Does spending time and money on teacher training and professional development actually make a difference? Sara Bubb looks at the arguments for fresh and creative professional development for teachers, and getting value for money

CPD coordinators hold a key role – one that needs to be developed further in many schools and colleges. But the starting point must be to think more deeply about the development and training of staff – all staff – in schools and other organisations. As funds and responsibilities are progressively transferred to schools, they can be deployed in more varied and creative ways, leading to more responsive and reflective systems of CPD, and canny coordinators will find the best ways. They will develop their staff well and help schools retain the best staff.

The arguments for good, creative professional development are clear:

  • It helps everyone be more effective in their jobs, so pupils learn and behave better and achieve higher standards.
  • It improves retention and recruitment – word gets around about the places where you are looked after, and where you are not.
  • It contributes to a positive ethos where people feel valued and motivated.
  • It makes for a learning-centred community – the pupils are learning and so are the staff.
  • It is a professional responsibility and entitlement.
  • It saves money – the costs of recruiting and inducting a new teacher are high.

Speaking the same language
But first things first, what do you call staff development? There is a whole array of terms such as Inset, CPD, PD, training, courses… one might think that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But the words people use are an important issue in staff development because they can be inclusive or exclusive. Would premises managers or a midday supervisors consider themselves professionals? It’s unlikely; so they may think that ‘professional’ development is not for them but something that the teachers do.

Because of this, it may be better, instead of using the term ‘CPD’, to use ‘staff development’ or ‘training and development’ instead, because they can appear more inclusive of the whole school workforce, of whom teachers are now often in the minority. The word ‘staff’ is used rather than ‘professional’ to emphasise that it covers the whole school workforce, not just the teachers (the professionals), while the phrase ‘training and development’ can be used both as a catch-all and to distinguish between formal training and more holistic development.

An input or outcome?

A fundamental issue is whether CPD/staff development is seen as:

  • an input, something provided for staff; or
  • an outcome, people’s learning and development.

This is where a definition comes in handy so that everyone is speaking and understanding the same language. The TDA defines ‘continuing professional development’ as a ‘reflective activity designed to improve an individual’s attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills. It supports individual needs and improves professional practice’ (2007). I like the emphasis on reflection and that it’s not just about knowledge, understanding and skills but attributes too. Mind you, I’m not sure what is meant by ‘attributes’.

Peter Earley and I identified what ‘staff development’ means to us in our book Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development: Developing Teachers, Developing Schools:

‘An on-going process encompassing all formal and informal learning experiences that enable all staff in schools, individually and with others, to think about what they are doing, enhance their knowledge and skills and improve ways of working, so that pupil learning and wellbeing is enhanced as a result.’ (Bubb and Earley, 2007, p4)

This gets to the purpose of staff development. Is it a treat or reward – or a sanctioned skive? No, its purpose should be to encourage a commitment to professional and personal growth and to increase resilience, self-confidence, job satisfaction and enthusiasm for working with children and colleagues. So staff development is not something you do for people, it is an outcome of adult learning and growth, neither of which are easy or straightforward.

Adult learning

As a profession we’re pretty good at thinking how children learn in general and how specific individuals learn best, yet we tend to have a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to the grown-ups. But if you’re going to make the most of professional development opportunities, it is important to know how each adult learns best because there are many ways to achieve the same end. Individuals need to choose what works for them.

Dr Peter Honey and Alan Mumford (2006) identified four types of adult learners: theorists, pragmatists, activists and reflectors.

  • Theorists like to learn in structured situations where they’re offered interesting ideas and concepts, such as lectures, deep discussions, reading and thinking alone. They learn less when they have to participate in situations that emphasise emotions.
  • Pragmatists learn best when the topic is of obvious relevance and when shown something they can put into practice. They learn less well when there’s no practice or any guidelines as to how something is done.
  • Activists learn best when involved in new experiences, problem-solving, team tasks and role play. They learn less well when listening to lectures or long explanations; reading, writing, or thinking on their own; absorbing data; or following instructions to the letter.
  • Reflectors like time to think about the subject, such as through lectures with plenty of reflection time; observation; and keeping a learning log/journal to review what has happened. They learn less when role playing, being thrown in at the deep end or worried by deadlines.

Such an approach makes it easier to appreciate why some activities work well with one group and not with another. CPD coordinators may find that, rather than suggesting what would work well in general, they need to help people pinpoint their learning preferences so that they’re in a better position to select learning experiences that suit them.

