What is the most effective form of CPD? What effect will workforce remodelling and the new Master’s have? Nansi Ellis of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers gives her views

The Children’s Plan, which details the government’s ambition to make this the best place in the world for our children and young people to grow up, offers a vision of a learning workforce: ‘The best teachers constantly seek to improve and develop their skills and subject knowledge.’ The aim is to make teaching a Master’s-level profession, offering a contractual entitlement to CPD and opportunities to engage in collaborative CPD that focuses on classroom practice.

Unfortunately, teachers often find the CPD on offer rather meaningless, perhaps because it is seen as a ‘pick and mix’ of courses, because it is about meeting legislative requirements rather than professional needs and interests or because it is about trying to deliver someone else’s ‘best practice’ in your own situation.

C is for continuing
Teachers could be forgiven for believing sometimes that the C in CPD stands for courses, and particularly those courses which give the ‘correct’ teaching method. For too long, teachers who identify a need (or have one identified for them) have been sent on courses. There are many training courses available, some run by ATL and the other unions, others through universities, local authorities, the National Strategies and commercial organisations. As a CPD leader, your role has often been to identify ‘good’ courses. But even the best are only effective if the learning continues back at school.

And that means opportunities within and between schools for reflection on practice, observation of others (whether to support their practice or to improve your own) within a context of wider knowledge about curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and pupils; a context that can only be nurtured by further academic study. In a climate of increased multi-agency working, it may also mean discussion and learning with other practitioners.

ATL’s joint literature review with the GTCE confirmed that collaboration is among the most effective types of CPD. But collaboration takes time, and this is where workforce remodelling must come to the fore. Remodelling is not only about reducing workload but about raising standards, and the sure way to do that is to prioritise real collaborative professional learning.

P is for professional
Teaching is both intellectual and practical. ATL believes that professionalism implies a responsibility to the continued development of practical knowledge through reflection and interaction to review the nature and effectiveness of practice, and to continue to increase understanding of the purposes and content of education, individually and collectively. Teachers should be equipped and empowered, starting from a deep understanding of the purposes of education and the circumstances of the taught, to lead a debate within their schools about curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. In the same way that learning has become increasingly focused on attainment, too much of teachers’ professional development is actually about performing.

As professionals, teachers should be aware of the impact of any development on their practice. This is easier said than done. While reflection and discussion may offer insights into how practice has changed following a development opportunity, it is much more difficult to link changes in pupils’ learning or attainment to a change in a teacher’s knowledge or methods. But CPD leaders have a role to play in evaluating effectiveness to ensure that professional development makes a difference to pupils.

D is for development
It may sometimes feel in education as if D stands for delivery. Everything, from learning to attainment to wellbeing has to be delivered, with teachers trained to deliver the agenda of others. But learning is about development – building on interests, meeting needs, taking learners deeper and broader in knowledge and practice. Development opportunities don’t arise on five specified days of the year, or a few days on courses. Instead, they arise every day within classrooms and in discussions with other professionals. CPD leaders need to find ways of identifying these opportunities and working with them, making links between professionals who can support each other, finding experts to add further dimensions to learning.

It is important that CPD sits at the heart of the new performance management framework. This means that, for the first time, teachers and their managers must agree a CPD programme for the year which relates to the teachers’ individual needs and objectives. To make it a reality, teachers’ contracts should confer the right to access professional development and a duty to participate. CPD must balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the school and the direction set by government. CPD leaders have a role to play, working within the senior leadership team, to manage this balance.

One immediate change to CPD will be the introduction from 2009 of the Master’s in Teaching and Learning. This will have a profound impact on development for teachers in their first few years of teaching.

All of this requires a change in thinking for many teachers. Forthcoming research from ATL shows that most teachers continue to hold a traditional view of CPD as constituting courses, conferences and Inset days, and that most CPD is determined by national priorities and initiatives linked to the government’s standards agenda. There is much to be done to challenge and change this culture, to ensure teachers are agents and not victims of professional development, and to create the conditions to build a learning culture in schools.

Professional development should be part and parcel of the daily life of a school, with all members of staff committed to deepening knowledge, widening practice and leading debate about the purposes of education.

This means development opportunities personalised to the needs and interests of staff, offered in communities of learning within and between schools. It means using all the resources available to schools to support CPD, including union learning reps. It means performance management used as a supportive development tool, peer observation used for development and not mindless monitoring, and a rethink of the five Inset days to find better ways of enabling real continuing professional development.

In short, it means developing schools, as learning communities, in which all learning is valued.

Nansi Ellis is head of education policy and research at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers