinating and wide ranging. It uncovered the realities of CPD in our schools and delved into the details on the practicalities of delivering professional learning that enables individuals to develop and which helps schools move forward and meet the growing accountability pressures.

This white paper reflects the discussion and includes case studies on the practical approaches to CPD in some of the schools involved in the discussions. It also contains an exploration of effective CPD from the perspective of Bluewave.SWIFT and an advice section which we hope other school leaders will find informative and useful in forming their own approaches to meaningful professional development for their staff.

Bluewave.SWIFT is an educational services company specialising in supporting improvement processes within education organisations. Founded in 2004, the company has developed an online system that connects information and documents across self-evaluation, school inspection reports, strategic planning, professional development and performance appraisal. Schools can then drive improvement processes and keep ahead of ever-changing accountability and inspection requirements while saving time and cutting costs. More information is available at

The Teacher Development Trust is an independent national charity for teacher training and professional development. Founded by teachers, the Trust is dedicated to improving the educational outcomes for children by ensuring they experience the most effective learning. More information is available at


The CPD conundrum

All school leaders want their teachers to have good quality CPD that develops them as individuals and makes a measurable and significant contribution to school improvement.

That’s the ideal, but a number of challenges – some long standing, some new - are getting in the way.

Truly effective professional development is difficult to achieve because of the complexity of schools. There are new pressures such as the introduction of performance related pay, which links professional development for the first time to reward and career progression.

Budgets are still restricted so there’s a greater need than ever to make CPD spending deliver real benefits. Then there’s accountability: Ofsted is looking ever closer at how effectively senior leaders use performance management and the school’s self-evaluation to focus professional development activities.

So how can school leaders achieve the professional learning ideal, in which individual CPD needs are perfectly balanced with the needs of the school and the wider system?


The discussion

Rob Gladwin is assistant headteacher in charge of professional development at the Manor Academy in Nottinghamshire. “Our institution has been on a journey in terms of CPD,” he said. “I took over a fairly disjointed affair and one that did not have any meaningful links with staff targets. The amount of investment that members of staff had in that CPD programme was very little. Over the last two years we have radically changed that to a point where CPD is much more personalised and meets the exact needs of staff.”

“…if you do not give people time to invest in it they will pay lip service”

But if school leaders say that CPD is vital then they need to match the rhetoric with an investment in time and resources, he added. “If you do not give people time to invest in it they will pay lip service to that training. Now we are saying that within the parameters all can choose their own targets.”

Rob and his colleagues have established semi autonomous learning bodies called teaching and learning communities. “Members of staff from different faculties are part of these and they use them to talk about professional development needs,” he explained.

“These staff help each other with their professional development. Our mantra is that the majority of answers we require can be found within our institution.

“We expect two to three hours of dedicated CPD per week. Before this we were asking them to do it in their own time. If we are saying that it’s that important we need to commit resources to that. If we do not have top down support it would bleed off. You have got to have that drive from the top.”

A school’s approach to CPD depends where it is on the journey to success, delegates agreed. “When we were in special measures it was top down,” said Rob Gladwin. “But you can’t sustain that over the long term. You have to move that forward. It’s about allowing people to address their own needs but be supportive of that.

“We have also created the new position of exceptional practitioner. They act as coaches for staff and also teach the teaching and learning community groups. They are there as the expert within each group. They drive the coaching model forward.”

This approach is very similar to that taken by Blatchington Mill School in Brighton and Hove, deputy headteacher Ashley Harrold explained.

“We need to have different models of how to improve individual teachers. We have lead professionals for teaching and learning in a subject area and teacher learning communities. I split it into eight areas of what I think makes great teaching. The teaching and learning groups cover these eight areas. Staff focus on a particular area of pedagogy and lesson observation targets are linked to these areas.”

“You have to trust (teachers) to fail. If they are too scared to fail they will still fail but they will find a way to demonstrate that they are succeeding.”

Fear of failure is a major issue in schools, particularly those which have recently been given notices to improve.

“We are trying to instil a culture of glorious failure. Stretching targets that would not matter if you were 1-2 per cent off because you have stretched and tried,” said Ashley Harrold.

Rob Gladwin agreed. “You have to trust teachers to fail. If they are too scared to fail they will still fail but they will find a way to demonstrate that they are succeeding.”

