Richard Jenkin and Alan Tucker present accounts of the impact of postgraduate professional development (PPD) on learning and teaching gathered from schools across Cornwall.

It may be assumed that postgraduate professional development (PPD) will lead to changes in professional practice that in turn will improve learning outcomes in the classroom. However, it it is not easy to measure the direct impact of teacher’s PPD on pupils’ performance. The evidence reviewed here has contributed to a systematic study being carried out by the College of St Mark and St John in collaboration with the University of Plymouth.

In September 2005 a conference was held at the College of St Mark and St John attended by university tutors from across the south-west to explore the meaning of impact evidence. As a result it was decided to try to collect evidence of the impact of PPD from the following areas:

  • improved knowledge and understanding
  • improved pupil performance
  • improved practice
  • research and problem solving
  • challenging barriers to teacher participation
  • unintended outcomes.

Since 1998 the College of St Mark and St John has worked with Cornwall LEA and other providers in the SWIFT (South West Initiative for Training) consortium to provide postgraduate training for teachers. It has developed an excellent rapport with over 1,000 teachers who have been involved in classroom research and critical reflection.

As two experienced teachers now tutoring staff towards accreditation, we have been able to draw upon impact evidence from a variety of schools that have participated in PPD during the last four years. Our sources included: critical reflection reports by staff; Master’s assignments; SEF forms; feedback from lesson observation; quotes/comments/ anecdotes; pupil data.

1. Improved knowledge and understanding
Improved motivation of staff, job satisfaction, enhanced professional competence, peer observation and feedback.

Sally Penhaligon of Probus School comments on enhanced professional relationships resulting from staff participation in a PPD initiative:

‘Confidence overall has increased. Expectations are higher. Ability to self evaluate has improved. Very “open” discussions have developed, including TAs. ‘Sharing of work with a common theme has been extremely positive. Planning of work is more systematic, and often done with a colleague.

‘Paired lesson observations have also been very valuable while feedback has been very focused and open.’

Claire Kendall of Lanner School on investigating how formative assessment can involve pupils in their own learning and raise achievement:

‘My own PPD included Inset on coaching; visits to other schools in our primary learning network; peer observation and group work; action research using assessment for learning in my own classroom. From watching Sarah Treneer I observed how the method “two stars and a wish” is taught – slowly with a carefully articulated demonstration.

‘Inset days have given me the confidence to introduce “success criteria” so children are aware of what they should have achieved by the end of the lesson.

‘They also emphasised that for assessment to be formative, the feedback has to be used by the child.’

Introduction of interactive whiteboards

Geoff Leend, headteacher, Wadebridge Primary:
‘The key factor in this project was the willingness of the staff to be professional and to give the development a try. Fortunately devoid of the inhibiting nature of negative prejudice, the staff were able to evaluate the hardware for themselves and came to a unanimous conclusion that it provided enormous benefits for the children and for themselves. This conclusion was reached unanimously across all age groups by teachers ranging from NQT status to a few with close to 30 years of experience!’

Theresa Mills, Class 4 teacher:
‘The joy of working with the interactive whiteboard is that its opportunities are endless. I am constantly reflecting on my practice and seeing ways that I can use the whiteboard to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. It has been a wonderful innovation’.

2. Improved pupil performance a. Pupils – improved behaviour Investors in Excellence (IIE) training at Padstow School: Following IIE training of staff the children now value differences in others and show improved behaviour throughout the school day: ‘The children feel more self-worth and there have been less disagreements with individuals in class.’ ‘Children now accept responsibility for their own actions’

The lunchtime supervisors reported fewer problems in the playground.

b. Pupils – improved motivation ‘Investors in Excellence’ training at Padstow School: ‘Children were willing to take risks without fear of failure and showed an enthusiastic and positive approach to learning.’ ‘Children considered more difficult work to be a challenge rather than a chore.’ ‘Children will take risks when attempting to solve problems and use scaffolding to think through possible solutions on their own.’

‘Children crave more challenges – where the answers are not always apparent.’

Foundation stage teacher at Treloweth School participating in a ‘Learning to Learn’ project:
‘I could “see” the children thinking through their body language. They sat up straight, looked straight forward and retained eye contact with me.’

Kaye Haywood – Cubert School-using the IWB to develop writing: ‘From the outset, there was a marked increase in interest levels amongst the children by using the digital projector. The enlarged screen captured the interest of the most immature children, who find it very difficult to sit still during whole class sessions.

‘Also two boys in the class, who are developing writers, previously had a tendency to lose concentration during shared writing. However, the use of ICT gave them a great deal of motivation and they couldn’t wait to start their own work. The self-esteem of those children with problems developing handwriting was also raised because I had given them the skills to undo mistakes and they were not afraid to take risks.’

