Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development

Yesterday the much awaited new CPD standards were released by the Department for Education. The standards have come about through the work of the Teachers’ Professional Development Expert group (TPDEG) and are based on research and feedback from the education community. Since my PhD focuses on CPD in the UK, I have been waiting expectantly for the release of the standards as they will be a very interesting addition to my thesis work – and they do not disappoint.

Firstly, it is good to see the standards acknowledge that:

‘The design of high-quality professional development is as complex a discipline as the design of high-quality teaching.’

(DfE 2016, p.1)

Indeed through the reading I have carried out for my PhD, it has become increasingly clear that professional development is a complex process. There is much in the way of literature that seeks to identify what makes ‘effective CPD’, though no one perfect recipe has been found. Those programmes that have been successful often share similar characteristics, but the individual context of the school and staff involved appears to have a significant impact. This is nicely summarised by Avalos who notes that ‘not every form of professional development, even those with the greatest evidence of positive impact, is of itself relevant to all teachers’ (2011, p.10). Local schools context and individual needs play an important role.

The Standards

The strength of the standards is their simplicity and precision, they are presented as four statements:

1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.

2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.

3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.

4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

Underpinned by the requirement that:

5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

The documentation identifies professional development as a relationship between Leadership, Teachers and Providers of CPD. This links with Opfer and Pedder’s (2011)  identification of the 3 key systems involved in professional learning: the individual, the school and the activity. Leadership, Teachers and Providers can be seen as the agents of these three key systems and so the relationship, and more importantly the communication, between these groups is critical to ensuring that CPD supports positive, lasting change.

Moving forward with the new standards

Whilst the standards are clear and concise, but still offer room for schools to implement within the context of their own needs, there are areas that the education community now needs to focus on to support schools in making effective use of these standards.

Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes

In order to ensure that CPD is having an impact on pupil outcomes, professional development programmes need to be designed with impact in mind – evaluation cannot be effective if it is considered only at the end of a programme. Therefore, effective CPD needs to consider the intended outcome for pupils within the design stage of the programme and to work out how this can best be measured. Schools need to be supported in developing their evaluation of CPD and how it is built into the design of a larger professional learning strategy for the school. Bridget Clay (2016), Programme Manager at the Teacher Development Trust, suggests using Guskey’s (2000) 5 levels of professional development evaluation (see below). Advice and guidance such as this is a good first step, but what schools need now is practical guidance on how to build this kind of evaluation into their CPD.

Evaluation Level What is measured? How will the information be used?
Participant Reaction Initial satisfaction with experience To improve programme design and delivery
Participant Learning New knowledge and skills of participants To improve programme content, format and organisation.
Organisation support and challenge The organisation’s support, accommodation, facilitation etc. To document and improve organisational support

To inform future change efforts

Participants’ use of new knowledge and skills Degree and quality of implementation To document and improve the implementation of programme content.
Students’ learning outcomes Student learning outcomes (performance and attainment, attitudes, skills and behaviour) To focus and improve all aspects of programme design, implementation and follow up.

To demonstration the overall impact of professional development.

Taken from Bridget’s presentation at the TDT Conference in April

Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise

In the last few years, research-based professional development and learning has seen a boost in recognition through teacher-led organisations such as ResearchEd and academic work such as the BERA-RSA Inquiry into Research and Teacher Education. I have spoken to a number of school staff during my time as a research associate and now as I work on my thesis, and I am often told that staff are uncertain as to where to look in the vast sea that is the internet for information that will be relevant to their specific needs – this seems particularly true for staff in SEN schools who may have very specific learner needs. Finding information and resources tailored to their pupils can be very hard, and time consuming. Furthermore, as a PhD student, I know all too well how hard it can be to find research that is relevant to your needs – where to look? how to access? how to comb through the overwhelming mass of other information? etc. Combining these two issues shows that more needs to be done to make high quality educational research easily accessible to school staff. Sites like ResearchEd and MESH Guides go part of the way towards this, but these are still relatively small pockets of work and a larger effort needs to be made.

Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge

The research around characteristics of effective professional development and learning often highlights collaboration as one of the key elements. However, whilst teachers value opportunities to work with other educators and learn from one another, it has also been highlighted that in some instances, collaboration can encourage conformity and stifle innovation showing that, as with many of the characteristics of effective CPD, it comes with a caveat. Guskey (2003, p.11) notes that in order for collaboration to be effective, it ‘needs to be structured and purposeful, with efforts guided by clear goals for improving student learning’. This shows that supporting schools in designing professional development programmes that make effective use of collaboration within sessions is key to ensuring the success of professional learning.

Professional development programmes should be sustained over time

As with collaboration, the research shows that simply running a longer professional development programme will not guarantee effective learning, Cordingley et al. found that ‘the crucial factor differentiating more from less successful programmes is what the time was used for’ (2015, p.4). This again calls for more support around the design of CPD programmes. Studies show that CPD lasting approximately 16 weeks (two UK school terms or one US semester) is often more effective, provided that it includes adequate contact time (at least 20 hours) and opportunities for follow-up (Desimone 2009). A common theme within the focus groups and interviews I have been conducting with school staff around their experiences of CPD has been the desire for more drip-feeding and follow up. Staff have expressed a need for CPD that gives them information and experience relating to a new practice in bitesize chunks, with time in between to test them out within their daily teaching, to then reconvene and discuss the process before learning more.

Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership

During my PhD data collection, staff have noted a preference for having a clear vision for whole school development that they can then build upon with their personal CPD. It is felt that this would provide them with a clearer idea of where they should be developing their professional practices – to make CPD a more coordinated effort across the school. This anecdote is widely supported by the lierature. Hunzicker’s (2010) claims that when the needs of the individual are combined with the needs of the school, teacher commitment and motivation is strengthened. Likewise, in a review of CPD in ICT, conducted by BECTA in 2009, it was found that whilst external agencies may provide models of CPD for school staff, their success depended heavily on the extent to which the school supported the activities. In particular, backing by leadership was found to be one of the key factors to ensuring the success of CPD programmes (Daly et al. 2009) which is in keeping with Billett’s (2001) work, which highlights the importance of the workplace affording staff opportunities to engage in development. For this reason, I strongly support the TPDEG’s recommendation that:

‘All those delivering and accrediting headteacher and school leadership training should make the leadership of teacher development, based on this Standard, a top priority.’

(TPDEG 2016, p.2)

In conclusion, what the standards suggest to me is that there is an opportunity here, for academics and professionals within education to work alongside schools and teachers to support them in filling the gaps and designing and delivering effective CPD across England. Also, in helping to share more widely examples of existing best practice, to make them easier to access. It is also interesting to consider where less formal, teacher-led CPD, such as TeachMeets, fit within these standards (termed Indirect Professional Development in the standards guidance). I believe that TeachMeets are an important format of CPD, as staff have regularly told me that they prefer to try new practices that they know have worked for other teachers – the ‘by staff, for staff’ model is a crucial one and should not be sidelined. What needs to be discussed is how self-directed ‘indirect professional development’ can be situated within a wider, structured plan for CPD.

Avalos, B., (2011) Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, vol.27(1), pp.10–20.

Billett, S. (2001) Learning through work: workplace affordances and individual engagement. Journal of Workplace Learning. Vol.13(5), pp. 209-214.

Clay, B. (2016) Five principles to help you evaluate your CPD. SecEd. Available from:

Cordingley, P. et al., (2015) Developing Great Teaching. Teacher Development Trust: London.

Daly, C., Pachler, N. and Pelletier, C. (2009) Continuing Professional Development in ICT for Teachers. BECTA. WLE Centre, Institute of Education: London.

Department for Education (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development. London: HMSO.

Desimone, L.M., (2009) Improving Impact Studies of Teachers’ Professional Development: Toward Better Conceptualizations and Measures. Educational Researcher, vol.38(3), pp.181–199.

Guskey, T. (2000) Evaluating Professional  Development. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Hunzicker, J. (2010) Effective Professional Development for Teachers: a checklist. Professional Development in Education, vol.37(2), pp.177-179

Opfer, V.D. and Pedder, D., (2011) Conceptualizing Teacher Professional Learning. Review of Educational Research, vol.81(3), pp.376–407.

Teachers’ Professional  Development Expert Group (2016) Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group – The Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development. London: HMSO.