Establishing partnered, networked, or collaborative CPD provision is not always easy, and it can be expensive – but CPD Update gives some tips for success.

There is considerable pressure and encouragement now to engage in CPD on the basis of collaboration, networks and partnerships. CPD Update has reported the work being undertaken by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) on behalf of the TDA and the Networked Learning Group of the NCSL to look at how CPD can be led in networked contexts. We have also talked about the requirement for HEIs to work collaboratively in their provision of accredited CPD (now known as postgraduate professional development or PPD). But establishing agreement with partners about collaborative CPD is not always straightforward.

Partnerships and consortia in CPD are:

  • – not always easy to establish, particularly formal ones
  • – sometimes expensive because they need infrastructure
  • – often ephemeral because they may be formed to meet an unforeseen need that lasts only a short time.

As the funding for networked learning communities comes to an end it is possible that we may, therefore, have a mixed economy that includes some formal and semi-formal arrangements. There will be a variety of ways in which providers of CPD, including schools and teachers themselves, respond to assorted professional needs some of which might arise outside of a consortium or partnership. The process of listening to each other and making decisions about how people and schools work together will, however, be crucial. Really there is nothing very new in this but it is still useful to look at how to set about establishing partnered, networked or collaborative CPD provision. The choice of name is less important.

There are a number of common factors that affect all participants in this business. One of the most prominent is the requirement to show the impact of CPD. So, working out how we set about obtaining and examining evidence for impact will be important. And it will also be important to avoid the trap of only looking for evidence that matches pre-conceived or pre-ordained notions of what we should be achieving. The CPD of teachers and related professionals should be more interesting and useful than that.

Remember that, increasingly, the term CPD leader is replacing CPD coordinator. A coordinator might be expected to merely count the courses and ensure that the priorities of the school, as derived from the targets set by government, are being addressed. A leader, on the other hand, might be expected to develop a vision for CPD and, in this case, pursue an understanding of professional learning in collaboration with others.


We have lost various earmarked CPD funds including those for sabbaticals, Best Practice Research Scholarships and Early Professional Development.

In return, we have a series of programmes and strategies that create opportunity for collaborative CPD. They include the following:

  • NPQH
  • Leading from the Middle
  • LPSH
  • Key Stage Three Strategy (now Secondary)
  • Teacher Learning Academy (still being piloted but including role of verifier)
  • primary strategy
  • workforce re-modelling
  • the extended school
  • the SEF.

There are major issues concerning:

  • adequate funding and dedicated time
  • embedding a positive CPD culture (capacity building)
  • the articulation of impact as a concept rich in meaning rather than a killer concept concentrated only on simple targets.

It is, therefore, important to consider:

  • working in a variety of partnerships and consortia
  • working in ways that allow for a variety of professional learning opportunities and modes of assessment
  • collaborative evaluation of the impact of CPD policies.

Principles underpinning CPD partnerships, networks and consortia

We can take the view that we might achieve commonality but must avoid uniformity: that we should not attempt a one-size-fits-all, off-the-peg template for partnerships or consortia. The variety of schools and contexts in which they operate should warn us about this and, in fact, the present networked learning communities reflect this diversity. Nevertheless, it should be possible to establish some sort of framework of principles for partnered working inside which it is possible to be flexible.

In order to think about and discuss possible principles we have set out a series of questions about what we think might be key decisions that have to be taken in order to establish partnerships/consortia. In order to get discussion going we have also provided possible responses to the questions. Our purpose is to encourage readers to respond with their own opinions, arguments, concerns and ideas. The words in italics are a further device to stimulate or prompt response.


Now for some responses. We are aware of many partnered CPD arrangements throughout the country. The balance of membership is always weighted in favour of schools but also includes LEAs and HEIs. Increasingly we can expect to see more inter-agency relationships. We hope that the above discussion has encouraged you to tell us of your own experience of collaborative or partnered CPD. It is unlikely to have been a complete record of unbroken success. The more important question, however, is: what are you learning from it?

Q 1. What should be the purposes and key concerns of a CPD partnership, network or consortium?

