Now that the consultation period on the new national standards has closed and their coming importance has been underlined in the TDA’s report to Ruth Kelly, CPD leaders need to build a picture of how they might become part of a school’s CPD policy. Cliff Jones raises some questions.

Government has made various efforts to publicise national standards so that teachers would treat them as a map for career and professional development. We have had the Rainbow document, which contained all the standards, and the Standards Framework poster. Teachers, however, were thought to look at the standards only at those times when it was important to assemble evidence that they matched them. In other words, the impact of the standards upon the way in which teachers set about and reflected upon their work was spasmodic. This is not surprising if standards were presented as hurdles to be climbed over and forgotten rather than a basis for making sense of professional life.

We now have a change in view. It is the intention of the Training and Development Agency for schools (TDA) that standards shall underpin or lever up professional development. Together with the work done on mentoring and coaching, the standards will provide a language for CPD.

My guess is that, quite literally, teachers (and others engaged in education) will be expected to use the words, phrases, categories, headings and sub-headings of the standards as sense-making frameworks for professional learning. Gathering, collating, assessing, evaluating and disseminating evidence of development as a professional will be influenced, at least partly, by means of these frameworks. That is why so much care is being taken to remove ambiguity: to make every word count. The standards are not being thrown together by a small group of people. Yes, the standards will have to reflect government policy statements but, nevertheless, when they hit schools from September they will have been based upon careful and rigorous consultation. You might almost see the standards as the intended professional outcomes of a CPD programme.

This change in the approach to standards, with its emphasis upon CPD, is welcome. If, however, they are to ‘stick’ as a useful set of sense-making frameworks for professional learning we need to ask some questions about them and the way in which they are being presented. And CPD leaders need to build a picture of how they might become part of a policy for a process of sustained professional learning. What follows is not, by the way, intended to be exhaustive, prescriptive, approving or disapproving although I do not hide my own beliefs. And it is not an official interpretation.

Questions, responses, answers and further questions

1. What is the significance of the phrase ‘performance development’?

The ‘d’ word is being used because standards are not seen as examinations to be taken, passed and forgotten but as the underpinning for continuous professional learning.

2. The word ‘lever’ is used about the standards. What does this mean? Levers involve the use of force and the location of a fulcrum. That does not sound too pleasant when applied to people and since Ralph Tabberer is always saying that the TDA is a ‘people business’ it probably refers to the system. For the leader of CPD this means the drafting of a CPD policy that, among other things, uses the standards as part of the process of teaching and learning reviews. In other words, the standards are intended to help make CPD happen both for individuals and for the school.

Clearly, however, we need to develop some idea of how this will work. Will measuring performance or development, for example, be part of the process? And does ‘performance’ only mean exam results?

3. What is ‘intelligent demand’ and what has it got to do with the new standards? Yes, it is a funny phrase being used a lot now by the TDA, which decided some time ago that the way to get more people involved in CPD is to stimulate demand. Not easy this, since government removed the earmarking of large amounts of money for CPD. The money is still in schools but being partly spent on other things so possibly intelligent demand is a way of getting schools and their workforces to realise that in order to meet the requirements of the standards, let alone the self-evaluation form (SEF) and other initiatives, resource must be provided for CPD from within schools.

Of course there are other demands for resource. My guess is that intelligent demand will eventually include a better understanding of how CPD can be incorporated into ordinary professional life rather than simply separated out as a set of events. That does not mean that it should be done on the cheap!

4. Will teaching and learning reviews simply establish a quick and simplistic list of wants and desires masquerading as properly thought-through professional learning needs? Will they take account of changing needs and changing understanding of them? We are waiting for more information on teaching and learning reviews but we do know that establishing professional needs is not always straightforward. There are a lot of things to take into account, such as the balance of individual professional needs with those that emerge from school or government policy. Clearly a blend of institutional and individual needs will be sensible.

Another crucial aspect of analysing needs is that the individual can set themselves up for failure if they have not addressed the question of how much power they have to affect the outcomes of plans for professional learning. In order to see the exercise called Relating Professional Needs to Professional Impact look at Leading and Coordinating CPD in Secondary Schools, (details opposite). Look, in particular, at pages 82 and 93 of the pdf. You will also see there in earlier pages much of the guidance available to people charged with building the capacity of a school for systematic, sustained professional learning. The exercise featured in some back issues of CPD Update. You can also email me at the address on the back of this issue to be sent your own copy.

