Sunday, 29 June 2014

What do we know about effective CPD for teachers and lecturers?

Recent posts have focussed on PRAs and feedback, given that PRAs often lead to the production of a Continuous Professional Development development plan, it seems reasonable to review what we know about effective CPD for teachers and lecturers.

Fullan (2014) argues that facilitating  the on-going professional development of teachers is a central task of the leadership of any educational organisation.  However, this task is not without its challenges, and as Cole (2004) argues in his article “ Professional Development : A Great Way to Avoid Change,” much of professional development is often ineffective, with people going to workshops and road-shows, hearing about new developments or approaches but then  afterwards rarely implementing anything of worth. Furthermore, Timperley et al (2007) who reviewed 72 studies on the impact of professional development on student outcomes found  little evidence to support the view that providing teachers with the time, space and resources so that they can autonomously pursue Continuing Professional Development opportunities has any discernible impact on student outcomes.  

Timperley et al go on to identify seven effective contexts for promoting teacher professional development which impacted on a range of student outcomes:

…. providing sufficient time for extended opportunities to learn and using the time effectively; engaging external expertise; focusing on engaging teachers in the learning process rather than being concerned about whether they volunteered or not; challenging problematic discourses; providing opportunities to interact in a community of professions; ensuring content was consistent with wider policy trends: and, in school-based initiatives having leaders actively leading the professional development opportunities. page xxvi

The implications of the above for practitioner is best summarised by Coe (2013)  who argues that the kind of CPD that best helps teachers should be:

Intense: at least 15 contact hours, preferably 50
Sustained: over at least two terms
Content focused: on teachers’ knowledge of subject content & how students learn it
Active: opportunities to try it out & discuss
Supported: external feedback and networks to improve and sustain
Evidence based: promotes strategies supported by robust evaluation evidence  (Coe 2013 p xiv)

Coe argues that for many teachers and lecturers this type of professional learning opportunity is not the norm.  Indeed, there maybe a prevailing culture with  the  current leadership and management cadre within schools and colleges which may find such an approach inconsistent with prevailing models of accountability and performativity.   Coe quite rightly argues that professional learning is  hard work and that we should keep a focus on evaluation and the impact upon the learning outcomes  for pupils and learners.
So what does this mean for leaders and managers within the further education sector.

There is clearly a tension between what is best practice and some of the more prevalent forms of CPD within the sector.  CPD programmes more often that not involve doing the wrong things right than doing the right thing well, if at all. 

Undertaking the type of CPD advocated in this post is not a quick fix and requires substantive investment in developing both individual managers and lecturers capacity and capability to undertake and support this 'intense' type of CPD.

To make the most of this type of CPD active and participative partnerships are required between further education and higher education colleges to bring together the different types of expertise necessary to make this type of CPD work.


Coe, R (2013) Improving Education : A triumph of hope over experience,  Inaugural Lecture, University of Durham.

Cole, P (2004), Professional development : A great way to avoid change. Seminar Series No 140, Melbourne Centre for Strategic Education, IARTV

Fullan, M (2014), The Principal : Three keys to maximizing impact, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H. and Fung. I. (2007) Teacher  Professional Learning and Development : Best evidence synthesis Iteration,. New Zealand Ministry of Education.

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