Our director Christopher Rossiter talks CPD in light of the DfE’s new standard for teachers’ professional development.

Last week the Department for Education’s teachers’ professional development expert group published its standard for teacher professional development.

The aim of this group was to develop a new standard that will set out a clear description of effective practice in professional development for teachers, and to help them understand what good continuing professional development (CPD) looks like. This work builds on a recent systematic review by the Teacher Development Trust on what constitutes effective professional development for teachers.

We can understand the standard better by reflecting on it through the lens of business management and Industrial Work and Occupational Psychology (IWOP), which is reflective of my professional background. Admittedly these two domains appear very different, however if one accepts the view that people influence all of the important aspects of organisational performance you can begin to see parallels between teacher training and the development of other professionals.

An organisation’s capabilities are contained in the mix of its people and its systems. Organisations, such as schools, can accomplish little without capable people, and to be successful they must commit themselves to attracting, retaining and motivating the best and the brightest. The standard is therefore a welcome supplement to the teacher standards and should help individuals, schools and training providers better understand and reflect upon the CPD they deliver and receive.

Here I will briefly highlight what I consider to be challenges and tensions between the standard, the aforementioned literature and the ‘reality’ of professional development.

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

The standard highlights that ‘direct professional development directly seeks to improve specific pupil outcomes’. Indirect professional development on the other hand is described as being less clearly linked to pupil outcomes and more aligned to running or developing a school, such as through leadership development.

Training could be described as the systematic acquisition of concepts, knowledge, rules or skills that result in improved performance at work, and as such this differs from the direct pathway mentioned above. This is because it rightly identifies improved job performance as being the outcome, over that of specific individuals such as pupils.

Contemporary research draws on cognitive and motivational concepts to understand the interaction between person and environment in the learning process. It is the individual level definition that dominates theory and practice in the training domain, as with the standard, and yet this is viewed from a system level perspective. Whilst this is not in itself problematic, the lack of consideration given to addressing the organisational context of training is. The standard does attempt to bridge this divide by addressing school leaders, teachers and training providers, despite the definition continuing to emphasise individual level considerations over those of the organisational context.

Why this is important relates to the extent CPD translates into improvement in practice, and how this is linked to the circumstances of an organisation; its priorities, resources and needs.

Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.

A thorough analysis of training needs (TNA) is a fundamental prerequisite for training design, yet tends to be the most neglected component of the training cycle. The standard argues that effective professional development needs to develop practice and theory, and link evidence, including research, with subject specialisms. I would certainly agree with this, but the process of identifying training needs is missing from the implementation guidance of the standard.

If one assumes that training is best used to address specific needs, as is the case in the standard, then it is critical that training design is not just about accommodating new techniques or resources. It needs to follow the TNA, as a diagnostic exercise, taking into account person, task and organisational analysis.

There is no substitute for systematic organisational TNA and regardless of whether job titles are the same, the nature of that job role and the performance context may well differ substantially.

Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.

Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

Approaches to training design vary to the extent that ‘others’ (e.g. the trainer, colleagues and/or other experts) interact with the trainee and the length and frequency of development activities.

The standard espouses an inquiry model of training that provides trainees with a more active role, and where the trainer acts as a facilitator, it seeks to make best use of his or her expertise, as would be expected with experiential or action learning approaches. Evidence for this suggests that creating a cycle of action and reflection in actual job situations facilitates transfer of learning. Although the risk here is that some ‘on-the-job’ training might be tagged onto traditional seminar style delivery rather than being systematically integrated into it. We therefore need to pay close attention to the context in which this learning is most appropriately placed, the methods of delivery and the role of the trainer.

Disentangling the most appropriate method of training design is complex, not least because a balance needs to be struck between individual training needs and those of the wider context. It is this interaction which will provide the best indication of suitable designs.

Crucially, the extent to which ‘experts’ understand both the depth of subject specialist knowledge, along with the breadth of procedural matters specific to an organisation, are questionable. Change will be most apparent when school leaders and training providers can work collaboratively to understand the responsibilities and expectations of all parties. Such transparency will set the parameters through which experts can truly challenge practice and procedure.

Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

The role of leaders in articulating the purpose, intended consequences and impact on performance is crucial to effective CPD, especially when considering motivational factors. The emphasis given to this in the standard is very much welcomed.

To leverage the greatest benefit from the standard leaders will need to drive the demand-side factors of training procurement. They will need the understanding, capacity and capability to identify the right CPD needed by their teachers for their organisational priorities. Likewise training providers can follow suit by ensuring that the supply side similarly reflects these principles.