The right course

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Effective CPD is not just good for teachers’ careers, it is essential if the diverse needs of pupils are to be met

For all teachers, access to high quality professional development opportunities is central to their ability to sustain and enrich their professional skills and expertise. This becomes a particularly critical consideration in relation to supporting teachers’ work with pupils with SEN. Indeed, research suggests that SEN is an area in which teachers are particularly concerned to engage in the best possible continuing professional development (CPD) experiences.

Ensuring that CPD needs are met requires two important considerations to be addressed. First, it is essential that there is a robust and supportive process that allows teachers the opportunity to reflect on their professional development needs and to share this openly and constructively with their line manager or headteacher. Second, systematic arrangements should be put in place to ensure that teachers can access CPD opportunities in ways that allow these needs to be met.

Teachers’ experience of CPD in both these important respects has been, at best, variable. There were a number of reasons for this, including a failure at national, local and school level to prioritise CPD opportunities and to recognise its importance, combined with the fact that some schools believed that providing CPD was disruptive to pupils or too expensive.

Often, teachers’ ability to access CPD was driven by concerns related to cost and by a narrow preoccupation with the extent to which CPD could feed through in the short term to crude, quantitative measures of public performance used for the purposes of external school accountability. Some approaches to CPD were often time-consuming, workload-intensive and associated with high levels of bureaucracy.

A coherent approach

Analysis of practices within schools and local authorities undertaken by the previous Government, in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, highlighted the need to review the basis upon which decisions about CPD were being taken, so that more coherent and effective approaches to developing the skills, knowledge and expertise of teachers could be developed.

This approach, known as new professionalism, sought to ensure that teachers would have more opportunities to remain engaged in effective CPD which enhances pupil attainment and teachers’ job satisfaction, and supports school improvement and teachers’ career progression.

New professionalism recognised that where all parties are properly engaged in a discussion of development needs, the needs of the school and those of the teacher will often coalesce and that a teacher’s career development may often be progressed most effectively by pursuing activities that are relevant to the context in which they are working.

A result of important reforms that began to be introduced in the maintained school sector in England from 2007, new professionalism led to a fundamental shift in perspectives on how CPD in schools should be organised and managed. While the change of government in May 2010 heralded the prospect of significant changes to the CPD landscape across the education system, it is clear that the new professionalism reforms established important principles in respect of policy and practice that should continue to be reflected in practice at school level.

Critically, this view of CPD has, at its heart, recognition of the fact that effective practice occurs in circumstances where managers consult with teachers and make decisions about their work in an open and fair manner. CPD is seen as an ongoing part of the everyday activities of a teacher and headteacher, rather than a separate activity which adds to their workload.

This involves challenging misconceptions that CPD is concerned primarily with teachers attending external courses. Whilst such provision may have a role to play, other forms of professional development, including practice-based opportunities, have an important function in CPD provision. Some of the most effective CPD involves teachers sharing practise with other teachers while working with pupils.

Performance management

The new professionalism approach also recognised the important relationship between performance management and teachers’ professional development. New professionalism led to the introduction of revised performance management arrangements that allowed for effective identification of development and training activities, taking into account the school’s needs and priorities, as well as the teachers’ needs and their career and pay aspirations. Prior to this, there was no universal process requiring the training and development needs of teachers to be considered on a regular or formal basis.

The revised performance management arrangements were also designed to address particular concerns in relation to teachers in alternative provision and those in local authorities’ central services, such as SEN support services. While historically the CPD needs of these teachers had been badly served, in comparison with their school based colleagues, access to a statutory process of performance management provided them with greater opportunities.

The new professionalism approach was also underpinned by the development of a suite of professional standards, the function of which is to provide a career-long framework for teachers’ CPD.

These standards clarify the professional characteristics that teachers should be expected to maintain and provide a context within which they can broaden and deepen their professional skills, attributes, knowledge and understanding. They are also designed to support teachers in identifying their professional development needs and, in the context of performance management, provide a backdrop to discussions about how a teachers’ performance should be viewed in relation to their current and future career stages. This is in contrast to approaches that regard statements of professional standards as a crude checklist against which individual teachers’ performance and capability should be evaluated.

While it is true that the new professionalism approach to supporting CPD policy and practice still has to be fully embedded within the system, often as a result of deficiencies in arrangements for implementation at local level, it is clear from the available evidence that significant gains have been made.

As mentioned above, the policy agenda of the Coalition Government on CPD issues highlights important considerations about the principles upon which professional development and support for teachers and headteachers will be based in future. In particular, the Coalition Government’s plans to increase the number of academies and free schools, to which the statutory provisions on performance management will not apply, will give these schools the scope to depart from the new professionalism principles if they so choose. For all other schools, a consultation on changes to the statutory provisions on performance management represent a shift in focus away from supporting CPD towards to the use of these provisions for the purpose of scrutinising teacher performance.

Further changes are also being taken forward in relation to professional standards, with many of the provisions in the current suite of standards focused on CPD being removed alongside an amalgamation of the requirements relating to professional standards and conduct.

Given the costs of CPD provision, the real terms reductions in public expenditure at both school and local authority levels are likely to have significant impacts on the availability of CPD opportunities and the support available to teachers and headteachers to access CPD in ways that maintain their work/life balance and do not add to overall workload burdens.

Further information

Chris Keates is General Secretary of the teaching union the NASUWT:
www.nasuwt.org.uk

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