Journey towards effective CPD

25 October 2017

Author: Roger Higgins


When I read frustrated comments on Twitter from teachers bemoaning the behaviour of school leaders, I cringe. I’m quite new to being a school leader, and mistakes are inevitable, whilst also likely to be very ‘impactful’ (love that phrase – NOT) in a negative sense. This blog provides an example of a mistake I made two years ago, and how I’m working to fix it. Why not play a round of bull**** bingo whilst you read it over a cup of coffee.


I took on responsibility for CPD back in April 2016. At the time I felt that our CPD model was fragmented:

  • We had Peer observations, but didn’t appear to lead to anything;
  • We had Twilight CPD sessions, which served the needs of trainees and NQTs well, but less so experienced teachers;
  • We had ‘TeachMeets’ which all staff were expected to attend, however it was unclear what came from these.

Keen to do improve matters, I worked with colleagues to:

  • Integrate CPD with Performance Management, whilst enabling a risk-taking evidence-informed approach to improving classroom practice;
  • Link Peer observations with ‘TeachMeets’ (re-branded as Teaching & Learning Group meetings) fed by evidence-informed strategies collated by a team for teachers;
  • Create more flexibility into our Twilight CPD sessions, to enable us to respond to need during the course of an academic year;
  • Establish the idea of a CPD portfolio for all teaching staff, to enable them to own their CPD rather it being ‘done to’.

We blogged merrily about the changes here. This diagram helps to summarize:


We felt very pleased with ourselves, and initial consultation with staff was positive.


A key influence that shaped our rationale for change was the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) report ‘Developing Great Teaching‘. When the DfE published the Standard for teachers’ professional development in July 2016, it further confirmed our thinking that CPD should:

  1. .. have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. .. be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. .. include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. .. be sustained over time.
  5. .. be prioritised by school leadership.

We points (1), (2), (3) and (4) covered (or so we thought), whilst benchmarking told us that we were in the top 10% of UK maintained schools, in terms of our financial investment in CPD.


In many ways, our changes were a big improvement, borne out by the vast majority of surveys completed by staff. Our ‘ethos quality assurance’ led to me working with our Deputy Headteacher to produce responsive CPD sessions on effective marking (see our toolkit), amongst other areas of needs.

However, we’d overlooked the following:

  • We were in the midst of huge curriculum reform;
  • Our CPD model was heavily weighted towards general pedagogy, as opposed to being subject-specific.

It became clear during 2016-17 that teachers needed more time to meet in subject teams in response to curriculum reforms. At the same time, some teachers were feeding back to us that the T&L group meetings, whilst being very well resourced, had drawbacks. These teachers wanted to discuss what we were feeding them with colleagues from the same subject team as them, to help them identify ‘how this would work in my subject’. Our T&L groups were set up to enable teacher choice, resulting in them being comprised of colleagues from a range of subject areas.


In striving to improve CPD, we’d ignored the patently obvious: the need to enable our teachers to focus on curriculum reform, by getting a good balance between generic pedagogy and subject-specific. What came next was inspired by a TDT conference and guest speaker Shaun Allison. Shaun discussed how being ‘tight but loose’ with CPD at Durrington High School, and enabling subject teams to reflect and plan together at high frequency, had been central to improved outcomes. Shaun’s talk was motivating and I resolve to (albeit retrospectively) get subject-specific CPD prioritised at our own school.

The big challenge was time. We’ve always struggled to meet frequently in subject teams at my school, for laudable reasons:

  1. Workload: we avoid scheduling more than one after-school meeting per week:
  2. A desire to protect lesson time: therefore being sceptical about changing the school day to enable CPD.

Thankfully our Headteacher recognised the go to the next level of ‘prioritising CPD’ for 2017-18. We consulted staff on eliminating some whole-school meetings ( largely top-down dissemination of information) and using the freed-up time to meet more regularly in subject teams. I essentially ripped off Shaun’s Durrington model, again consulting staff. The result was a new strand of CPD time, within what I dubbed our ‘Pillars of CPD’:

CPD pillars NDHS.jpg

I also listened to a minority of experienced teachers who wished to pursue accredited CPD (e.g. NPQs), and needed support with the time commitment involved. I created a CPD opt-out process, whereby staff could apply to opt-out of our internal model to enable them to complete externally provided accredited CPD. Whilst only two members of staff have taken this option to date in 2017-18, my own experience of doing the NPQSL with no time offer from my school makes me convinced that this is the right thing to do.

Read more about our CPD model here.


To date, staff have been very positive in their feedback on our 2017-18 CPD model, and I think this is because we have an underlying vision for CPD which they’ve been involved in establishing, and which guides what we do.

We were designated the EEF/IEE Research School for the Norwich Opportunity area in July 2017, and from Jan 2018 will be offering training for school leaders. There is an element of healthy fear at this prospect: our CPD model is still far from perfect. However, it is moving in the right direction, and we look forward to sharing our journey, our mistakes and our vision with like-minded colleagues. Why not join us for our ‘Leading Learning’ course?


(1) Cordingley, Higgines, Coe et al, (2016) Developing Great Teaching – Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. TDT.

(2) DfE (2016), Standard for teachers’ professional development.

(3) DfE (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development Implementation guidance for school leaders.

(4) Timperley, Wilson, Barrar & Fung (2007) Teacher professional learning and

development. Best evidence synthesis iteration. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry
of Education

Posted on 25 October 2017
Posted in: Blog

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