Lynsey Faulkner, science teacher, Launceston College: ‘The positive motivational factor of self-assessment is also crucial. Pupils approach me outside of the classroom and tell me of their progress towards an assignment, or more recently their revision activities. They are motivated to achieve, and wish to share this enthusiasm with others. Their group work, on the whole, has become more focused and productive, as the whole class is genuinely striving for improvement.

‘This enthusiasm for learning is something I now wish to re-create in several other classes.’

c. Pupils – Increased attainment Bill Mann, headteacher of St Hilary:

It is unrealistic to introduce an initiative and expect to gain meaningful impact evidence within a short timescale but Bill Mann firmly believes that since 2002, as a result of embedding the ‘blocked unit’ approach in order to improve writing throughout the school, there is now real impact evidence available in the school’s SATs results for 2005.

The school recorded its best ever results in writing: 97% of children obtained a Level 4 in writing. 54% of these children gained a Level 5 in writing. Overall in English there was 100% success:

80% of the children gained a Level 5 in English.

Rob Adams, headteacher, Probus School:
‘Lesson observations carried out throughout the school show that the teaching of reading has improved as a result of PPD on “guided reading” involving all staff. Also statistics confirm added value in our children’s reading test scores.’

3. Improved practice (and pupil performance) Ann Webb, Treloweth School: Evidence from peer observation by staff shows that children accept greater responsibility for their own learning. ‘Pupils are encouraged to define difficulty as “new learning” and to develop intrinsic motivation by making personal achievement the subject of celebration rather than external rewards.

‘Through my observations of pupils and recording their conversation it was evident that they were motivated by the challenge of setting and achieving their own targets, and also enjoyed setting them for each other.’

Lynsey Faulkner, Launceston College: As part of the whole-college PPD programme Lynsey researched the impact of peer- and self-assessment on the attainment of her students in GCSE applied science Pupils’ opinions of the peer and self-assessment process were sought, and examined in context with the data from their coursework attainment over a 12-month period.

The results showed an average net improvement of one GCSE grade after the first year of the course. A staggering 91% of the class attained A*-C grades, against minimum target grades of 77%.

St Mewan School, tutor Alan Tucker:
SATs results at St Mewan highlighted the need to raise standards of achievement in writing. TDA and school funding was used to provide a range of Inset opportunities through a small-scale school improvement [ScIP] project with input from Will Coleman, Nick Hart, Michael Murpurgo and Rachel Nile. All staff commented positively on the quality of the input and were willing to incorporate a range of new ideas into their literacy teaching. In addition staff noted an increased confidence in their teaching and enhanced enjoyment of writing among their pupils. The final projects completed as part of the ScIP project confirm that the quality of teaching and learning has improved and this is confirmed by the latest SATs results.

Dissemination of professional learning, Theresa Mills, AST, Wadebridge Primary:
‘I have shared these ideas on use of IWB with other teachers in Year 3 and 4, together with my head. Other staff were equally enthused and willing to try it in their own literacy lessons. I have also shared the lesson ideas with staff from Charlestown Primary School, who came into my classroom for a lesson observation.’

4. Research and problem solving

Introducing a whole-school support framework for small-scale research projects to encourage critical reflection on personal practice.

Karen Ross, Treviglas Community College: ‘Professional development is at the heart of school improvement; we should all be continuing learners. It is a central tenet at Treviglas Community College that our staff are entitled to continue to learn through the professional development programme. ‘CPD is seen as a way of recognising and supporting teachers’ expertise. It ensures that CPD can be integrated with performance management, recruitment, retention and the cycle of self-evaluation. ‘By emphasising that learning is for all and by putting support for research at the centre of everything we do, staff have a common language for discussing and sharing good practice. Opportunities to do this have increased both formally and informally and many of the ideas generated through research have found fruition in the policy and practice of the college.

‘The impact has been far reaching for the college with some of the best ever GCSE and value added results. We do not think this is a coincidence!’

5. Challenging barriers to teacher participation Greater involvement in CPD. Cascading good practice. Heather McIlroy, headteacher Poltair Sports College: ‘At leadership team meetings I would often say, “if we’re not talking about teaching and learning, we shouldn’t be talking at all”. ‘Managing change is a complex and delicate process and the school has insisted staff play an active role in the planning procedure and shaping of how the school could grow. All staff have chosen to participate in school improvement workshops. Assessment for learning will continue as Poltair’s whole-school strategy drive and each teacher has chosen to research a unit from pedagogy and practice.