5. And what then? How do you address needs? What is the balance between the needs of the individual, groups of individuals, the whole school and the involvement of other schools and institutions working in partnership? Addressing professional needs is not the same as aiming at targets. Targets have been attacked for being sterile. In other words, instead of encouraging development they are said to close down options and alternatives. Unfortunately we are beset by a culture of target setting that, instead of emphasising professional learning, makes great use of words such as ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

Addressing needs so that individuals, groups, schools and networks of schools are provided with fair opportunity to develop to their mutual benefit will involve the careful construction of a consensual policy for CPD. I stress consensus not because the collective voice is always right but because the process of establishing consensus is challenging for all, gives a hearing to dissent, sorts out misunderstanding and never stops people thinking. It also helps to control those who would progress at the expense of others.

6. Will these standards become milestones or millstones?
The old way of looking at standards was a bit like milestones: they marked stages of career change or extra responsibility. Now they are expected to provide the framework within which teachers develop as professionals. If, however, instead of being the basis for development the framework prevents professionals from doing something that might be unexpected or outside the box then they might become more like millstones. One thing that examiners can be sure of when they write exam papers and devise clever mark schemes is that no matter how well thought-out their work may be it is not student-proof: someone will always think of a valid response that has not been anticipated. Well, CPD is like that so we must be careful to allow the meaning of the standards to grow. No matter how well constructed, they are not absolute.

7. Do the new standards mean that politicians and professionals in education are moving in the same direction? This is not so easy to answer because the history of government intervention in education by all parties has often involved high-sounding and high-stakes rhetoric. But when government policy finally reaches the staff room and the classroom it is the professionals who have to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. When they do it often changes.

The government is advocating a New Professionalism. Surely teachers must influence how this develops. Right now it might feel as though government policy has to be received and then implemented, but thinking teachers in thinking schools where the culture allows people to ‘keep on failing better’ will bring their own experience, expertise and values to bear and change will take place.

The profession does not always have to respond to the thinking of people outside education. It can construct initiative for itself ,though the government still likes to set targets for education. They see the TDA as their ‘modernising’ agency. But words like ‘modern’, ‘reform’, ‘improvement’ and ‘new’ are always used by governments to describe their policies so professionals wishing to dissent should not worry too much about these labels. We need to be careful, however, that the word ‘performance’ does not simply mean exam results.

‘The old way of looking at standards was a bit like milestones: they marked stages of career change or extra responsibility. Now they are expected to provide the framework within which teachers develop as professionals

8. What price unexpected evidence for unintended professional learning outcomes? Will professional penicillin ever be discovered? Might rigid application of the standards mean that teachers can only develop within them?
Trying to be fair to someone by asking them only to work to the standard relevant to the status or level of their role may prevent them doing something else of value to their professional learning. And I strongly believe that a professional learning culture should not be based upon the disregarding of evidence for learning simply because it does not fit the pre-conceived plan or standard. So is it the role of the leader of CPD to get people to fit in or to develop?

9. Will it be possible to ensure that every teacher is provided with fair opportunity to work to these standards?
There is nothing worse than to be told that, although you must enter an examination in, say, Latin, the only lessons available for you are in Greek. The role of the CPD leader becomes more crucial than ever here in ensuring that no colleague is disadvantaged by the absence of an appropriate programme of professional learning.

10. Are these standards a fair representation of the different stages, aspects and conditions of professional life? Maybe they will work better in some schools than others. If this is the case it will be difficult to avoid a sense of unfairness. In the same way, dedicated, hard-working, enthusiastic staff performing at the highest professional level in difficult circumstances in order to persuade young people that life inside the school building can be more interesting and valuable than truanting outside the building can become understandably upset when judged unfavourably against colleagues in schools that do not face the same problems.

Also schools vary in size and shape and resource. The balance of roles is not uniform so opportunity to work collaboratively, for example, will differ.

Finally We still need to consider what resources will be needed in order to put in place the CPD to use the standards. There is not a single new standard that does not have CPD, directly or indirectly, as a key lever for development. But how can we bring together the new standards and all the other things happening in order to tie them into a comprehensive CPD policy? Don’t forget that the standards begin with people training to become teachers, so any notion of a new professionalism will start here. And if we can just get a few things right we might manage to bring together all that is happening or about to happen, such as the wider and remodelled workforce, the extended school and self-evaluation and devise school CPD policies that allow for the development of professional voices that shall be listened to.

Can we do this without resource, without support, without being allowed to make a few mistakes and without a pernicious belief that the only signs of success are getting exam results above the average? What do you think?

To keep up to date with the progress being made on the standards go to:

Leading and Coordinating CPD in Secondary Schools DfES 0188-2005 G is available here