A. A CPD partnership or consortium should focus upon the following.

  • Supporting, recognising, recording and acknowledging the continuing professional development of teachers and related professionals. There are still examples of teachers and others pursuing their own professional development as though their work was disconnected and isolated from colleagues. I am not suggesting that individuals do not have the right to develop a personal professional agenda but rather that it is important that they do not develop a feeling of not being valued.
  • Supporting school-based provision, leadership, management and ownership of CPD. There are times when it is entirely appropriate to go to or bring in an expert, to read theory or to sit in a lecture. But the importance of collaborative CPD is that it should also bring to the surface the voice of the professional. If you put a group of schools together it is highly likely that an audit of the experience and expertise of their combined personnel will reveal chief examiners, chief moderators, colleagues undertaking action research and lots more. Not only are these people a resource for each other; they are also a powerful professional voice. They must be listened to. It will not be good enough simply to tell them what CPD they will be given.
  • Enabling all members and participants to demonstrate the quality, value for money and impact of their plans for CPD. The emergence of the Ofsted self-evaluation Form (SEF) has provided an opportunity to make full use of CPD. I fail to see how an individual school that is part of a professional learning community, whether it be called a network, a consortium or a partnership, will be able to complete an SEF in isolation. If the CPD crosses the boundaries of individual partners then so will the evaluation of its impact.
  • Giving meaning to school effectiveness, change and improvement. There have been times when academics, writing books on these concepts, may have thought that they decided their meanings. But they have, for some years now, been owned by government and its agents, so much so that the phrase ‘management of change’ has come to mean implementation of government policy. It is highly likely, however, that professionals working together, being well supported, gaining confidence, will develop their own meanings of such concepts.
  • Encouraging CPD that is fair, positive and inclusive. This is likely to be a considerable issue for the extended school. Imagine a situation in which different staff members become excluded from collective CPD events simply because the budget does not cover them. Schools that have become Investors in People should have experience of dealing with this issue.
  • Discovering new professional knowledge. This is not as simple as it sounds. It involves a systematic and sustained approach to professional development and the application of serious methods for testing evidence.
  • Taking part in the development of new professionals. What price the professional learning environment that does nothing to help produce and encourage new entrants to the professions that provide education?

Q 2. What should be the scope of a CPD partnership or consortium?

A. A CPD partnership or consortium should:

  • ngage with all professionals and institutions working in the education enterprise. The children agenda, the remodelled workforce and the extended school all point this way.

Q 3. Should a CPD partnership or consortium seek to approve the CPD plans of schools?

A. The act of joining or establishing a CPD partnership or consortium implies a commitment by all parties to its purposes/concerns/values and a mutual interest in continuous improvement. CPD partnerships and consortia should, therefore:

  • provide opportunity for all members/stakeholders to build joint understanding of the appropriateness of CPD plans, their delivery, modes of professional learning, modes of assessment and modes of evaluation for impact. This, however, is not the same as being required to submit a CPD plan or policy for approval.

Q 4. How will CPD partnerships and consortia establish and maintain links between members and beneficiaries of the service it offers?

A. All CPD partnerships or consortia should have a clear and resilient structure, a lack of confusion concerning the functions of its component parts and a shared understanding of its processes. This means that:

  • key players in the partnership/consortium/network should have a clear idea of how they relate to one another
  • all participants need to be clear about who does what
  • it will be useful to have a code of practice or memorandum of understanding designed to fulfil the purpose of the partnership/ consortium/network
  • staff development leaders/coordinators will become part of a community that will play a key role in relation to CPD, its accreditation and its links with the GTCE’s Teacher Learning Academy, with programmes from the National College for School Leadership, with DfES initiatives such as the Key Stage Three (Secondary) Strategy, the Primary Strategy and probably lots more. It is reasonable that CPD leader/coordinators should also become associate tutors (the terms vary) of HEIs. This will echo the role of initial teacher education/training mentors and make it much easier to establish relationships between school-based CPD and accreditation. I also suggest that the role of CPD leader is of such significance that it should become the subject of a specific postgraduate award and that a community of CPD leaders could approach HE in order to set this up (there are examples of this happening).

Q 5. Who should be members of a CPD partnership?

A. The exact relationships between schools are not always easy to establish. They vary from place to place and the role of non-mainstream schools such as city academies may be very problematic. It seems sensible to take a look at stakeholders who have some sort of interdependence. There are existing partnerships with HEIs for the training and education of people joining the profession. It is sensible to extend this to include CPD, especially since many HEIs have programmes designed specifically to include school based action research for example and encourage collaborative approaches to CPD.

Q 6. What issues remain?

A. These include:

  • getting together to start the process
  • getting together to prepare for inspection, possibly preparing to share the process of compiling SEFs
  • harmonising, or identifying commonalities in, CPD policies
  • preparing a memorandum of understanding
  • budgeting
  • impact evaluation
  • lots and lots of micro-politics.