Schools wishing to put in place a soundly designed system for evaluation of CPD will benefit from membership of a PPD partnership, especially in view of the growing emphasis on professional learning. Cliff Jones describes what to look for when considering joining one

Many schools, clusters of schools and local authorities are entering into partnership with their local universities and each other in order to maximise the impact of their CPD. A large part of the work of these partnerships is centred on postgraduate professional development (PPD). The sets of awards available to teachers are postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas, full Master’s and doctorates. CPD Update has looked at this from time to time but what is different now is that new partnerships are being formed, old ones are being revitalised and they are applying for the financial subsidy that will take them to 2011. In the next few months the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) shall decide who gets what. We cannot forecast the result but we can tell you that since PPD began there has been a 60% increase in the numbers of partnerships applying and that for the first time some of them are led by schools. Last month we looked at the advice and guidance from the TDA on how to evaluate CPD, in particular its impact. So far the only systematic, sustained and rigorous evaluation of funded professional learning that is required is the one for postgraduate professional development (PPD) for teachers.

This makes PPD enormously important at all levels of policy-making and implementation because it is where we can rely on what we learn from the learning of teachers. You can read reports on these evaluations online.

Every year almost 6% of teachers in England take part in PPD programmes. That may sound small but it is 35,000 and it accumulates. It represents a lot of significant professional learning. A school wishing to put in place a soundly designed system for the sustained evaluation of CPD will benefit from joining a PPD partnership because the evidence that it generates, tests, analyses and evaluates can support any claim made in a SEF and maximise the impact of all professional learning. This is especially the case from this year forward as schools are being encouraged to undertake serious evaluation of professional learning, its relationship to performance management and the revised standards; and also to look at the impact of CPD upon teachers, schools, children and young people. I want to have a close look at the kinds of applications that partnerships are making to the TDA. This should provide you with a better understanding of the kind of partnerships you may wish to join. I should emphasise, however, that partnerships are not uniform; they do not have to be led by universities (though almost all are); and that as partners you will be in a position to influence others.

Structures of partnerships

Some partnerships are enduring organisations with administrators and corporate plans. Others are relatively loose ad hoc groups that have come together for a short while for a specific purpose. Mostly they are a mixture of the two. As potential members of partnerships you should, however, expect that the group of people that have come together to provide postgraduate professional development think of themselves as a sharing learning community; and that members respect each other. After all, each member brings to the partnership experience, expertise, values, interests, concerns and a desire to work openly together.

Criteria for funding partnerships and questions to ask

There are seven major criteria by which applications are judged. I propose to take them one by one, indicate some of the key points and try to build a picture of the kind of expectations that you can have of the benefits of joining a partnership. Then I thought it would be useful to you if I set out some questions that you might like to ask of a partnership before you decided to join it. Please note that I have slightly paraphrased some of the criteria. It is also well to remember that the word ‘student’ is hardly ever used in PPD. Instead we see the word ‘participant’ and although this is officially taken to refer to teachers taking part it also implies that everyone who is involved, in whatever capacity, is really a participant; in other words, a real partner in professional learning.

Criterion one

The improvement of children and young people’s outcomes through the improvement of participants’ attributes, understanding, knowledge and skills. It is important to recognise at the outset that it is foolish to expect a simple, attributable, direct and immediate relationship between participation on a PPD programme and the improvement of examination results. There are many variable factors at play that affect results. What participating schools and teachers can expect, however, is to gain insight into how these variable factors operate to affect the learning experience of children and young people: how children and young people acquire and develop knowledge, skills, understanding and attributes and also what may prevent them from doing so. And we have to remember that although you might think of examination results as output, politicians often think that they are outcomes. As members of PPD partnerships you can influence the content of modules and the kind of assignments being set. This often means negotiating some professionally useful collaborative action research. Questions

  • Will the partnership listen to your need to work on improving or achieving particular outcomes?
  • Will you have a chance to influence the design and subject matter of modules and assignments so that they are professionally useful?

