Motivated, respected and effective teachers

A new standard is in place this academic year describing effective continuing professional development for teachers. David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, explains how the standard came about and summarises the guidance.

The new academic year, 2016-17, sees a brand new standard in place from the Department for Education. The document, while not mandatory, describes effective continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers.

Importantly, the standard creates a common language for the whole education system and raises the bar in terms of what is expected. It makes it clear that for the most effective practice to thrive, action must be taken by school leaders, teachers and external providers or experts. All three groups must act together for CPD to have a long‑term, positive impact on students’ learning.

The new standard should be used to improve understanding, develop effective and long‑term plans and to hold other stakeholders to account for their role in the process. All staff in your school need to be aware of this document and anyone with responsibility for leading aspects of CPD should use and discuss it regularly. This should include middle leaders, training facilitators, all senior leaders and governors.

The background
In early 2015, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Schools commissioned a new standard in recognition that teachers need and deserve high quality development throughout their careers. After the election, the new government continued to strongly support its development and the standard was unveiled at the end of the summer term of 2016.

The document was collated by an independent group of experts – teachers, school leaders, school business managers and researchers with a wide range of experience – which I was kindly asked to chair.

We began by reviewing existing advice and standards from across the world and across different professions. This included a look at CPD standards from Singapore, Australia, Canada and the USA as well as professional documents around training for dentists and medics.

We undertook a large-scale consultation with hundreds of individuals and organisations from across the sector and sought out the highest quality research on what types of professional development seem to make the biggest difference to teachers’ and students’ learning.

The five key ideas
The standard describes five key headline ideas and these are fully laid out in the guidance documentation. Firstly, professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes. Secondly, it should also be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise. Thirdly, it should include collaboration and expert challenge, and professional development programmes should be sustained over time. And all this is underpinned by the requirement that school leadership must prioritise professional development.

There is an expectation that individual activities (e.g. one-off training sessions, individual meetings) are threaded together in a logical way to create programmes which have an explicit focus on improving outcomes for students. For example, evidence from the Teacher Development Trust’s Developing Great Teaching report suggests that a one‑day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on student outcomes. However, that same course could be much more effective as part of a sustained programme of structured, collaborative in‑school activities for teachers to refine ideas and embed approaches.

Such a programme would embed activities designed to sustain and deepen practice, including individual and collaborative teacher activity; well-designed formative assessment and evaluation; whole-school leadership; and expert input.

For example, while an individual session may be a briefing on ‘improving feedback’, the whole programme might be focused on ‘improving vocabulary of pupil-premium‑eligible students in Key Stage 3’ and involve plenty of opportunity for teachers to work together both in and out of their classrooms to apply the feedback ideas to this specific focus area. This ensures that all teachers are clear on the intended impact of their learning and can constantly evaluate the effectiveness of any new ideas as they apply them to a specific goal.

The approach we have taken marks a change from a common approach of focusing on generic training for teachers. It follows the evidence base to instead recommend a greater subject-focused approach to training – research suggests that this is more likely to support an improvement in student outcomes in the long-term.

Unleash the best
Teachers make thousands of professional decisions every day that need to be informed by the best evidence, knowledge and professional wisdom.

Effective professional development for teachers is a core part of securing effective teaching and it cannot exist in isolation. It instead requires a pervasive culture of scholarship with a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop so that students benefit from the highest quality teaching.

Not all professional development is equally effective. Helping teachers to improve their practice takes thought, planning and effort. It requires headteachers and senior leadership teams who prioritise not only the operational aspects of teacher development but also, as Ofsted put it in their September 2015 handbook, “a motivated, respected and effective teaching staff” in “a culture that enables students and staff to excel”.

While professional development can take many forms, the best available research shows that the most effective professional development practices share similar characteristics. Effective professional development should be seen as a key driver not only of staff development, but also of recruitment, retention, well-being, and school improvement.

This new standard certainly raises the bar in terms of the quality of practice expected in every school. It identifies how the most effective leaders and schools are creating self-improving schools that generate sustainable, long-term improvements for staff and students.

Making leadership a priority
Finding time and resource for professional development has become very difficult and this is compounded as schools face increased budget pressures. However, the approach laid out in the standard can improve student outcomes, staff retention, culture and well-being in a sustainable way.

The most successful schools are protecting or even expanding their professional development budget, time and leadership even in the face of reductions elsewhere. Not only is this a decision driven by fundamental values that prioritise professionalism and learning, this decision also looks sensible even through a cold value-for-money lens.

In a climate where recruitment is tough and academic expectations continue to rise, governors and leaders realise that they need to move funding away from ‘sticking‑plaster’ interventions and into sustained support and development for their most expensive assets, the teachers and other staff who work with students every day.

Connect with others
My charity, the Teacher Development Trust, is on a mission to support all schools and school leaders through the new challenges and opportunities that the standard for teachers’ professional development now presents. We offer tools to audit and develop your current leadership and implementation of CPD as well as a national network of schools and a suite of training events and courses to support you to connect with other schools. Find out more from the website.

David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust and chair of the Department for Education’s Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group. Follow him on Twitter at @informed_edu and the charity at @TeacherDevTrust.

Further information