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Can effective CPD reduce the pressure of teacher workload?

Professional development can strengthen staff confidence in their skills and abilities, helping to ease perceptions of workload

Unmanageable teacher workload is a major issue in the education profession and routinely cited as one of the key reasons people leave teaching to find less-pressured careers and reclaim their lives.

The point is underlined in the DfE’s latest Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders Survey [i], where most of those asked disagreed with the statement that their workload was “acceptable or under their control”. The average working week for a teacher was 51.9 hours (37.3 part-time) and for a leader 57.5 (48.8 part-time). Some 86% of school leaders reported working between 40 and 69 hours in the week they were surveyed. The figures for leaders have risen since 2019, and while primary teachers are now working less, on average, than they were four years ago, secondary teachers have seen no significant change.

Most teachers and leaders said their schools had addressed workload issues in the last year, for example by amending policies on marking and feedback, though opinions were mixed on how successful the changes have been.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

How can CPD help ease teacher workload?

Against this backdrop of workload pressures, teachers can find it a challenge to maintain their professional development; it can be hard to ring-fence the time and mental space to think about one’s own learning, attend this training workshop or read that research paper, when the day job is so demanding. Research [ii] by the Education Policy Institute and Ambition Institute in 2020 highlighted studies which found that “many [CPD] interventions struggled where teachers were unable to set aside the time intended by the developers,” among other reasons.

Yet CPD itself can be a powerful tool in helping to ease the workload burden. Dedicating time to one’s development can renew motivation for the job and remind us of the joy of learning itself, stimulate fresh ideas for old problems, and gives us a chance to regain perspective and opportunities to collaborate on solutions and new approaches.

Leadership matters

Leadership is critical at this point: the onus is on leaders to enable teachers to take part in CPD, setting it as a priority for staff and giving them dedicated time for learning. If leaders make space for it to happen, teachers are much more likely to engage authentically with activities which develop their skills and competencies, enabling them to do their jobs more effectively which, in turn, will improve confidence and boost wellbeing. Leaders can also encourage staff to prioritise learning how to tackle workload pressure itself with techniques such as smart marking and planning techniques.

In the medium term, professional development can strengthen staff confidence in their skills and abilities, confirming that they are ‘doing a good job’ and making progress in developing their practice. As such, it can help ease perceptions of workload – the work may be less overwhelming when you feel you are doing a good job!

A straightforward example here is behaviour management which can create a significant workload burden for teachers and increase stress and anxiety, with the knock-effects of exacerbating fatigue and undermining wellbeing. Professional learning to address issues around behaviour management can boost confidence, reduce the stress associated with self-doubt, rekindle motivation and enhance wellbeing.

Beyond such individual issues, leaders of some schools have chosen to put CPD at the centre of performance management and appraisal, shifting from formal objectives based around data and instead focusing on professional growth. Staff become individually accountable for the constant improvement in their practice – so their sense of autonomy is increased – and it reduces the bureaucracy associated with appraisals.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

Dulwich College, Singapore, a large international school and a BlueSky client, has moved away from traditional performance management objectives and increased emphasis on professional development.  Each teacher identifies an ‘inquiry question’ from their teaching practice which they then explore with others in the team. They create a professional learning community with other staff who have chosen a similar theme to share research, plan how they will change their teaching practice and evaluate the impact changes have on students’ learning. Everyone’s inquiry questions are reviewed by the school’s professional learning and development team to see which teachers may need to adjust their target so that it connects to the school improvement plan.

The wider value of CPD

In our latest client survey, when asked what time staff are using to engage in professional learning, 75% of respondents said that staff were given delegated additional hours, such as inset and twilight, for CPD while 52% pointed to team time such as team meetings. A significant amount (22%) had protected no-contact time, while 16% were using off-timetable time with cover to take part in courses or other professional learning.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

Creating space for CPD, as these schools do, signals its worth to the individual but also its wider value; it’s an investment in that teacher and in the wider development of the team and institution. Incorporating it into the working day consolidates this stance: development is not peripheral but central to the success of the school.

This extends to support from within the school, too. Coaching and mentoring by senior staff need to take place in timetabled hours, happen regularly and be scheduled so that it becomes an ongoing conversation sustained over time.

Moral purpose matters

Finally, it’s important to convey that the value of CPD isn’t simply transactional and that it does more than help a teacher to hone their skills or widen their understanding of a subject. Learning and developing as a professional enables them to do their job more effectively, not simply helping young people to achieve in tests and exams but helping them to progress, fulfil their potential and improve their life chances. The moral purpose of wanting to make the world a better place, make a difference, which brings so many into the classroom, is reinforced when they are given the tools and support to do their job better – and makes them more inclined to stay

How do you build a school CPD programme with impact?

What’s coming next for CPD And Training

Many schools have significantly shifted their improvement strategy over recent years, recognising that professional development is crucial to improving quality of teaching and student outcomes, not to mention job satisfaction and staff retention in schools.
Feedback from our clients, alongside extensive market research, have given us a real opportunity to review some aspects of the CPD and Training modules in BlueSky. We are aiming to release the updates for these modules by the end of the summer term – watch this space for further details.

We will be sharing further insights from our survey in the coming months – sign up to our newsletter to receive updates.


[i] Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders Survey, Department for Education, April 2023

[ii] Evidence review: The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students, Education Policy Institute and Ambition Institute, February 2020

Tamsin Denley

Author: Denise Inwood
CEO & Founder, BlueSky

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