As educators, we all understand that effective professional development in schools plays a crucial role in the development of high-quality teachers and in improving student outcomes. The key question has always been ‘how do we measure and maximise the effectiveness of continuous professional development in schools?’

Over the years, there have been many different approaches to professional development in schools which have delivered varying levels of success. Professional Learning was once dominated by expensive, external courses, which ultimately were found to have little impact on improving teaching quality. In many schools today, continuous professional development (CPD) aims to deliver some level of learning and feedback throughout the year. The focus now is on maximising skills and expertise, promoting collaboration and targeting specific areas for improvement.

In the education sector today, professional development and learning is positioned at the centre of strategies to drive improvement in teaching quality and student outcomes. It is integrated with systems to manage performance and make an accurate evaluation about school performance through quality assurance. The emphasis is currently on what makes a great teacher; we suggest shifting the focus to defining what makes a great teacher in the context of the school’s particular improvement needs.

“Supporting high quality teaching is pivotal in improving children’s outcomes.” – Education Endowment Foundation, 2021

CPD activity in schools has increased

In our survey for our 2021 ‘The Emerging Revolution’ report, 65% of respondents said that more than 50% of the objectives set by staff related to the professional development needs of the teacher, and more than 50% of respondents said they maintain an open and continuous dialogue throughout the year.

Further analysis of BlueSky’s internal intelligence, carried out earlier this year, indicates that the number of CPD activities recorded went up by 64% between 2017/18 and 2019/20. This level has been maintained throughout the pandemic and into this year.

The increased recognition of the value of professional development in schools, and the greater integration of development into appraisal practices, does not come without challenges and even resistance from some quarters. Scheduling time for CPD activities around the significant workload of teachers and school staff has always proved difficult, while the pressure on school budgets is never-ending. But placing professional learning at the centre of the appraisal conversation raises acceptability and shines a light on the organisation’s commitment to support staff to continuously improve professional practice.

It is interesting to note that while our own analysis indicates a sustained growth in CPD activities, a recent study by the Teacher Development Trust indicates that spending on professional development in schools has ‘plummeted’ by over 40% in real terms since 2018, particularly in primary schools. Certainly, school budgets have been increasingly stretched, but the Teacher Development Trust also suggest some alternative explanations:

  • There has been an increase in free professional development provided by the government, specifically the revised and expanded range of NPQs
  • Many schools have concluded that external courses and consultants often don’t have a demonstrable impact on teaching quality
  • A significant growth in less expensive and free CPD resources available online including virtual courses and evidence-based research
  • Using internal and cross-school expertise where skills can be exchanged and shared reduces direct costs significantly.
Image: Making the most of Continued Professional Development schools

Changing approaches to professional development

At BlueSky, we think it is likely that the exponential growth of online / virtual content has had a significant impact on spending on CPD, but at the same time has also fundamentally changed the way that professional learning is carried out in schools.

While in the past, teachers and school staff might have had to apply for budget and find cover to attend an in-person course or conference, virtual content can be conveniently accessed at any time, from anywhere. The relative lack of expense removes the barriers to participation for both teachers and supporting staff in a school or trust.

At the same time, in many schools and trusts, the focus of what constitutes CPD activity has pivoted away from the formal training course or inset day. Alongside using virtual courses and online resources, schools have implemented mentoring and instructional coaching to support ongoing development. Practices that were traditionally seen only as part of a quality assurance and accountability process, such as observing lessons, are now being used as a way to provide constructive feedback. This helps individuals identify areas for development, as well as identifying feedback to inform school improvement, as well as providing intelligence that informs school improvement. 

Image: Making the most of Continued Professional Development schools

“PD has great potential; but it also comes with costs. We know that teachers engage in professional development activities whilst balancing multiple and, at times, competing commitments and time pressures. The need is clear, therefore, for PD to be well-designed, selected, and implemented so that the investment is justified.” – Education Endowment Foundation, 2021

It perhaps goes without saying that the impact and effectiveness of different practices of professional development in schools – as well as the quality of content – can vary hugely. We know that what works in one school may not have the same effect in another. As outlined in the NFER Teacher Autonomy report, it is clear that CPD should never be a one-size-fits-all activity, but that doesn’t mean that individuals should have free reign to pick what they learn – and not least what the source of that learning is. Professional learning programmes should be rigorously evidence-based, relevant to the individual’s learning needs and contribute to the improvement of teaching quality, as defined by the context they find themselves in.

While at BlueSky we have long supported the developmental approach to appraisal – and even developed our own (Bett Award nominated!) online learning platform, BlueSky Learning – we understand that schools still often struggle to effectively measure the impact of professional development on quality of teaching and student outcomes, perhaps because there is a disconnect between school strategy and the metrics that are being used for staff objective targets.

Keep an eye out for our next webinar and blogs on this topic – sign up to our newsletter via the link below to stay updated!

BlueSky Education, teacher performance management software, performance management in schools, performance management

Start your BlueSky journey today!

To learn more, why not have a no-obligation conversation with a member of our team? Get in touch to find out about our solutions, get a quote and take a free demo – the best way to evaluate BlueSky Education.

Tamsin Denley

Author: Tamsin Denley,
Head of Marketing and Partnerships

Share this article

Register for our newsletter to receive the latest BlueSky updates