Bringing about improvement

Too often, people engage in activities but change does not take place. Experts on managing change in organisations say   vision, skills, incentives, resources and action plans are vital to make change happen. This works for staff in school too; if any one of those five things is missing, they’ll find it hard to develop. Take the example of Madeleine, who has poor behaviour in group time. The chatting and mucking about are getting her down and she needs to force change so she needs:

  • vision – knowing how she wants her group to behave
  • skills – behaviour management skills
  • incentives – people have complained about the noise the form makes
  • resources – such as advice from colleagues; observation of other group sessions; reading articles; and time to think through what she’s going to do
  • action plan – a plan of what she’s going to do and when.

If she doesn’t have a vision of how she wants the children to behave, she won’t develop because she doesn’t know what her boundaries for behaviour are in this less formal time. Without the skills to improve behaviour, such as rewards and sanctions, she’ll get anxious and feel inadequate. If there are no incentives, like people complaining or someone observing her, she may develop but not as quickly. She’ll get frustrated if there are no resources, such as advice from colleagues, books to read, observation of other people’s group classes, or time to think through what she’s going to do. Without an action plan, written or mental, she may not get round to improving things consistently.

Traditionally, we think that people’s attitudes and beliefs have to change first, leading to change in practice, resulting in change in pupils’ learning. Tom Guskey believes that the more typical order of change is practice is first, student learning second, and attitudes and beliefs last. This is because it is experience that shapes attitudes and beliefs; it’s not the other way around.

It is also important to be clear what improvements are needed and why. Imagine your school wants to improve boys’ literacy levels. There will be people whose development is crucial, some who will have little need for any development in this area and others who have strengths that can be used to support others. It is essential to have a clear baseline picture of where people are by getting them to think of a scale from 0 to 10 (fab) and consider how they would grade themselves. You need to ask those opting for a grade 5 what they are doing that is already fairly good in this area. Then ask them what would things look like if they were at grade 6 or even 7.

Guskey (2002) identifies five levels of staff development in his evaluation model, with improved pupil outcomes being the desired end result:

1. Participants’ reactions.
2. Participants’ learning.
3. Organisation support and change – the key role that the school can play in supporting or sabotaging any development.
4. Participants’ use of new knowledge and skills.
5. Pupil learning outcomes.

I’ve adapted this idea to seven levels of impact to put to staff:

1. How you felt about the activity while doing it.
2. Whether you learned or improved something.
3. What organisational support is needed.
4. Whether you do something as a result.
5. Whether this has an impact on pupils.
6. Whether this has an impact on other staff, and, in turn, their pupils.
7. Whether this has an impact on staff and pupils in other schools.

Reversing these levels can be useful at the planning stage to identify necessary improvements and why they are needed. Staff could ask: ‘What improvements in pupils do I want and how will I know when they’re achieved?’ and then ask: ‘If that’s the impact I want, what needs to change?’

Range of activities
There’s a range of opportunities that help people learn with, from and on behalf of each other. Certainly, the more say that people have over their experiences, the more likely they are to consider them effective. Activities that help development can be categorised into four overlapping groups:

  • Individual – thinking; reading books, periodicals and the educational press; self study; watching programmes including those on Teachers TV; keeping a learning log or reflective diary.
  • Within school – talking to other staff (peers and those with expertise); coaching/mentoring; training days; staff/team meetings; being observed; discussing a lesson; observing someone (a teacher, an assistant, a football coach, a learning mentor, anyone) teach; collaborative planning; team teaching; listening to pupils’ views; observing some learners; seeing the world through the eyes of a pupil; action research groups; trying things out and doing things differently; taking on a new role; training others.
  • Cross-school networks – using formal and informal networks; visiting other schools, similar to or different from yours; reading and talking to others in the TES online staffroom; working with people, such as ASTs, from other schools; using networks of local schools or ones set up for a specific project; training people from other schools.
  • External – attending one-day events; courses leading to a qualification or status (eg foundation degrees, MAs, NVQs); gifted and talented networks; conferences; working with or seeking advice from consultants, local authorities, universities, government agencies or subject associations.

Perhaps the most successful activities are programmes that involve all of them.

Schools are good at celebrating children’s successful learning and successes but do they make a fuss of staff achievements? By and large, it could be better. Some schools and local authorities have awards ceremonies when new teachers pass their induction year. Gaining a special status such as higher level teaching assistant or chartered London teacher (CLT) is also cause for celebration – and working towards these milestones is a conduit and driver for sharing learning.


  • Bubb, S and Earley, P (2007, second edition) Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development: Developing Teachers, Developing Schools. London: Sage.
  • Guskey, T (2002) ‘Does it make a difference? Evaluating professional development’, Educational Leadership, March, pp45-51.
  • Honey, P and Mumford, A (2006) The Learning Styles Questionnaire. Maidenhead: Peter Honey Publications.
  • TDA(2007) Continuing Professional Development: A Strategy for Teachers. London: TDA.

Sara Bubb is an author, CPD specialist and part-time senior lecturer at the Institute of Education