‘In future staff findings will be placed in a professional library next to the staffroom. This will provide data adapted for the school’s own use and it will help create a team of well informed staff, who have been given the opportunity to develop and test their own teaching skills and shape the work of their own school.’

Phil Stephens, assistant head, CPD Launceston College: ‘During 2003-04 we ran a successful ScIP project for our “middle leaders”. The 21 staff involved gained much from this project and all produced a reflective report. Seven staff have extended their reports to gain accreditation at Master’s level.

‘Another successful outcome has been the creation of groups of teachers across subject areas throughout the college who now learn from each other and are able to assess the impact of change in a constructive whole-school climate.’

How can Shakespeare be taught to children with severe learning difficulties? Rob Lane, deputy head at Brannel Performing Arts College:

Rob Lane describes in his Master’s critical commentary an exciting joint drama project between students and staff of Brannel and Doubletrees School for children with severe learning difficulties.

‘By the end of the term, the story of “Romeo and Juliet” was unfolding before our eyes! In 12 weeks we had made progress beyond anything we might have expected! ‘As the pairs talked, so the language skills of the pupils from Doubletrees were challenged and extended in what had become a non-threatening, yet invigorating environment.

‘Feelings and fears were given shape and expressed with confidence by most, new activities were embraced and, by the end of term, most of the Doubletrees pupils, who had initially clung to the walls for security, had gained the confidence to work in the open space, in front of an audience of friends.’

6. Unintended outcomes Paul Hodson, headteacher, Penpol School: ‘We are trying as staff to work smarter not harder and we are always seeking ways to avoid spending our Sundays planning and assessing. ‘As part of their PPD, staff were encouraged to investigate ways of linking planning with pupil assessment in a way that could be used throughout the school. They also aimed to give parents more information about their children’s studies and include them in the assessment process. ‘After brainstorming the idea, new planning and assessment leaflets have been produced. These leaflets clarify the areas of study, learning objectives, level descriptions and examples of the activities taking place. On the reverse there is a pupil and teacher marking ladder and space for pupils and parents to comment. ‘The leaflets were given to parents at the start of the project and at the end they were asked to add their own views to those of the pupils and staff. ‘Staff noted a tremendous increase in parental response with many sending in resources, books and ideas. Many parents reflected that they had become more involved in the learning process. ‘We see this new form of planning and assessment as a big step towards providing personalised learning and recommend the approach to any school.

‘Participation in the SWIFT Master’s programme has helped many staff to gain promotion to senior management posts related to learning and teaching.’

Critical reflection
The present authors believe that an effective approach is for all of the staff to begin by focusing on pupil learning through critical reflection as this will lead to improved practice.

Next month Jim Christophers and Chris Bryan will outline the theoretical model underpinning the research to which this article refers.

Editor’s comment: impact, impact, impact…

Regular readers of CPD Update will be aware of the way in which the concept of ‘impact’ has come to dominate professional learning. I can remember being present at an Ofsted focus meeting that was called to help HMI design an inspection framework for what we now call postgraduate professional development (PPD). The senior HMI present formed us into four groups, each with some flip chart paper, and told us to discuss and write down our thoughts for each of the four headings of the proposed inspection framework. They were: 1. Needs. 2. Provision. 3. Impact.

4. Quality assurance.

Half jokingly the HMI said that actually the four should be called ‘Impact’, ‘Impact’, ‘Impact’ and ‘Impact’. Sure enough, during the two-year-long inspection that followed, every time an HMI came to call that was the approach they took. If they were looking at how you dealt with needs they wanted to relate it to impact and so on with all the other sections of the framework.

The professional learning needs that teachers told HEIs that they had were not, by the way, always the same as government priorities. When I told an inspector this I was told that if I wished to pass my inspection I must persuade teachers to adopt these priorities! This was why I developed the exercise called ‘Relating professional needs to professional impact’. It meant that I could help teachers to carry out a good analysis of their needs as the basis for professional learning and we could relate rather than match their needs to government priorities. It also allowed them the freedom to draw attention to personal professional needs. The exercise seemed to make HMI happy and I have used it ever since. In the last year I have made a number of references to it in CPD Update and even included a version in one issue. So, at the risk of stirring up indifference I draw your attention to a version at the website given below.

What is happening in the south-west is one of many attempts to uncover the richness of the concept of impact. Yes, it can mean better examination results but really it is a very much richer concept than that. If, as a result of your professional learning, a child goes unbidden to the library to see if there are any more books by an author that they can read or begins to take an interest in current affairs or simply starts to ask deeper questions then that looks like pretty good impact to me. It is not a better SAT score and it is certainly not easy to measure. But it is valuable.