Free article: Getting personal with CPD

Published: Monday, 09 December 2013

Less than a fifth of teachers in England’s schools think their continuing profession development (CPD) is any good, according to a recent survey. One of the keys to unlocking the power of CPD is to make it much more personal, says Keith Wright.


  • Taking into account feedback from staff on their training needs is crucial for effective CPD.
  • Only 17 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary teachers in the 600 schools surveyed said the training they received was always or mostly of good quality.
  • CPD should relate to school improvement planning and link to the school development plan, and also to the member of staff’s training requirements.
  • Staff should be required to evaluate the effectiveness of training and how it has helped them in their role.

The innovation research and investment body Nesta made an interesting comment last year about the use of classroom technology. It said that ICT was often unsuccessfully applied to twentieth-century teaching methods.

There’s a very strong parallel in schools today with CPD. The face of training and professional development is changing, with initiatives like School Direct placing the responsibility for CPD firmly on the shoulders of schools, yet the culture and systems many schools have for managing and tracking this on a school-wide and individual level is distinctly old fashioned in its approach.

The vast majority of schools in England and Wales today – around 85 per cent – simply do not have the means to track and manage processes like staff CPD and performance management in ways that fully take into account the needs and feedback of staff.

CPD today lacks a personal element. This can sometimes be characterised as something that is ‘done’ to an individual, who goes away and completes the training and fills in a feedback form while the training is still fresh in their mind. Their line manager will log the fact that the training has happened in their training record – that is, assuming they know that the member of staff actually attended the activity. The individual will not always be encouraged to record in detail what impact a professional development activity has had on their career development, or if they have been able to apply it in their day-to-day role.

If schools are to support the development of their staff effectively, they need to move away from imposing CPD on staff and support individuals to identify and act upon their specific professional development needs and play a direct, effective role in driving the school forward.

There is evidence that professional development is failing to meet the expectations of teachers. In a May 2013 survey by BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) it was revealed that only 17 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary teachers in the 600 schools surveyed said the training they received was always or mostly of good quality.

There might be a number of reasons why not enough priority is currently being given to identifying the most appropriate CPD for individual and school needs. It might be due to a lack of meaningful articulation of needs by the individual and the school, a lack of context for evaluation and impact, unrealistic expectations associated with impact of CPD, or a lack of consistency around the value and nature of CPD.

So, how can we overcome these barriers and ensure that teacher CPD becomes personalised to the career development needs of the individual and related directly to individual and whole-school improvement?

A couple of well-chosen questions can be an excellent starting point. Ask your colleagues if they know how their own CPD directly relates to school improvement. I doubt they all do, and the further you are from the head-teacher’s ‘vision’ for the school the less connection or relevance you will see.

The next question to ask is, if an individual cannot explain or demonstrate how their own CPD relates not only to school development planning but to their own wider development, why are they doing it?

They should be forgiven if they are not able to explain either of the first two points, but the answers will help to start a review of your CPD strategy.

While the pinnacle of successful CPD is an evidence base of positive impact, the foundation stone is the identification of what we need to do and what success
or impact will look like.

The identification and analysis of individual professional development should be given far greater importance than it currently is. Quite simply, this means asking more questions of ourselves and our peers about what we need to do to make progress.

Perhaps more problematic is how to provide the evidence of impact. In many schools, colleagues are asked (in relation to a past CPD activity) ‘What has been the impact?’ To expect a colleague to assess the impact of a CPD activity three or six months after it has happened is unrealistic – the question is simply too big.

It would be more realistic to look first at the impact and then link this back to the most relevant CPD event. Doing this as part of normal, regular reflection and self-review enables you to build up a rich picture of the effectiveness of each CPD activity. This grass roots recording of experience and evidence helps the school leader track which CPD activities result in tangible changes in the practice of colleagues and therefore contribute to school improvement – and which do not. The process has a similar benefit for the individual – knowing how CPD links to impact gives them a platform to influence what CPD they do in the future.

An example of this approach and its benefits to both school and individual might be when a decision is made by a senior leader to send a colleague on leadership training for how to manage teams.

The individual will attend the training and then evaluate it. They will say how good it was, how effective they think it will be, what they will do differently as a result of receiving the training and from where they expect to draw evidence of its effectiveness.

At a later point, that individual might be working on the school development plan. One priority area of the plan might be to improve leadership and management. They might write in the plan that they have recently introduced a series of peer-led management meetings across the school which have enabled a much greater shared responsibility of leadership of the school. In other words, they are describing impact or changes.

They should then ask whether any of the CPD that has been delivered previously has been relevant to these changes. By associating this impact or change in practice with a CPD activity, you establish a clear relationship between the CPD and a tangible piece of school improvement. A clear, evidence-based picture is built up of the great value and impact of that particular piece of CPD. This gives you and your colleagues a strong guide as to what CPD works in your school context.

For the individual, this approach to evaluation gives them a real stake in the process. It makes it easier for them to provide evidence of the impact of their CPD and also means that future CPD will be informed by them because an explicit link is made between CPD and the impact it has on school improvement.


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

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 November 2013 issue of School Inspection + Improvement Magazine.

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