A recent Ofsted report has highlighted the role of governors in evaluating CPD. David Gordon examines the report and other sources of information that will be valuable to governors in this task

Governing bodies seeking to improve their schools should not overlook the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) for school staff.

A study by Ofsted has concluded that the best schools are ‘excellent at developing their staff and are highly effective in using continuing professional development as a way to help bring about improved standards at their school’.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert said: ‘It is important for schools to provide teachers and other staff with continuing professional development. This not only benefits the staff, but also the children and young people who experience improved teaching.’

She added: ‘Professional development is most effective in schools that understand and realise its potential for raising standards. The most successful schools plan for ongoing improvements, then monitor and evaluate their progress so that they can tackle any weaknesses.’

The report, Good professional development in schools, identifies four key questions which it says good leaders ask themselves about the quality of professional development at their school. These are:

  • How well do we use professional development as an integral part of our improvement plans?
  • How successfully do we create policies and practices that bring about consistently high quality in the school’s work?
  • How well do we know, value and use the expertise of our staff?
  • How well do we monitor and evaluate our professional development?

Identifying priorities is a crucial starting point for good professional development. For the survey, Ofsted visited two nursery schools, 13 primary schools, 24 secondary schools and one special school, all of which had shown that their practice in continuing professional development was good or outstanding in previous inspections.

It found that all the schools in the survey drew on a wide range of evidence to make an accurate assessment of their needs and to identify clear priorities for the professional development of staff.

This evidence included:

  • analysis of assessment data;
  • observations of teaching and learning;
  • scrutiny of pupils’ work;
  • subject, faculty and whole-school reviews;
  • performance management and self-evaluation by staff;
  • monitoring of the performance of staff;
  • feedback from parents and pupils about the performance of the school;
  • feedback from external inspections.

Once their needs have been established, schools face the task of deciding how best to meet them. Ofsted found that school-based professional development, with judicious use of external support, proved to be the most effective means of improving staff’s skills.

The previous government’s National Strategies programme provided a good source of school-based material. Much of it dealt with initiatives that schools were obliged to follow, such as the national literacy and numeracy strategies, but the National Strategies website also includes material and resources for much more general aspects of CPD, which schools can match to their own needs.

The material is still available on-line at nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/cpd
The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) is another important source of advice and information on professional development. In 2007 it introduced a set of professional standards for teachers, which show clearly the professional attributes, knowledge and understanding, and skills that are expected at each career stage.

The standards help schools to identify the CPD needs of individual teachers. They can be downloaded from www.tda.gov.uk/teachers/professionalstandards/standards.aspx

The TDA also offers assistance for schools trying to put together an appropriate package of CPD for the requirements of their staff. It outlines the range of elements of CPD that are available, and where they might originate:

  • Within school: induction, coaching and mentoring, lesson observation and feedback, collaborative planning and teaching, shadowing, sharing good practice, whole school development events
  • School networks: cross-school and virtual networks
  • External expertise: courses, further study or advice offered by local authorities, FE colleges, universities, subject associations and private providers

The site includes a database to search for CPD opportunities at www.tda.gov.uk/teachers/continuingprofessionaldevelopment/find_cpd.aspx

Ofsted’s report also stresses the benefits of schools providing continuing professional development for all staff, not just teachers. The TDA has also developed national occupational standards and a career development framework for the wider workforce, details of which can be found at www.tda.gov.uk/support/qualificationsandtraining.aspx

Resources include the Career development framework for school support staff guidance handbook.School leaders also need to consider their own CPD needs. The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services offers a range of courses and qualifications for school leaders, details of which can be found at www.nationalcollege.org.uk/index/professional-development.htm

Governing bodies will concern themselves with the way that their schools’ policies and strategies for CPD fit in with the school improvement and development plans. But Ofsted suggests that they also have an effective role to play in monitoring and evaluating professional development.

The report says: ‘In the best instances, governors were involved in evaluating professional development, if not by carrying out the assessment themselves then by receiving reports from coordinators.’ It added that the most rigorous reports considered the cost and value of the professional development, but said this was rare.

As well as identifying good practice in CPD, the report also outlined three barriers to progress. The first of these was a weakness in monitoring and evaluation of the ongoing training of teachers, which was found to be a continuing problem even in schools where professional development was good. Confirming the part that governors can play at this stage in the process, the report criticised schools where the governing body had not received an annual report on professional development, or on the organisation and content of non-teaching days.

A lack of training in subjects other than maths and English was identified as the second barrier challenging schools. Ofsted found that, even when good external courses were available, they were often undersubscribed because schools did not give a high priority to other subjects.

The third barrier, which the schools in the survey had successfully overcome, was a lack of expertise in leadership and management that prevented the accurate assessment of teachers’ skills and where they needed additional training and support. The report recommended that local authorities should help less successful schools to plan well-targeted professional development by improving leaders’ skills in self-evaluation.

The recommendations for schools were that they should:

  • make sure that most professional development is school-based and focused on the school’s priorities;
  • improve their skills in monitoring and evaluating the impact of professional development;
  • make sure that, in all areas of the curriculum, teachers’ subject knowledge is updated regularly;
  • extend their understanding of, and expertise in, coaching and mentoring;
  • create sufficient time for staff to undertake relevant professional development and to discuss and reflect on what they have learnt;
  • make sure that leaders at all levels can evaluate performance accurately and objectively and know how to deal with any shortcomings that they identify.

Good professional development in schools is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/080254

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: David Gordon is an author, writer, editor and qualified lecturer and has also been a parent governor. He has been the editor of School Governor Update since its launch in 2000