At Dulwich College, Singapore, continuous professional development (CPD) targets have replaced the traditional approaches to performance management and appraisal.

The school works on the assumption that ‘Every teacher is a good teacher’ and its approach is intended to maximise every individual’s potential.

Rather than having set objectives to meet, teachers identify one aspect of their teaching practice and set an ‘inquiry question’ as a focus for CPD.

“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 whether that change has had an impact on students’ learning,” explains Daniel Brown, Director of Professional Learning and Development at the school, part of the Dulwich College International Group of schools. “The whole process is documented on BlueSky.”

The college is one of an increasing number of schools who now regard CPD as central to driving improvement in outcomes for children, a view based on teacher and leader insight but – critically – supported by evidence gathered across the sector by research bodies and unions, as well as governments.

What does the evidence tell us about the importance of CPD in schools?

A 2020 report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) [i], commissioned by Wellcome, carried out a detailed review of the evidence on the impact of teacher professional development.

High-quality CPD, including training courses, mentoring, seminars and peer review, has the potential to close the gap between beginner and more experienced teachers, the report concludes, and may have a greater effect on pupil attainment than other measures, such as performance-related pay or longer school days. It is also more economical than interventions such as one-to-one tutoring and is likely to be received more enthusiastically by staff compared to structural changes to the school system which are effective at boosting pupil outcomes but are disruptive.

There is also a pragmatic benefit: good quality CPD can encourage people to stay in the profession, helping to sustain their commitment and their enthusiasm for teaching through greater job satisfaction – vital at a time when retention is a major challenge. Early-career teachers, in particular, see the opportunity to build their skills, specialisms and professional interests in a supportive environment as especially attractive.

Research by NFER in 2020 [ii] painted a similar picture on retention with the finding that increasing teachers’ autonomy over their professional development goals has great potential for improving teacher job satisfaction and retention.

Our own research from 2021 [iii] found that both goals were increasingly at the forefront of schools’ thinking and approaches to CPD with more schools prioritising professional learning and a developmental rather than approach to appraisals and performance management.

In our latest client survey, we asked our member schools what they saw as the purpose for CPD. For just over 90 per cent of those replying, it was to improve the quality of education, with impact on pupil outcomes next at just under 80 per cent.

CPD, professional development, school CPD

“Good quality CPD can encourage people to stay in the profession, helping to sustain their commitment and their enthusiasm for teaching through greater job satisfaction – vital at a time when retention is a major challenge.”

CPD’s influence on strategic thinking

This shift in thinking about the role, purpose and approach to CPD is also having an impact at the strategic level.

In our survey, 60 per cent of staff were already linking their CPD to Trust priorities, as well as to team and school. The multi-academy City Learning Trust in Stoke-on-Trent, England, has made engaging all staff in professional development a priority right across the trust’s, and sees the organisation-wide approach as vital to both achieving the trust’s core improvement goals and to staff retention.

“We are committed to providing CPD for every staff member who works directly with children, which supports our commitment to delivering excellent education,” says Deb Poole, Director of Staff Development. Using BlueSky, they can easily link performance management reviews with a targeted professional learning strategy for every school, ensuring consistency across the trust.

This approach also lines up with government policy and the thinking of leadership in the sector which sees CPD playing a key role in achieving and sustaining improvement across the system.

CPD, professional development, school CPD

The Schools White Paper [iv] explicitly links its ambitions for raising standards to “the need for an excellent teacher for every child in every classroom” and pinpoints improving the quality of teaching as the “single most important in-school factor in improving outcomes for children”. It proposes 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities by 2024, giving all teachers and school leaders access to world-class, evidence-based training and professional development at every stage of their career.

ASCL cites “ongoing and effective professional development” as key to developing a high-quality local curriculum in its Blueprint, A Great Education for Every Child [v].

Meanwhile, in its discussion paper What is a Strong Trust? [vi], the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) describes evidence-informed professional development as key to enabling the best trusts to deliver “high standards of education systematically”, and argues there is “no improvement in teaching without the best professional development for teachers”.

These findings strongly suggest that the approach to CPD, prioritising it in appraisal conversations but also positioning it as a core element of strategy to drive improvement, is producing benefits. In our survey, schools told us that they intend to stick with the strategy and more than 80 per cent expected that position to prevail for the next five years.

What’s next?

After recognising the importance of high-quality professional development for individuals for both school improvement and staff retention, the next stage would be to link the goals for individuals to school priorities.

For schools keen to bolster their CPD strategies, BlueSky’s Professional Learning & CPD tools provide a comprehensive and robust solution. Our platform helps to engage staff and fortify retention through meaningful and impactful professional development, creating an environment that fosters growth and aligns individual progress with school objectives.

Read the next instalment of our blog series here: Rethinking CPD in Schools: The Power of Personalisation

Rethinking CPD in Schools
Tamsin Denley

Author: Denise Inwood
CEO and Founder

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