Create a culture of CPD at your school using an approach based on CPD for all staff. Julia Upton gives advice on whole-school reviews, micro-skills — including tips on how to be an effective teacher — training for support staff and the development of networks

Is it just rhetoric to say that we create a culture of CPD for our workforce at King Edward VI School? And if it isn’t, just what does it mean? So often we hear people talk about the ethos of a school but it can seem so intangible, so impossible to distil into real examples of practice that can be adapted for use elsewhere.

I cringe when I hear the words ‘sharing good practice’ – it sounds so patronising, with an assumed arrogance that you have all the answers. Good practice also implies – misleadingly – that there is such a thing as good practice, one way of doing things that works. We don’t believe that. We prefer to talk simply of ‘good ideas’. So we most certainly don’t have all the answers but we do feel that as a training school we have gone some way towards creating an environment which supports and encourages staff development at all levels and across the whole workforce.

Less is more

We are not extraordinary in being a school which conducts a plethora of self-reviews. With more expectation from Ofsted that we should reflect on ourselves and become better at judging what we do well and where we need to improve, it can seem like an eternal treadmill of chalkface reviews and questionnaires.

In his book Blink, writer Malcolm Gladwell describes how we can ‘thin-slice’: this means gauging what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In other words, spontaneous decisions are often as good as – or even better than – carefully planned and considered ones. One powerful example explains how students in an American university made accurate judgments of the quality teaching of lecturers from just 30 seconds of video footage – with the sound turned down. This is a scary proposition and one which brings frightened expressions from the tutors when I mention it in assembly, but what implications does it have for how we conduct school reviews?

This year we have introduced the ‘blink’ whole-school review. This lasts just two-and -a- half days and in our most recent review a leadership team of nine watched 54 lessons. Every teacher who taught Year 9 or 10 was viewed in this time. The key to managing this in such a short timespan was that each classroom visit lasted only 10-15 minutes. Our proforma for the observation (see below) shows that we had a focus on students rather than teachers but that we gained some powerful information which has fed our school development plan and influenced classroom practice.

King Edward VI School – Whole School Review: June 2008
Year  9/10Session  1  2  3

Number of students in class

Male             Female

Are all students in the correct uniform?

YesNo(Number not in uniform____)

Do students have planners out on the desk?

AllSomeNone

Are any students chewing?

YesNo

Is there a clear rationale for where students are seated?

YesNoNot able to ascertain

The classroom environment enhances and is conducive to working

Strongly agreeAgreeDisagreeStrongly disagree

There are consistent classroom expectations in line with school policies

Strongly agreeAgreeDisagreeStrongly disagree

Based on a ‘blink’ Ofsted judgement how would you grade the lesson?

OutstandingGoodSatisfactoryInadequate

Any brief comments to contextualise the above…

Of course, reviews like this, where individual teachers do not receive feedback, need to be offset against a culture where teachers review and reflect on their classroom practice regularly and join in discussion with others about strategies to improve.

Focus on micro-skills

How often do we really get down to the nitty-gritty of what good teachers do that goes beyond their subject knowledge? We all know good teachers when we see them, but what do they do that you can teach to those new to the profession or who are less confident classroom practitioners? Training in what we call the core micro-skills of teaching are embedded into all we do. Those experienced and skilled staff who have possibly worked at the school for a number of years can often get left behind when training takes place and be pessimistic, alienated contributors to whole-school sessions. We try to use experienced teachers to demonstrate what we mean. It is often as revealing to them to unpick what they do by instinct as it is for staff being trained.

Remember the television programme Faking It? The faker is plucked from their natural habitat and given four weeks to master a skill well enough to fool a group of experts. Imagine putting a faker in a classroom. They have never worked in education but have some common sense and are prepared to have a go. What three things do they need to know to have an impact in the first 10 minutes? We have nine core skills. Examples from our quick guide to the first four are given in the table below. The other five are: use of body language; use of silence; use of praise and feedback; social dynamics (the hardest one to pin down); and clarity of explanations.

What effective teachers appear to do – four core skills
The skillWhat does this mean in practice?
Where the effective teacher stands
  • avoids no-go zones
  • circulates
  • chooses to address the class from a position of authority
  • avoids putting a barrier between themselves and the class
  • may deliver parts of a lesson from the back of the room
How the effective teacher stands
  • stands still
  • has the authority to wait until the class is silent before speaking
  • moves around when reading
Use of voice
  • waits before speaking
  • avoids repetition of fillers (‘OK, ‘know what I mean’, ‘right’)
  • is clearly audible but…
  • used texture of volume – some bits loud, some bits quiet
  • uses students’ names a lot
  • says ‘thank you’ more than ‘please’
  • doesn’t talk too much
  • has alternatives to asking questions
Use of eye contact
  • sweeps the class
  • uses a glance to stop someone from losing concentration
  • looks students in the eye
  • avoids having papers or notes as a barrier

Growing our future leaders

‘The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.’ (Ralph Nader)

The National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has worked hard in the past few years to make us aware of the leadership challenge that faces schools. NCSL research has shown that in 2005-06, more than 2,600 primary and secondary schools advertised for a new headteacher. Around a quarter of secondary schools and a third of primary schools failed to make an appointment at their first attempt.

