What does research tell us about CPD?

1 February 2017

Author: David Weston

When CPD works well it really benefits teachers, pupils and whole school improvement. It is absolutely at the heart of school culture and practice, so ensuring that it is underpinned by evidence is paramount. I set up the Teacher Development Trust in 2012 to enable more effective CPD nationally and in 2015 we launched Developing Great Teaching, a review of international research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers. From this, the recent DfE’s CPD Standards, alongside other research, we can draw out some key findings around CPD below.

Why is CPD so important?

First, great development can reduce staff turnover, improve morale and reduce stress. The cost of sick days, cover and recruitment easily adds up. By investing in improved support and development, you can reduce long-term costs and the headache of the annual recruitment challenge.

Second, schools that can offer a more supportive, developmental environment will not only find it easier to retain staff but can also help to recruit the top talent. The recent LKMco/Pearson report, Why Teach[1], identified that opportunities for development and career progression are particularly important for recruiting and retaining younger teachers, while all staff look for schools that prevent excessive workload and help them feel competent and confident in their jobs.

Finally, and most importantly, staff development can be one of the most effective school improvement approaches. The Developing Great Teaching report from Cordingley et. al[2] noted that “professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement. Professor Viviane Robinson conducted a research review of what the most effective school leaders do to improve attainment and found that “head teachers’ leading of and active participation in professional learning and development had the largest impact on student outcomes”[3].

Kraft and Papay found[4] that “teachers working in schools at the 75th percentile [top quarter] of professional environment ratings improved 38% more than teachers in schools at the 25th percentile [bottom quarter] after ten years.”

What does evidence suggest effective CPD should look like?

Focus and timeline

Research suggests that professional learning is more effective when it is sustained and iterative. CPD should prioritise embedding impact over information-giving, focusing on fewer priorities and taking time on each. Each priority should be weaved across the year, with multiple activities establishing a rhythm of improvement and learning.

CPD should also maintain a clear focus on pupil learning, with a less explicit focus on a list of what teachers should be doing. With a focus on what students need and how teachers can develop to achieve this, intrinsically there will be more focus on aspects of curriculum and subject and specialist knowledge.

Leadership, planning and needs analysis

To enable CPD to be closely focussed on pupil needs, it is important that staff are enabled to identify and feed into this. Central to this is working with staff at all levels to identify what they need to develop in order to respond to changing student and school priorities. This requires a strong flow of information from the bottom up, constantly gathering feedback, while working strenuously to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Another core element is building in discussion around professional learning as a regular feature of appraisal discussions. This provides another source of information for planning and adapting the CPD offer.

Subject and department meetings can be a strong driver of CPD needs analysis by conducting ongoing analysis of how students are responding to the demands of the curriculum, and anticipating staff members’ needs in both teaching and assessing it knowledgeably, effectively and efficiently.

Time, resources and expertise

Teachers are unlikely to translate learning into improved outcomes for students unless they are given sufficient time and resource, alongside high quality expertise and facilitation, in an atmosphere of trust and respect. Many schools now offer weekly or fortnightly CPD time which is focused on ongoing collaboration, planning and assessment. In effective schools whole-staff briefings are minimised, subject and team meetings are kept as free of briefing and administrative work as possible, and the focus is on improving and sharing teaching knowledge and practice in direct response to student needs.

Finally, effective CPD ensures that all staff are connected to the latest practice through subject and specialist association membership, research bulletins, conferences and social media. However, it is also recognised that to embed this knowledge it is necessary to work with external experts and facilitators who can support, challenge, model practice and inspire colleagues internally.

Find out more about the research and practice around effective CPD on the Teacher Development Trust’s website: http://TDTrust.org

David Weston is Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust. He is a former teacher and recently chaired the Department for Education’s CPD Expert Group. Follow him on twitter at @informed_edu


[1] http://whyteach.lkmco.org/

[2] http://TDTrust.org/dgt

[3] http://www.curee.co.uk/files/publication/1260453707/Robinson%20Summary%20Extended%20Version.pdf

[4] http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraft_papay_-_prof_env_teacher_development_eepa_full.pdf

Posted on 1 February 2017
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