If a school is at the beginning of a struggle out of challenging circumstances it is sometimes necessary to take difficult staffing decisions immediately in order to create an environment where staff development is at one with the school leadership’s vision, said Nick Hindmarsh, principal of Dartmouth Academy in Devon.

“Ofsted says that too many students progress despite their teachers. We now have a significantly different make up of teachers and those that have come since are here because they want to be in a school that is on the up.

“Because of our journey and the movement of staff there is less tension between our staff’s needs and wider needs. Anyone who is observed as needing improvement is put on an action plan. They are observed by senior member of staff. After four to six to eight weeks they will be observed again. This is fairly standard in schools in our situation.”

Donna Casey, deputy headteacher at the Manor Academy, agreed. “When I went to the school for my interview I thought that it did not strike me as an academy in special measures. It wasn’t particularly broken so in order to ‘fix it’ it was about tweaking. We started to change the culture. A number of members of staff left. The culture of ‘that will do’ was removed within weeks. We had a number of people leave and the leadership team had a new voice.

“Our mantra is not that CPD is something that is not done to us but something we look forward to.”

“We were clear that we needed CPD week in and week out no matter what. Our mantra is not that CPD is something that is not done to us but something we look forward to.”

It is important not to use Ofsted pressure as a driver for professional development. The needs of the school should be foremost, said Ashley Harrold. “As soon as you pass on responsibility to Ofsted you lose authority,” he said. “We have moved as far away as we can from Ofsted frameworks for accountability and the results are going well. There are processes where a rigid framework needs to happen but then you often get to a plateau in how to really crack the perfect teaching and learning environment.

“My job at the moment is to engage in conversations about why we need to do certain things, such as effective assessment for learning. You need to instil confidence about why you are doing it.”

Donna Casey agreed. “Now we are starting to get to the point where we don’t not live and die by our Ofsted criteria but by doing right for our students. But it’s a real journey to get there.”

David Weston pointed out that senior leaders tended to take one of two views of school improvement – one was a “fixing what is wrong” approach and one in which staff were “helped to be more right”. He pointed out recent research from the academic Professor Viviane Robinson who analysed the different activities carried out by leaders.

“The most effective thing that leaders did was when they helped staff to improve themselves,” he said. “This was more effective than driving. It’s about leaders helping their staff to improve themselves.”

Observation as a tool of professional development could be of limited use if it was not used in a supportive and developmental way, David Weston added. “Superficial observation does not necessarily tell you much about what is going on. You can see that they have high expectations but it is about making them understand why they are doing something a particular way, such as achievement for learning. Until they understand why they are doing it they will never do it right.

“Research by the Gates Foundation found out that a single observation of a lesson is less than 50 per cent reliable. We do need multiple observations.”

Nick Hindmarsh stressed the importance of observations being used to gain a more detailed view of student progress. “We look at progress of students. In 2011-12 58 per cent of lessons observed were good or outstanding and there were 146.5 days of exclusions. By 2012-13 this had increased to 82 per cent and exclusions had gone down to 46.5 days.

“Other measures of behaviour also showed an improvement. Attendance also improved and continues to do so, which indicates students are more engaged with school and their learning. And results last year went up at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. All of this supports CPD and better teaching leading to better outcomes for children.”

“Staff become fixated with observations,” said Rob Gladwin. “That can’t be the be all and end all of them becoming effective practitioners. There are better ways of delving into what’s happening. Observations should be use much more helpfully as a nest bed of personal growth.”

David Weston said that an open culture where observations were used in a truly developmental way was an ideal but it took time to get to that point in many schools. “It’s hard to shift from a culture where you do not trust the SLT to one where you are sharing your weaknesses. This is not widely recognised in a system where you are expected by Ofsted to make it good quickly.”

“When we get teachers observing and planning together that is very powerful.”

Nick Hindmarsh said it was important that the judgement element inherent in performance management process needed to be quite separate from the developmental aspects of observation and other professional development. “In our school performance management observations are done by me and two deputy heads,” he explained. “The heads of the faculty teams are 8 supporters in professional development and not the judges. You need that separation.”

David Weston agreed.

“When we get teachers observing and planning together that is very powerful. Co-observation is really developmental. It develops trust.”

“We have to keep evaluating what we do to keep progressing”

Sharing best practice between schools was an approach often used as a professional development tool but cultural differences often gets in the way – especially if the procedures aren’t there that allow for the knowledge to be transferred in a meaningful and useful way, said David Weston.