Criterion two

How the impact of provision on children, young people and participants will be evaluated and how it will be subjected to rigorous internal and external quality assurance. All universities are required to undergo rigorous internal and external quality assurance procedures and Ofsted are a constant presence, but when HEIs get involved with PPD they also have to evaluate on an annual basis the impact of their provision for schools and teachers. For partnerships this means that impact evaluation must be collaborative. It is not subject to Ofsted inspection. The benefits to schools and teachers include a wider understanding of how professional learning works and some well-tested evidence to support claims made for its impact. Questions

  • Will the evaluation of impact take into account identification and analysis of need, context and baseline?
  • In other words, is evaluation something that you have to pass at a particular level or is it about understanding your starting point and making good, critical sense of what happens as you learn as a professional?
  • Is the evaluation simply about the number of people who have been recruited by a university and have obtained an award or is it about what they have learned and what that means for them and their school?

Criterion three

How the provision develops participants’ research and problem-solving skills through the critical evaluation of evidence and research from a range of sources, including academic research and other data. It is encouraging that the TDA believes that this is important. PPD is the only kind of CPD that is centrally funded and evaluated. Clearly, therefore, the TDA wish to ensure that the evidence that emerges from it has been rigorously tested and can be presented and defended to policy makers no matter what it says. But policy is established at all levels so this is also important to schools that wish to have a sound basis for their priorities. It is also clear that the TDA is giving value to professional learning that makes use of different perspectives. PPD is not simply about setting targets and measuring how close you get to them. Questions

  • Would the partnership be interested, for example, in helping the school to analyse its masses of data on assessment?
  • Would it be possible to do this sort of thing as a collaborative research project that could benefit the whole school?
  • What kinds of research methods are we talking about here?
  • Are we trying to turn teachers into university researchers or are we trying to enhance their professionalism?

Criterion four

How the needs of schools and their workforce have been identified in partnership; and how ongoing review and development of the provision and the continuing involvement of stakeholders is ensured. The problem with simply identifying needs is that they may not have been looked at too closely and they may not even be your real needs but instead your need to please someone else. It is important to analyse needs thoroughly as well as to identify them and also to realise that our understanding of the needs of professional learners (schools as well as teachers) changes over time: that what you think you meant when you first sat down to describe your needs may look quite different after a while. Questions

  • Will the partnership strike a balance between the needs of a school and the individuals working in it?
  • Are there any limits to the kinds of professional needs teachers are allowed to have?
  • What happens if schools and teachers do not satisfy their needs?
  • Can you still learn something valuable from the process of trying?

Criterion five

How barriers to participation have been identified and addressed to improve access. This criterion is not simply about how the partnership addresses equal opportunities issues. It is also about how hard they have been thinking about what prevents people participating in and completing programmes. Sometimes this is workload but often it is a perception that postgraduate programmes have been designed with no thought to the professional lives of teachers. And sometimes the culture of a school does not encourage the individual teacher to take part. Clearly, if the identification and analysis of professional learning needs are taken into account by the partnership the barriers will be easier to overcome. Questions

  • Are the venues and timetables sufficiently flexible for you?
  • What are the possibilities of school-based work?
  • Will teachers from different schools be able to work together?
  • Sometimes educational theory and methodology can look very daunting so will it be made accessible to participants?

Criterion six

How provision will lead to recognised qualifications at Master’s level or above and how they relate to national standards and, where appropriate, other national and local initiatives. The TDA and the government are quite clear that the funding of PPD only applies if teachers are willing to register for awards that range from postgraduate certificate to doctorates. That should not put you off because between those two awards it is also possible to obtain postgraduate diplomas and Master’s degrees. And for a long time now awards such as these have been designed to take into account the professional contexts within which teachers work. They are not, in other words, top-down, impenetrable academic courses delivered from the tops of ivory towers. Almost every person (‘provider’) involved in PPD will be a qualified teacher. Questions

  • Will the partnership make links between PPD and the GTCE’s Teacher Learning Academy and the NCSL’s programmes such as NPQH, LPSH and LfTM?
  • How can work being done on the National Strategies and with subject associations fit into PPD?

Criterion seven

How national and local/school priorities are addressed. Sometimes the national priorities are listed confusingly and sub-divided strangely but it looks something like the following:

  • Pedagogy: Behaviour management, subject knowledge, curriculum change.
  • Personalisation: Equality and diversity, SEN.
  • People: Working with other professionals and school leadership.

There is, in addition, scope to develop local/school priorities. Questions

  • Has the partnership already decided to concentrate upon particular national priorities or can it be persuaded to focus upon priorities useful to your school?
  • How flexible is the partnership? Is it willing to talk about local and school priorities?

For further information go to the CPD section of teachernet.