What CPD needs will a teacher have throughout the six distinct stages of their career? This article offers research summaries on the subject

The quality of teaching is determined not just by the ‘quality’ of the teachers – although that is clearly critical – but also by the environment in which they work. Able teachers are not necessarily going to reach their potential in settings that do not provide appropriate support or sufficient challenge and reward. Policies aimed at attracting and retaining effective teachers need both to recruit competent people into the profession, and also to provide support and incentives for professional development and ongoing performance at high levels.

(OECD 2005:19)

There are few who would argue that CPD is not necessary if teachers are to broaden and deepen their repertoires of knowledge and skills; build their capacity to manage the inevitable changes in the curriculum, society and the conditions of work which will occur over their careers; and, perhaps most important, refresh and renew their motivation, commitment and resilience so that they will not only be willing, but also able to teach at their best.

There are few, also, who would disagree that most CPD should be embedded in schools, that it should meet the needs of national and local policy initiatives, school and department-identified needs and alongside these, the needs of the individual teacher.

So far, so good. Well, perhaps not so good, because here the realities of context begin to muddy the consensus. We know, for example, that not all schools are the kinds of ‘learning communities’ that have CPD at the heart of their development planning. We know, also, that the range of CPD experienced by most teachers is narrow relative to the possibilities and that systematic evaluation of its impact on teachers’ thinking and practice is rare (Goodall et al, 2005). Finally, we know that, despite much investment over the years, there is not enough research-informed knowledge about how CPD may be aligned with variations in teachers’ work, lives and effectiveness.

This piece will use selected findings from a recently completed four-year mixed-methods study of the variations in work, lives and effectiveness of 300 teachers in 100 primary and secondary schools in England. The Vitae project found associations between teacher commitment and effectiveness and that these were influenced by teachers’ professional life phases, sense of professional identity and personal, work and broader policy contexts.

For the purpose of this update, I will highlight five research messages and their implications about teachers’ work, lives and effectiveness and their implications for CPD, which, to date, have been generally unacknowledged. Each of the findings is accompanied by a ‘message’ and each ‘message’ by its implications for CPD.

Professional life phase

The understanding of teachers’ professional life progression requires a consideration of factors not only within the organisational settings but also of how these factors interact with, and are managed by, organisations and teachers in conjunction with factors arising from their personal life progression.

Teachers’ professional life phases are dynamic in nature. The interaction between a range of influencing factors in their work and personal contexts is a sophisticated and continuous process. It impacts differentially on teachers’ perceived effectiveness within and across the various phases of their professional lives, and needs to be managed.

The Vitae project found that teachers’ work and life spanned six professional life phases and that, within each of these, there were sub-groups who were experiencing positive or negative commitment trajectories (see below).

Professional life phases

Professional life phase 0-3 years in teaching: commitment, support and challenge Sub-groups: a) developing sense of efficacy (60%) or

b) reducing sense of efficacy (40%).

Professional life phase 4-7 years: Identity and efficacy in classroom
Sub-groups: a) sustaining a strong sense of identity, self-efficacy and effectiveness (49%)or b) sustaining identity, efficacy and effectiveness (31%) or c) identity, efficacy and effectiveness

at risk (20%).

Professional life phase 8-15 years: Managing changes in role and identity: growing tensions and transitions Sub-groups: a) sustained engagement (76%) or

b) detachment/loss of motivation (24%).

Professional life phase 16-23 years: Work-life tension, challenges to motivation and commitment
Sub-groups: a) further career advancement and good results have led to increased motivation/commitment (52%) or b) sustained motivation, commitment and effectiveness (34%) or

c) workload/managing competing tension/career stagnation have led to decreased motivation, commitment and effectiveness (14%).

Professional life phase 24-30 years: Challenges to sustaining motivation
Sub-groups: a) sustained a strong sense of motivation and commitment (54%) or

b) holding on but losing motivation (46%).

Professional life phase 31+ years: Sustaining/declining motivation, ability to cope with change, looking to retire
Sub-groups: a) maintaining commitment (64%) or

b) tired and trapped (36%).

Key message 1

Teachers do not necessarily become more effective with experience. There are generic and experience-related influences which affect teachers’ sense of effectiveness across all phases:

a) personal life experiences/events
b) school (roles and responsibilities, classroom settings, leadership and colleagues)
c) pupils (relationships and behaviour)
d) professional values
e) policies.

