How to Deliver Effective CPD for Teachers

CPD should improve the learning experience of our students. All too often it doesn’t. In fact, research indicates that only around 1% of CPD is effective.  It is extremely difficult to determine the effect of CPD on learners. We cannot see learning, only imply it from outcomes which may or may not sufficiently inform us of our impact on the learners. Whether the 1% figure is a true reflection of the effectiveness or not, what is certain is that the process is highly inefficient.


As Professor Coe states in Improving Education: A triumph of hope over experience:

“We do not know a lot about the impact of teachers’ CPD on students’ learning outcomes, but what we do know suggests two important things: that the right kinds of CPD can produce big benefits for learners, and that most of the CPD undertaken by teachers is not of this kind.”

What is excellent CPD?

Before we even start with CPD we should maybe start with-  What makes great Teaching?

Research from the Sutton Trust highlights some key areas in summary they found:

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:

  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment

Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:

  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson – Setting context – Physics blog here
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting – Interleaving
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material

Common practices which are not supported by evidence include:

  • using praise lavishly
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves
  • grouping students by ability
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”

As with students, it is important to know the starting point and beliefs of your teachers.  Attempting to force an initiative or change of direction without the backing and ideally, the input of the staff is likely to be doomed to failure.

As Jonathan Haidt states in Righteous Minds

If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuitions, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch – a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed.

A common clash of beliefs comes from progressive vs traditional learning. Or the idea of learning styles VAK and the counter on twitter #VAKOFF. Learning styles is often conflated with Multiple Intelligences and the belief that multimodality is not effective.

Multiple Intelligences Are Not Learning Styles. In the blog, Dr. Gardner  writes;

one unanticipated consequence has driven me to distraction–and that’s the tendency of many people, including persons whom I cherish, to credit me with the notion of ‘learning styles’ or to collapse ‘multiple intelligences’ with ‘learning styles.’ It’s high time to relieve my pain and to set the record straight.”

In Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn (2014), Hattie and Yates write

“We are all visual learners, and we all are auditory learners, not just some of us. Laboratory studies reveal that we all learn when the inputs we experience are multi-modal or conveyed through different media.” 

and they go on to say:

Claims such that ‘some students learn from words, but others from images’ are incorrect, as all students learn most effectively through linking images with words. These effects become especially strong when the words and images are made meaningful through accessing prior knowledge. Differences between students in learning are determined strongly by their prior knowledge, by the patterns they can recognise, and not by their learning style

We are strongly prone to biases and it is important to understand these before we start trying to change the beliefs of others. There is some interesting research that suggests that we are always, to some extent  bound by our intuition 

How do we get everyone on board?

It might be worth looking at the fundamentals of motivation. According to Dan Pink these are:

  • Mastery: The belief that we can do things and get better at them – To have or to be able to develop the skills to be successful.  The reason so many teachers feel threatened by technology is that they don’t feel mastery.
  • Autonomy:  The element of choice over how we do things. This can come into conflict with a consistency of approach within systems. Having worked in many failing schools the single biggest factor is inconsistent application of rules. If everyone has an input into creating the system this can satisfy our urge for autonomy to some extent
  • Purpose: If we don’t see the point of something we are unlikely to embrace it fully. The raft of shiny new ‘silver bullet” initiatives that have been launched with a fanfare, only to disappear quietly has lead to an understandable cynicism amongst many. When something conflicts with our own beliefs we don’t respond rationally  – This can actually be measured with MRI scanners


One of the best CPD sessions I remember was one where a new head started at our school. We were all given 3 post-it notes and told to put on each one thing that prevented learning from being as effective as it could be. These were taken in and categorised. Then put up as a bar chart on the wall. It was immediately obvious that low-level disruption was the most popular concern. The focus of the day was then about dealing with the concerns in the order the staff perceived the importance to be. The result was that we all felt consulted and had a degree of ownership. Common practices and rules were established and enforced.

To achieve this type of survey using technology Socrative Voting can be used very effectively.

So what about CPD?

 Excellent CPD opportunities should:

  • Improve outcomes for pupils (research suggests the best way of doing this is improving teachers)
  • Be collaborative (within school and with other colleagues and communities)
  • Be sustained (over at least two terms, ideally more)
  • Be reflective (what worked and how do we know?)
  • Be driven by a coherent long-term plan (where does the school want to be and how does this help?)
  • Have a measurable and significant impact (what data do we need to inform our further planning?)
  • Fulfil a need (school and professional) Investing in people
  • Have scope for whole school and departmental development

All too often teachers can feel threatened by imposed CPD. Teachers have been ‘sent’ on my courses without applying themselves. One appeared on my behaviour management course on Monday having been told on the Friday before that he needed it. Another turned up on my iPad in Maths course without an iPad.  He started with “I’m not a fan at all, convince me “- His school had given iPads to all their students with little preparation for the teachers. Again he had been sent without applying.

What does the Research Say about effective CPD?

This is taken from the Teacher Development Trust

How Good Is The Current Provision Of Training And Development For Teachers?

In England, schools reported spending around £180million pounds on staff development and training. That’s just 0.5% of their budgets, equivalent to around £15 per student. Of this tiny amount, just under half was spent on cover teachers to free staff up for courses, so the actual spend was nearer £8 per student, from a budget of about £3000! Contrast that to the amount spent on entering students in exams (around £25) or textbooks (starting at around £20 for one copy).

Sadly, most of this money didn’t do much to help improve classroom practice. Research shows that the most common training involved sitting watching a PowerPoint and the most common reason for selecting a course was ‘the teacher wanted to go’ – not hugely systematic. When CUREE conducted a snapshot of training provision for the TDA, they found that barely 1% of training they looked at was effectively transforming classroom practice. Finally, in research from NFER, when teachers got back to classrooms only 7% of schools checked to see if there was any effect on student attainment.

On the whole, the most commonly booked courses tend to be in reaction to external threats and changes (e.g. Ofsted inspections, new regulations, changing exam syllabuses).

The DfE have published a Standard for Teachers CPD here

Barriers to Effective CPD

A great overview of this is from Tom Sherrington @TeacherHead in his blog

Tom’s excellent blog

In Tom’s blog he shows this chart taken from Tim Brighouse (who inspired me as a young teacher in Birmingham) Managing Change  (an essential read about what makes a successful school)

Vision (Shared)  + Skills (Mastery) +Incentives (Purpose) +Resources (Time and physical)  +Action Plan (Road Map) are all needed to create change. Missing just one of these is likely to lead to failure.


managing-change-grid png

Many delegates who come on my courses come because of their own Vision or have been sent. Rarely is there presence due to a coherent school Action Plan. Many are not given the Resources (usually time when they get back) to effectively succeed – I stay in contact with many of my delegates and frustration is common. They know what they want to do, but barriers are often put in their way. If there is no follow up ideally as part of an Action Plan , then a False Start is likely to be the outcome.

Some questions worth asking if you are starting on a CPD journey (these sound obvious but I often find they haven’t been asked)

  • What are we trying to achieve? – big picture – how does this relate to the learning in the classroom?
  • Where are we now?
  • What is achievable in the short term and long term? – How will we know?
  • What is the time scale involved?
  • How can we ensure accountability?
  • How do we sustain the progress?
  • What are the threats?  – the jaded eye-rollers of doom?  – do they have power?
  • Who is onside? –  are they credible?
  • Is it achievable/worth it? – What are the Transaction Costs   Potential Gains compared to effort/cost
  • How do we differentiate? -Make everyone’s experience as positive as possible?

At Revolution Education we are committed to producing the highest effectiveness CPD at the lowest cost. We charge zero commission and operate profit sharing with schools in order to promote sustainability. Find out more here





One thought on “How to Deliver Effective CPD for Teachers

  1. Neil, you made a comprehensive description of CPD. I agree with you. I felt and observed some of the things you have described. Your text is really good. I will read and meditate about it more times.
    Just a detail, in my opinion CPD is an unfortunate acronym because learning is not really continuous. PD would be enough and more accurate.

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