Free article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence

Published: Thursday, 12 December 2013

Teachers are good at gathering evidence of pupil progress, but many find it difficult to do the same with regard to their own professional development.  Keith Wright looks at the challenges and offers some advice.


  • Developing self-awareness of their professional skills and needs is vital if teachers are to make a real contribution to school improvement and move on in their careers.
  • Pressures such as the day-to-day demands of the job, performance pay and Ofsted accountability can make meaningful evaluation difficult.
  • Knowledge of their own development needs enables teachers to make a more informed choice of continuing professional development.
  • Leaders need to set a culture that encourages meaningful professional development and evaluation.
  • Teachers should be exacting in their continuing professional development requirements and should only engage in professionaldevelopment if it meets strict criteria.

When teachers first enter the profession, it is often encouraging to see their approach to self-evaluation. They look at their practice closely and evaluate how they are doing. They think about how they can improve their skills through professional development. I know this to be true from my experience working with trainee teachers, most recently as part of the School Direct initiative.


It is a shame that, for many teachers, this self-awareness does not persist beyond the early stages of their careers. The day-to-day pressures of a demanding teaching job and the accountability that comes with this tend to get in the way.

That is not to say that teachers do not care about the evaluation of their work and their continuing professional development (CPD). In fact, it is probably because they care so much about their pupils that they spend most of their time focusing on the attainment of children, measuring and evaluating their progress so they can put in place measures and interventions which will ensure that pupils can achieve to the best of their abilities.

However, this obvious commitment to the attainment of pupils often leaves them with very little time to focus on their own attainment as professionals. They are under pressure. Teachers are under pressure to achieve the expectations of the headteacher and line mangers, who in turn are under pressure from accountability frameworks such as Ofsted. Then there is the onset of performance-related pay, which will see progression and pay related directly to whether teachers meet performance objectives. Development surely has a key role to play there.

Knowledge of their own professional development needs enables teachers to make informed choices about the CPD they require. If they evaluate this properly they will know which CPD works and which does not. Ultimately, it means they can keep on improving as a professional and ensure that pupils get the best possible teaching.

So, how can teachers make evaluation of their professional development really count? We will consider four distinct steps:

  • the fundamentals that leaders need to address
  • pre- and post-CPD activity for teachers
  • and generating evidence of the impact of that CPD, which is of most relevance to teachers and CPD leaders.

The fundamentals

Leaders have a key role to play here. They should ingrain professional development and evaluation within their leadership vision by doing the following:

  • Get the culture right. Great teachers are also great learners. The expectation that everyone in the school needs to continue their learning must be made clear at every opportunity.
  • Move professional development up the agenda. Ask, at every opportunity and at least every week: ‘What has our past learning done for us?’ ‘What are we doing next?’ ‘Why are we doing it?’ ‘What are we hoping for as a consequence?’.
  • Adopt a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach. All staff should be able to identify CPD needs, research available provision and articulate their chosen route.
  • Do not let administration prevent them from achieving their goals. There are purpose-built tools out there to do this work and they should be used.

Pre-CPD activity

Teachers need to take ownership of their professional development and be more exacting about what CPD they do and how they evaluate it. They should:

  • Look at what they must achieve in the short, medium and long term with regard to performance targets, professional standards, career-stage expectations and the overall school development plan.
  • Ask themselves: ‘What am I being asked to achieve and am I able to achieve this without further learning?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then they need to engage in some learning.
  • Record their CPD needs and relate them to the area identified in the first bullet point. This is most important as, ultimately, their targets will be where the evidence of impact will be recorded.
  • Ensure that they have three essential pieces of information that will help them determine a CPD need: what the area is that they need to develop, where and how this will impact upon them and where and how this will impact upon the school.
  • Research and identify the most suitable CPD provision. This could be anything from lesson observations and one-to-one conversations with colleagues to attending conferences and seminars.
  • Be prepared. When teachers attend any activity, make sure that they know which CPD need it is addressing, that they have looked at preparation material and that they are clear about the impact areas for them and for the school.
  • Be willing to engage. Learning is always better when complemented with communication. Teachers should ask questions, challenge, be challenged and extract every single ounce of knowledge and value form
  • the activity.

Post-CPD activity

Evaluation of professional development activity should not begin and end with ticking a few boxes on an evaluation form. Teachers should:

  • Take time to digest the learning experience and complete an initial evaluation within seven days. Beyond this their recollection will not be as clear.
  • Be clear about what it is they expect to happen as a result of attending the activity. They should express what it is they will do differently, what they think the impact will be and where they think they will be able gather evidence of that impact.
  • Periodically revisit each of their CPD activities and update their evaluations. They should be able to reference actual impact and provide tangible evidence by revisiting the activity over time.

CPD co-ordinators should assess each activity and read evaluations coming from all staff. They should be able to view the impact and evidence each person has associated with the activity.

Generating evidence of the impact of CPD

CPD is nothing unless it has a tangible, positive impact on the professional development of staff and the school as a whole. Schools should encourage teachers to reflect on all their CPD activities (as an individual, team or whole school) each time they record evidence of impact against their performance targets, professional standards, career-stage expectations and the overall school development plan. They should then ‘tag’ their evaluation and evidence to any CPD activity they think helped them achieve this.

This approach will result in a gradual build-up of evidence of impact for each CPD activity, which will be associated with all individual and whole-school performance targets and will be more accurate, meaningful and ultimately valuable for all concerned.

With evidence of what professional development works, teachers will be able to develop to the best of their abilities and make a real contribution to the development of the school.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practise:

About the author

Keith Wright is managing director of school information management specialist Bluewave.SWIFT. He has worked with hundreds of schools during the past decade supporting institutional leadership and management. For further information go to

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of School Inspection + Improvement Magazine.

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