Implications for CPD
Recognising the impact of these influences in particular professional life phases and providing informal and formal targeted support are key means of building and sustaining teacher commitment and effectiveness.

The middle years of experience (8-15)

This phase marks a key commitment watershed in teachers’ professional development. The majority of teachers in Vitae were struggling with work-life tensions, which were often associated with changes in the dynamics of personal and family lives. Moreover, most of these teachers (79%) had additional responsibilities at work and had to place more focus upon their management roles. Heavy workloads associated with these worked against the effectiveness of their classroom teaching.

Sub-group a) contained teachers with sustained engagement whose expected trajectories were career advancement with growing self-confidence and commitment. Combined support from leadership, staff collegiality, rapport with the pupils and CPD were key contributing factors to this sub-group’s positive sense of effectiveness.

Around half of the teachers in sub-group b), however, reported a lack of support from leadership (50%) and colleagues (60%) and were dealing with adverse personal or workplace events which created tensions between work and life.

This group is particularly important because of the choices some teachers are making in career terms, others in terms of work-life management, perhaps in relation to family responsibilities or health. There is a real sense of a watershed, too, in relation to decisions about whether to sustain the intensive work rate in and out of school which teaching at one’s best requires. The message here, then, and its implications for CPD are as follows.

Key message 2
Many teachers in the 8-15 years phase of their career are facing increasing work-life management tensions which are likely to increase in the years ahead and may adversely affect their commitment and effectiveness.

Implications for CPD
CPD needs to be targeted at teachers in this professional life phase, with particular focus upon sustaining commitment and quality in the context of the management of the more complex roles which many are now taking in their work and lives.

The later years (24+): challenges to commitment, resilience and effectiveness

Vitae found that a higher proportion of teachers in later years, though still a minority, were at risk of becoming less effective. Teachers in this cohort were facing more intensive challenges to sustaining their motivation in the profession. Deteriorating pupil behaviour, the impact of personal life events, resentment at ‘being forced to jump through hoops by a constant stream of new initiatives’, taking stock of their careers (and lives) and length of service in the school, continuing tensions between fulfilling leadership or management roles outside the classroom and the demands of classroom teaching were key influences on the perceptions of effectiveness of teachers in this cohort.

Pupils’ progress and positive teacher-pupil relationships were the main source of job satisfaction for those teachers maintaining their commitment. Supportive school cultures were of crucial importance to teachers’ sense of effectiveness across all six professional life phases, but for teachers in this professional life phase, in-school support played a major part in their continued engagement in the profession. These teachers have a particular claim on CPD that provides opportunities for reflection and renewed commitment to their work.

The 24-30 year group, a large cohort among the national spread of teachers, is of particular interest here and Table 1 (below) shows that relatively more of these, still with many years of teaching remaining, are at risk of declining commitment and effectiveness.

Table 1 24-30 years 31+ years
Maintaining commitment 54% 64%
Losing commitment 46% 36%

Key message 3
Age and experience alone do not contribute to teachers’ effectiveness. The majority of teachers maintain their effectiveness but teachers do not necessarily become more effective over time. Although most remain effective, teachers in later years are at greater risk of becoming less effective, particular those with 24-30 years of experience.

Implications for CPD
Learning and development programmes should target teachers with 24+ years’ experience.

The socio-economic factor

Teachers who work in schools in challenging circumstances face persistent challenges of managing pupil behaviour and maintaining health which those in more advantaged schools do not. Table 2 below provides clear evidence of these differences. Each box represents the percentage of teachers who spoke, positively (+) and negatively (-) in their interviews about these issues in relatively advantaged schools (free school meals bands 1 and 2) and in relatively disadvantaged school meals (free school meals bands 3 and 4).

Table 2 Primary Secondary

FSM 1&2

FSM 3&4 FSM 1&2 FSM 3&4
Professional factors Workload 72 (+) 43 (-) 52 (+) 50 (-)
Policies 76 (-) 90 (-) 65 (-) 67 (-)
Situated factors and colleagues Support from leadership 88 (+) 77(+)

64 (+)

24 (mixed)

12 (-)

32 (+)

10 (mixed)

58 (-)

Pupil behaviour 11 (-) 45 (-) 24 (-) 74 (-)
Personal factors
Ill health 25 (-) 37 (-) 42 (-) 63 (-)
Values 75 (+) 63 (+) 67 (+) 59 (+)

While almost all teachers referred to deteriorating pupil behaviour and the impact of central government initiatives on workload and class composition, it was those in schools in areas of social and economic deprivation who referred to these more frequently and to associated problems of demoralisation, failing energy and ill health.