There are some alarming statistics about school recruitment and retention:

  • around 40% of new teachers leave the profession after five years
  • the average time it takes for a teacher to move from NQT to headship is 20 years
  • currently, 70% of middle leaders say that they would never wish to be headteachers
  • the cost of readvertising headteacher posts rose from £537,ooo in 1999 to almost £1m in 2005.

So what are we doing to support this challenge? We run a series of up to 10 twilight sessions based on current research into learning and leadership and covering these issues:

  • schools of the future
  • what we know about how effective teachers help students to learn
  • monitoring the quality of learning and teaching
  • responding to parents, governors and other stakeholders
  • personnel issues
  • what it is really like to be a member of the leadership team
  • recruitment
  • case studies and testing scenarios.

Participants do not dip in and out of different sessions. The aim is to provide a programme which will generate discussion and challenge thinking that will develop over the course of the year.

Other aspects of the course include: a half-day conference in the summer term led by Professor John West Burnham, one of the UK’s leading experts on learning and leadership; study visits to other schools that are known for doing things a bit differently or achieving exceptional results; a ‘trading places’ exchange with a local business and its in-house leadership programme.

In each of the past two years we have had a cohort of 12 participants from our school and in September 2008 look to run the course for a similar number but from a variety of our own and feeder schools.

Recent research from the Hay Group about successful succession planning within schools says:

‘The way schools treat potential, and the steps they take to ensure people with the capability and desire to become leaders succeed, matters more than ever. It’s not enough just to have the right people in the right jobs – sustained success depends on a “pipeline” of talent. Succession planning ensures that you have leaders for the future as well as the present.’

But what is in it for you if they all aspire to promotion and leave? The Hay Group claim that high-performing schools approach career development differently:

‘57% of the high-performing schools have a formal process for identifying high potentials, compared to 11% of the low performers.’

Which came first – being a high-performing school or working proactively with future leaders?

The response from many school leaders is still, unfortunately: ‘But what if they leave and go elsewhere?’ We have to be altruistic about this – some will get promoted and leave as a result of the training, but some will stay and work with a broader outlook and greater desire to improve standards, and others with high aspirations will come to work at your school because of the training that you provide.

CPD for support staff

With a changing workforce which has seen an exponential growth in the number of support staff working within schools in a wide variety of roles to some extent we are still playing catch-up to ensure that we provide training and progression for those staff who are not working directly within the classroom. It is a delicate balance to ensure that your staff feel united as a whole, while providing training which is bespoke to support staff and does not treat them as second-class citizens. There must a strong sense that support staff are genuinely contributing to better outcomes for students by the work that they do, either directly or indirectly.

We have four key themes to ensure that support staff are provided with CPD of equal quality to teaching staff:

  • establishing and building the team
  • auditing skills and potential
  • developing the team
  • partnerships and collaboration.

Establishing and building the team
We spend a great deal of time interviewing candidates to work within our support staff team. Very often we employ staff who we feel have potential to develop and will fit into the team, rather than those with the most extensive skill set.

Auditing skills and potential We recently conducted an audit of all support staff and found some interesting hidden skills: a teaching assistant who spoke fluent Portuguese; an ICT technician who was a proficient trumpet player; and a pastoral support worker who had a real skill with our most difficult students.

In the ever-changing environment of schools we need to think more widely about how all staff get involved in aspects of school life. There may be training implications if they are to reap rewards, but we must not be constricted by blinkered views of teachers and administrators. An audit may seem a bureaucratic procedure but it can unearth potential which can be used and shared.

Developing the team
Where do support staff fit into your TLR and responsibility structure? There should be clear and rewarded progression routes for those working beyond the classroom. Four members of our support staff team have now completed the certificate in business management and two of them are now progressing to a further qualification. Our TLR structure now reflects responsibilities for teaching and non-teaching staff, a shift which is more than symbolic.

All our support staff are paid to attend the school training days. It is crucial that when the headteacher gives his ‘state of the nation address’ in September that this message is not diluted and given a different spin by someone else repeating it for the support staff. Training days need to balance time given to support staff for their own development and availability of access for teachers, who often wish to catch them during these times.

Partnerships and collaboration

Just as we are extending our leadership programme to working with other schools, we have also created network groups and shared training days for support staff from our pyramid. How valuable would it be for your attendance manager to get together with their equivalent from another school?
And yet how often do we create opportunities for this to happen? Teaching staff are often heard to say the best thing about an external training day was the chance to network and talk to other teachers, yet we rarely provide the same opportunity for our support staff. Since these network groups were created we have seen much more shared expertise and collaborative working which has benefited all schools and, most crucially, the students.

What next?

‘For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?’ (James Allen)

In the spirit of this quote from the inspirational writer James Allen, we certainly do not have all the answers but are committed to trying to change things for the better. A focus on professional development for all staff has to result in improved outcomes for students. It may be bold to say we have created a culture of CPD at King Edward VI School but we believe it is true. It has not happened overnight and we could not attribute it to just one innovation. It must be integral to a way of working and pervade all that you do as a school.

Julia Upton, deputy headteacher, King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds