Free article: Making CPD work harder

Published: Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Professional development is a crucial factor in school improvement and improving pupil outcomes, but it could work harder, says Keith Wright.


  • There is plenty of evidence of the impact good CPD can have on school improvement and better outcomes for pupils.
  • Schools can embed CPD into the life of the school by building it on firm principles driven by the specific needs of the school development plan.
  • Schools should take a critic's view of professional development.
  • CPD events and training should be reflected upon properly and re-evaluated over a period of time.
  • Staff should think of hard evidence of improvements in their professional practice and then link this back to any CPD activity that has contributed to these improvements.

Ask a teacher what their continuing professional development (CPD) looks like in practice and the chances are that the odd twilight workshop or a bought-in INSET day course will be the first things that spring to mind.

These professional development opportunities can be very helpful, but it is still the case that in too many schools CPD is limited to this piecemeal 'here and there' approach.

A piecemeal approach means that schools can miss out on the enormous benefits good professional development offers. There is plenty of evidence of the impact good CPD can have on school improvement and better outcomes for pupils. One research study showed that classes where teachers had taken part in high-quality professional development were improving twice as fast as those in other classes, with less able students making improvements four to six times faster than their peers in other classes.

If schools subject CPD to a rigorous approach and embed it into the life of the school they can unlock this power for themselves. This approach needs to be built on firm principles and driven by the specific needs of the school development plan. It should also be subject to hard questioning, systematic management and proper measurement.

It sounds complex, but there are several schools around the country that are delivering CPD that works hard and plays a critical role in school improvement. And what's more, many of these schools have hard evidence that it is working.

One example is Thorpepark Primary in Hull (see the case study on the left). At this school, professional development is driven by the school development plan, and headteacher Simon Witham has taken a systematic approach to its management. At Thorpepark, each piece of CPD needs to justify the investment made in it through hard evidence of impact on children's progress.

So what practical measures can schools take to make CPD work as hard as possible? Here is some advice worth sharing with your colleagues.

Case study: A systematic approach to professional development

Thorpepark Primary School serves the large Orchard Park council estate on the northern outskirts of Hull. It is a community facing serious social and economic challenges – a factor that drives headteacher Simon Witham and his colleagues to provide the very best education they can for the school's 380 pupils.

Staff professional development and performance management is vital to the school's mission. The headteacher believes in developing his staff to help them make a difference.

The focus of the school has children at its heart. Staff judge everything they do on what impact it makes on pupils. The school has put systems in place to support gaining the best outcomes for children and to help staff work as smartly as possible.

Thorpepark has been using the Bluewave.SWIFT online system from Bluewave Education to link together and drive improvement processes, including self-evaluation, school inspection reports, strategic planning, professional development and performance appraisals.

Managing CPD and tracking its role in school improvement is a key reason for its use at Thorpepark. This helps ensure that any CPD at the school is justified in terms of making a real impact upon teaching and learning.

If CPD is identified through performance management or appraisals, then staff attend CPD. When they go on the course, the record is updated and then they self-review against the course. This process tells the school whether the CPD was worthwhile and whether it is making an impact in the school.

This feedback – linking CPD to actual improvements in practice – can then influence future CPD planning decisions and help the school arrive at a point where all its CPD has an integral part to play in school improvement.

The school development plan provides the starting point for school improvement. Following a performance management objective-setting meeting, staff write their personal development plans and review their performance against the plan using the teaching standards which are built into the system.

Giving individual staff members the ability to input into the system in this way means that their individual efforts and achievements feed directly into the development plan. Everyone can see the part they play in moving the school forward.

Headteacher Simon Whitham is trying to move away from creating a feeling in staff of, 'it's that time again, let's go through that hoop'. He wants it to be a worthwhile system that enhances the school. Staff should not see CPD as having something done to them – it should make a proper contribution to job development.

Take a critic's view of CPD

Take a critic's view of professional development. Check whether a CPD opportunity is worth taking by asking hard questions, such as:

  • Will this CPD opportunity meet the development plan objectives of the school as well as my performance management needs?
  • How will it do this?
  • Might other CPD be more effective and offer better value for money?
  • Is there anyone in my school able to offer support before we invest money as well as time?

Ensure effective evaluation of CPD

Make sure that evaluation of a CPD event doesn't begin and end with the post-course feedback form. Try to find time to properly reflect on the training. Ask yourself:

  • What needs did it address?
  • Will the CPD help me meet my objectives?
  • What contribution will this make to school development plan objectives?

Remember to re-evaluate over a period of time; the greatest impact may come some time after the event.

Look for hard evidence of improvements

When it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of CPD, turn things on their head. Instead of starting with a specific CPD event and searching for any impact it may have had, begin with hard evidence of improvements in your professional practice. You might do this anyway, as part of your preparation for a performance management meeting. Then link this evidence back to any CPD activity you believe helped achieve these improvements.

All of this can be done on paper or in spreadsheets, but it can be time consuming. Ready-made online systems are available that will make this a much faster and more thorough process. These systems also automatically link CPD evidence to other aspects of school improvement, including development planning and performance management. This provides a rich, real-time 'big picture' of all school improvement processes – and it makes it easier to respond to information requests from Ofsted, governors and other stakeholders.


Use the following items in the toolkit to put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the author

Keith Wright is managing director of school improvement planning specialists Bluewave Education (

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