“Everyone here is speaking about culture. One of the issues that we have in the system is the phrase ‘sharing good practice’. This fails to understand why they are doing that, how they get there, and what the differences in school culture are. This is the really tricky thing about professional development.

“We have to get the procedures right. A school might look like yours but it could be going in a different direction. Schools also need to consider who else they should be talking to. They need to question how they evaluate what ‘really good’ looks like. It is very difficult to share best practice effectively without all these elements being in place.”

Evaluation was key in this area and all areas of professional development, agreed Donna Casey. “We have to keep evaluating what we do to keep progressing,” she said. “I think as teachers we are often not very good at doing that. We need to be able to say that that’s not right, move on, and change that. Businesses are good at that but teachers have to know how to do that.”

“The SLT needs to be accountable as well”

Accountability for progress is an important factor in professional development – but it needs to apply to all players in the professional development hierarchy, said Keith Wright. “Usually accountability is seen as something that needs to be fed up the chain, but it needs to be more than that,” he said. “The SLT needs to be accountable - there should be two-way accountability from the recipient and also the deliverer.”

Rob Gladwin agreed that too often CPD providers were not held to account. “We had one CPD provider visit the school and it almost felt like the musician with the name of the city he was playing in on the back of his guitar,” he said. “It was the same old CPD but the name of the school was changed.

“We are part of an alliance of local schools. We contribute some CPD and we are getting good value in terms of the sharing process. We share inset days. We are doing something far more impactful.”

Nick Hindmarsh’s school is taking a similar approach. “Next February we are hosting a training day for us and several other schools in the area,” he said. “We take turns to ‘trade’ training with each other.”

David Weston urged schools not to withdraw from external training providers. He pointed out research that showed the value of external support and challenge. “You can see how it works somewhere else and also compare your school against others,” he said. “You do need a balance of external support and challenge. But in budget terms external providers do present an issue. We traditionally have one of the most deregulated CPD systems in the world. Providers do need to be challenged to provide evidence for their claims of impact. Schools need evidence of this. This is one of the reasons why the Teacher Development Trust has developed a Good CPD guide.”

When CPD needs at Manor academy aren’t met internally or across an alliance of schools Rob Gladwin usually just has to rubber stamp requests for external CPD, he says.

“Ninety per cent of the time you can find answers to your development needs from within the institution,” he said. “If they can’t then it is usually because there is a real need and I say yes to most CPD requests because these are in a way filtered before they get to me.”

Ashley Harrold picked up on Keith Wright’s point and stressed that ultimate responsibility for good CPD provision lay at the feet of senior leaders. “If staff have not had access to a programme that meets their needs then you are on rocky ground as senior leaders of not providing what they need,” he said. “You have a responsibility for providing CPD that meets their needs.”


Conclusions - key advice from the discussion

1 Let teaching and learning drive your vision - not Ofsted.

If you and your teachers evaluate professional development and let the need be informed by the teaching and learning vision then the Ofsted boxes should be ticked as a by-product of what you do.

2 CPD shouldn’t be one size fits all.

CPD delivery should be a multi-faceted approach. Tools such as observations have a part to play but make them developmental rather than judgemental.

3 Take the long term view.

Step back from the firefighting approach and take a more strategic view by embedding a culture of proactive professional development to help work towards the school vision.

4 Accountability for everyone.

CPD accountability should lie at all levels of the school hierarchy: CPD providers, leaders and participants. There needs to be measurable progress against the vision; if there isn’t then you have to identify and remedy the cause – at leader, participant or provider level.


Case studies

1 Blatchington Mill School, Brighton and Hove, West Sussex

The aim of the school’s CPD programme is to ensure that all staff are developed to their full potential to embed excellent quality learning as our everyday practice, says assistant head Ashley Harrold.

The programme uses the following approaches:


‘Synchronicity’ between observation feedback and the CPD offered within school is key and this is being made possible through a range of developments, including rewriting observation forms to remove Ofsted language, introducing grades to reflect stages of teacher development rather than Ofsted categories and to use observation as a tool for driving development and improvements in teaching.

Teacher Learning Communities.

TLC groups are cross-subject collectives, which meet regularly to discuss key learning topics, set individual action research projects and then feedback on what the research showed. Each group tests ideas and innovations with their classes individually and in coaching triads or quads within their TLC. Results are fed back to the lead professional in charge of the TLC who presents the findings as part of their teaching and learning project. These inform a development plan for teaching and feed into future CPD provision.