Teachers in these schools, particularly secondary teachers, seem to face not one or two, but a combination of challenges each day of their working lives. It is the extent to which the combination of challenges can be ameliorated by other intrinsic and extrinsic support that determines whether teachers are able to survive and, even within difficult circumstances, flourish. In these schools the quality of leadership is a particularly important mediating influence.

Key message 4
There are specific influences that affect teachers’ effectiveness in different sectors and in schools in different socio-economic contexts.

Implications for CPD
Learning and development programmes should differentiate between the needs of:

a) teachers in primary and secondary schools
b) teachers in schools of different kinds of socio-economic contexts
c) teachers who are at vulnerable points in their personal and professional life phases.

The leadership factor

The most recent research, internationally, has acknowledged that leadership is a key influencing factor in teachers’ efficacy, commitment and effectiveness (Day and Leithwood, 2007). The Vitae research also found that leadership by headteachers and colleagues was a key mediating factor in building and supporting teachers’ capacity for effectiveness. It has important positive or significant negative effects upon their motivation and commitment. Two broad groups of teachers were identified in Vitae:

a) Teachers who had sustained commitment (74%). Within the group were those who had sustained commitment despite working in schools in challenging circumstances
b) Teachers whose commitment was declining (26%).

These broad groupings (see box above for details) illustrate how, for many teachers, sustaining commitment and effectiveness in the various phases of their professional lives is likely to be mediated positively or negatively by the effects of national policies, the quality of leadership, pupil behaviour, relationships with pupils and peers and personal support.

Key message 5
Creating positive work conditions, meeting teachers’ professional and personal needs and minimising teacher burnout are key to encouraging teachers’ resilience, promoting teacher wellbeing and positive professional life trajectories, improving the conditions for teachers’ effectiveness in relation to pupils’ performance and, ultimately, school improvement. They are key tasks for school leaders.

Implications for CPD
CPD should focus on developing leadership for learning communities if professional development is to become an embedded part of teacher and schools’ responsibilities and accountabilities for raising standards.

Teachers with sustained commitment and declining commitment comment on the factors affecting them

Group a: Sustained commitment
The combination of factors mentioned most frequently by teachers as contributing to their sustained commitment were:

‘It’s good to know that we have strong leadership with a clear vision for the school.’

‘We have such a supportive team here. Everyone works together and we have a common goal to work towards.’

‘It helps having a supportive family which doesn’t get frustrated when I’m sat working on a Sunday afternoon and they want to go to the park.’

Teachers in this group were enthusiastic about their work and confident in their ability to make a positive difference in the learning and achievement of their pupils.

Group b: Declining commitment

A total of 81 (26%) teachers were in this group. Those who were considering leaving the teaching profession for a new career were either looking for promotion out of the classroom (eg to advisory roles) or, having suffered health problems connected to the stress of teaching, were seeking different kinds of work.

The combination of pressures identified most frequently in the comments over three years by teachers as challenging their sustained commitment were:

‘It never stops, there’s always something more to do and it eats away at your life until you have no social life and no time for anything but work.’

‘Over the years, pupils have got worse. They have no respect for themselves or the teachers.’

‘Pupil behaviour is one of the biggest problems in schools today. They know their rights and there’s nothing you can do.’

‘Unless the leadership supports the staff, you’re on your own. They need to be visible and need to appreciate what teachers are doing.’


It is clear that teachers who are in different professional life phases, in different schools and experiencing different working conditions will not have the same needs, and that in each of these circumstances there will be those whose commitment and capacity for effectiveness will be in danger of being compromised. This may apply especially to those in the middle and later years and those who work in schools in challenging circumstances.

It is equally clear that the ‘commitment and effectiveness’ needs of these groups of teachers will be met best through interaction with leaders in schools who have a close knowledge of staff, who engage in high levels of interaction, who nurture trust and respect and who themselves are committed to lifelong learning.


  • Day C, Sammons P, Stobart G, Kington A and Gu G (2007) Teachers Matter: Connecting Lives, Work and Effectiveness. Maidenhead, Open University Press.
  • Goodall J, Day C, Lindsay G, Muijs D and Harris A (2005) Evaluating the Impact of Continuing Professional Development. Research report 659, London: DfES.
  • OECD (2005) Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers. Paris: OECD.

Christopher Day, University of Nottingham