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How do we evaluate the impact of CPD?

If development tailored to the individual is the way forward, what steps can we take to be confident of its worth?

Professional learning for teachers and school staff is a key driver of improving outcomes for young people.

Improving skills, addressing gaps in knowledge or experience, building specialisms all benefit the individual while also contributing to school-wide needs and guiding plans for school improvement.

But as CPD becomes more personalised, for good reasons, how we evaluate its impact also becomes a key question.

How can you ensure that staff are applying what they have learned and that it is having an impact on classroom practice? Is it properly supporting their professional growth and career pathway? Is there evidence of long-term impact on student outcomes as well as fixing immediate issues? Has the development helped a teacher to contribute to the school’s wider teaching and learning goals as intended?

It’s important to acknowledge that hard evidence of impact can be hard to come by. As the Education Policy Institute/Wellcome Trust report makes clear, robust conclusions about the lasting effects of CPD on teachers are difficult to pin down for various reasons, including the fact that responding to formal evaluation – surveys, focus groups – is often voluntary.

But at the school level there are steps that are relatively easy to put in place. The key is to incorporate evaluation into CPD practice itself.

A systemic approach to evaluation

Documenting the intended outcome of CPD activity is the first step: how the activity links to developmental goals and what the individual wants to achieve, but also how this will be measured, is key to evaluating effectiveness.

Many BlueSky members use the platform to support the evaluation of professional learning. In our recent client survey, at least half of respondents use it to record evaluations of the short-term impact on their teaching and around 40% recorded the long-term impact.

The survey also revealed that this evaluation often depends on individuals providing the feedback, using a pro forma or impact statement, an approach which can produce insights that are more or less meaningful according to how much time, energy, enthusiasm and diligence the person brings to the task.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

Schools we spoke to were looking for a more formal, systematic approach that incorporated evaluation into the CPD process, rather than separately, and which would encourage teachers/staff to reflect on what and whether professional learning had an effect on their practice, helping to consolidate their learning. Schools and staff would also need to revisit the learning outcomes from CPD later on, it was felt, to assess the long-term impact and whether it had achieved the objectives set.

Incorporating evaluation into the CPD process

How can schools ensure that this evaluation is carried out?

Using a standardised evaluation process and making it a compulsory element of any CPD activity is one good step. Schools need to consider the appropriate time to do the evaluation and in what way; completing an initial evaluation form after a week, when recall of what was learned may be fading, might not prompt a deep reflection and risks turning the task into a tick-box exercise.

Evaluation could have more impact as part of a coaching or review meeting during or shortly after learning has taken place where the reviewer can tease out how the teacher intends to apply what they have learned in their classroom practice, and how that meets success criteria. They could note this aim formally and agree to assess the long-term impact in a subsequent review and through QA processes. At the later meeting, the reviewer/coach can offer more feedback to help the teacher refine elements of their practice, if required.

To maximise the benefit of professional learning, evaluation of the individual impact then needs to be followed by evaluation of its impact on achieving school priorities: how it is helping individuals or teams to contribute to the overarching goals of improving teaching quality, meeting key goals on literacy or numeracy, developing digital skills, contributing to wellbeing for staff and students or other strategic aims.

Triangulating CPD with QA

As well as helping the individual, professional learning undertaken needs to contribute to the wider goals of the school or trust. Quality assurance processes and underlying structures should enable leaders to track the accountability of staff, and how their development and professional growth is supporting the priorities of the organisation and improving outcomes for young people. Is the teacher’s own perception of the impact that their learning is having borne out in practice? Has the professional learning activity led to them developing the skills and behaviours expected? How is it contributing to improvement goals? Does it match the shared understanding of excellence in teaching and learning across the school? Are staff making their own assessments against these criteria?

In our survey, we asked whether schools were triangulating professional learning in this way as part of QA. The majority – 64% – said they did it only occasionally with 22% never reviewing the impact.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

The relatively low take-up may be due to lack of time or capacity, but triangulating CPD with QA does not need to add another layer of work. It can and should be incorporated into existing QA processes, such as:

Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited) objectives for professional development activity, so its impact on teachers’ practice is transparent.

Classroom observations – asking observers to look specifically at how the teacher is applying the knowledge and skills acquired in their CPD activity, then combining this with reflection by the teacher.

Peer collaboration and sharing – facilitating opportunities for teachers to share their experiences, best practices, and new knowledge with colleagues during training days, staff or team meetings or via a subject specific professional learning network within the school or trust.

Other ideas, which might take more time but could perhaps be incorporated into an action research project focused on QA, involve analysis of data over time to measure the longer-term impact of professional development on student outcomes. Schools can track student achievement and correlate it with the participation of teachers in specific professional development activity.

Evaluating professional development and triangulating with QA processes confirms to the organisation that the activity undertaken has benefited the individual teacher in practice and is contributing to school-wide priorities. It also sends a signal to staff that leaders value professional learning, not only for its specific results, but as an essential element of improvement strategy.

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[i] Fletcher-Wood, H. and Zuccollo, J. (2020) The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students: A cost-benefit analysis, Education Policy Institute.

Tamsin Denley

Author: Denise Inwood
CEO & Founder, BlueSky

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