Clarity of leadership themes is an ambition we should strive for in our schools – in this case, with reference to CPD. Here Jane Golightly looks at two themes to start the discussion – the big picture within the school and outward-looking CPD for multi-agency working

In issue 5, I wrote ‘we need to have the right people in the school to do the job’. In that issue I focused on three essential ingredients for ensuring that the ‘right’ people are recruited and, when in post, supported to do their job well. This week I want to focus on a further essential ingredient –continuing professional development (CPD). No-one would question the importance of ensuring that the workforce is knowledgeable and in possession of the necessary skills to do their job well. The significance of this was brought home to me this week when I attended an event and listened to a young man talk about his early life – which was very disadvantaged – and the impact one particular teacher has had on his life. He spoke about the teacher’s influence and the difference she had made. As a positive role model, she had given that person and others like him the skills and confidence to be the best they can be. Every learner deserves to benefit from such teachers and other adults. This can be a reality if staff are supported through a well-planned CPD programme which meets their needs. We all have different professional development requirements. Is that diversity of needs recognised by your school, or is your CPD programme a one-size-fits-all approach?

The CPD offer

In January we listened to the inaugural speech by Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America. Why do I mention this in relation to CPD? I refer to it because the themes of his future policy came across clearly and it occurs to me that clarity of themes is an ambition we should strive for in our schools – in this case, with reference to CPD. Perhaps you are not getting the results you expect from the CPD investment being made. You might have reached a point when something has to be changed about the way you do things. So, I suggest we take a leaf out of Barack Obama’s book and clarify the CPD themes that should support staff development provision in schools. Here are two themes to start the discussion.

The big, strategic picture of CPD in your school

My first theme would be a pledge to ensure that all staff have opportunities to develop, review and refine the skills, knowledge and expertise they need to do their job properly. This pledge is challenging because we expect so much from an effective CPD programme: building capacity, improving professional expertise, meeting national and local developments, addressing school priorities, taking account of workforce reform, etc. The list seems endless, but all those things are possible if we remember that professional development should be activity which:

  • is rooted in a school’s strategic planning and
  • makes best use of performance management to inform individual CPD plans.

At all costs we want to avoid a pick and mix approach to professional development.

Each school takes a different approach to the whole school CPD plan – who prepares it, where it is displayed – but common to plans must be evaluation of the impact of CPD. What do you do in order to ensure that the energy, time and resources put in to CPD make a difference for learners in your school? Who has responsibility for following this through? It is very easy, in the busy day-to-day life of school, for professional development to vanish into thin air rather than have the results that were intended. Although each school may undertake evaluation of impact in different ways, it is critical that this important process takes place. How else will you know such things as what has gone well, what needs to be better, what difference it has made to professional knowledge and expertise and next steps? Readers who wish to understand how to build the strategic school may find it helpful to read about the NCSL research project Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically-focused school.

Outward looking CPD

My second theme focuses on CPD being both outward and inward facing. By inward facing I am referring to what happens within the school and more specifically within the classroom. Outward facing is what takes place beyond the classroom. Gone are the days of CPD focusing only on developing staff for improving learning and teaching and classroom experiences. If, as a school, we want to ensure that we are ready for the vision as detailed in 21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child, CPD must provide a broader range of experiences. We need to be preparing staff for working beyond traditional school boundaries. How confident are your colleagues to participate in multi-agency working? You may say that this only applies to a minority of staff, perhaps the SENCo or EYFS staff. I would argue that if we truly believe that meeting the needs of children requires us to think beyond what happens between 8.45 and 3.15, we need to be considering the child’s experiences before, after and outside the school day and their contribution to a child’s achievement, attitudes and engagement in learning.

I am sure that you are committed to providing a strong CPD programme which takes account of role and experience. Staff who work in schools where this is the case know that their work is valued and that they will have opportunities to grow personally and professionally. That is one of the main reasons why some schools are so much better at retaining staff despite being seemingly much more challenging than other schools. In those schools the importance of CPD matters. It is reality and not rhetoric.

Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically-focused school 

21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child 

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education