Support networks and workshops.

Teachers are assigned to a TLC with a lead professional mentor. They also get access to coaching within the TLC groups. The school’s CPD co-ordinator is based in a dedicated CPD room which is used as a collaborative space for planning, development and CPD, as well as accessing Iris equipment for video lesson observations. Workshops are run in the room throughout the year.

Talent development.

Blatchington has a keen emphasis on talent development of staff and is providing training programmes to ensure that each major role has a three year internally provided CPD programme. The school offers a one year talent development programme for middle leaders and runs a ‘shadow SLT’ which gives aspiring senior leaders the opportunity to engage with leadership topics. By 2014-15 the school plans to offer a full complement of programmes linked to each of the main leadership job roles.


2 Manor Academy, Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire

Professional development at the Manor Academy is guided by a firm set of principles: “CPD is not ‘done’ to staff. They direct it,” says deputy headteacher Donna Casey. “We also believe that the answers to most challenges lie within the academy and this helps us develop a culture of mutual support.”

CPD at Manor is made up of these key approaches:

  • Performance management review (PMR) targets set by the individual and greater individualisation of CPD

  • Creation of teaching and learning communities

  • Mini CPD sessions at staff briefing, dubbed ‘tweak of the week’

  • Development of Teachmeet sessions

  • Strengthening of professional development links with local academies and schools across the country.

Manor dedicates two hours a week to staff professional development. One hour is concerned with whole academy initiatives and pastoral training, with the other focused on teaching and learning community activity. These small groups are made up of staff from a range of different learning strands, led by an exceptional practitioner and focused on developing each member’s PMR targets. Bespoke training sessions are delivered through these sessions, with evidence of the training and its impact recorded in the Bluewave.SWIFT system.

Each teaching and learning community session consists of the same ingredients: feedback from all group members, action learning set activities, focused coaching conversations, Iris feedback and planning, technique modelling to group members, focused independent learning enquiry and personalised group CPD from external providers.


3 Dartmouth Academy, Dartmouth, Devon

Dartmouth Academy is a community of learners, says Principal Nick Hindmarsh. “It is our fundamental belief that the key to effective teaching lies in having a well-trained teacher workforce, backed up and supported by committed and well trained administration and education support staff.”

Central to the Dartmouth approach is the belief that in most cases the skills and answers to the challenges they face can be found within its own staff body.

“In 2013-14 we have taken significant steps to ensuring that the strengths and weaknesses of staff are well mapped, and matched, to allow for colleagues to learn and develop with one another,” Nick Hindmarsh says.

“Systems are in place to capture, annually, these strengths and weaknesses and to facilitate in-school support, within the curriculum and timetable as it is designed.

“Colleagues are held accountable for their training and are required, through performance management systems, to demonstrate the impact of the training provided.

“Where the skills and expertise is not available in the academy we look to work with the local teaching schools partnership (South West Teaching Schools Alliance), and others, as we ensure staff are supported in developing the skills required to, in turn, support the learning of the young people in our care. Bluewave.SWIFT is an integral part of the management of this whole process.”


The Primary Perspective

A group of school leaders, the majority of them primary Headteachers from the Leeds area, were asked for their responses to the issues covered in the white paper at a meeting hosted by Bluewave.SWIFT in Leeds in January 2014.

Delegates were asked about their current approaches to professional development.

Jane Wedlinscky, headteacher of East Ardsley Primary in Wakefield, said that their school was trying to bring CPD in house because any impact from external training can often be “lost in the ether”.

“…we need to do more about using our own staff to develop others…”

Maria Townsend, head of Raynville Primary, Leeds, agreed. “The best CPD happens in-house,” she said. “Bringing an external provider in for a day does have the ‘wow’ factor but there is little continuity beyond that. I think we need to do more about using our own staff to develop others to have that continuity.”

Jackie Reid, headteacher of Stanningley Primary, Leeds, said that staff valued internal development but also relished the opportunity to attend external CPD because it gave them a fresh perspective from outside the school and also gave them the opportunity to network with other professionals.

“…things can become too insular if development is kept just inside the school…”

“I feel that things can become too insular if development is kept just inside the school,” she said. “We regularly pair up with other nearby schools for professional development sessions and we find this really valuable.”