Part 1: The problem with PD

This is the first part of a 3-part post.

I feel very honoured and privileged to have had an incredibly rich, varied and full career.  Across the 20 years I have been in education, I have held a wide range of positions that have really built up my teaching and learning repertoire and experience.  These include

  • Teacher of English
  • IC Media
  • KS3 RAC
  • International teacher – Padua – PET / FCE / IGCSE / IB
  • TLR – speaking and listening
  • Acting 2ic
  • Literacy co-ordinator
  • Director of English
  • Director of Learning
  • International teacher – Rome – IGCSE / IB

And, even more excitingly, my knowledge and experience has also hugely benefited from being on Twitter for the past ten or so years. Being on Twitter has been revolutionary for so many of us – in terms of the network it provides and the opportunities it presents. 

If I have a question about an aspect of pedagogy, I know that I can approach a Headteacher, a Deputy headteacher, a phase leader or a HOD, a consultant or another teacher like myself.  If I want feedback on something I am doing, I can just send a post and wait for that feedback to arrive. Equally, I, too, can offer support or suggestions to other professionals. The wealth of experience that has been bought together on this platform is simply staggering and utterly enriching. 

In addition, the opportunities Twitter provides are endless – as a result of being on Twitter, for example, I have been fortunate enough to contribute to so many incredible books: writing chapters on assessment and case studies on professional development, generative learning and classroom libraries.  Something that has really enabled me to grow and develop as a thinking practitioner and these opportunities are open to everyone.

Now I am so grateful for such a varied career and I am so grateful for networks like Twitter and events like this because I absolutely love learning: I love being professionally challenged; I love being developed.  As do we all. And we love it because we whole-heartedly believe and buy into what Dylan Wiliam says that

If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

And whilst that is somewhat an emotive thought, If we look at it slightly more strategically, then Rauch and Coe state ‘that the quality of teaching is arguably the single most important thing that teachers and school leaders can focus on to make a difference in children’s learning and that the quality of teaching is not fixed: teachers can be improved and they can be improved via effective professional development.’  So not only is it something that we find innately desirable – the desire to grow and improve – but it is an absolute necessity to ensure that our pupils get the very best of us and the very richest educational experience.

Ensuring high quality professional development within school contexts has become somewhat trickier, however, to perfect.  Within our international school context, there is an abundance of experience supported by pupils attaining the very best outcomes coupled now with the increased availability of online networks and outside opportunities for professional development.  Schools, therefore have to really consider the quality of their provision to ensure everyone within the school – leaders, teachers, admin staff etc etc feel professionally challenged and developed. People, like you and me, really can be the stuff of nightmares when it comes to PD.

Before I explore how learning cycles can be used to reinvigorate the individual either within a PD programme or separate to it, I want to consider some of the barriers schools are facing in creating effective provision for Professional Development and I think that it falls into four different areas:

  1. The delivery of professional development
  2. The impact of professional development
  3. The alliance between professional development and performance management
  4. And resulting attitudes towards professional development

The delivery of Professional Development

There are two issues at heart here: knowing how best to deliver CPD and the argument that too much CPD is generic and, therefore, unhelpful.

Both Kennedy and Sims and Fletcher-Wood (2021) argue that there is limited evidence when it comes to teacher learning on the most effective way to deliver Professional Development.  One area that seems to be unfailingly unhelpful is the arena of genericism.  Mark and Zoe Enser (2021), in their book, The CPD Curriculum argue that ‘attempts to make ‘one size fit all, or to mash together seemingly disconnected elements of a school’s staff development programme, and top-down direction have been instrumental in creating distrust in the very idea of professional development.’

The impact of Professional Development

More worryingly, is the lack of impact Professional Development seems to be having on teachers within the profession:

Around a third of teachers in England typically undertake PD once a week but only 38% of these teachers (surveyed in October 2018) agreed that the time and resources allocated to professional development were used in a way that enhanced teachers.  And whilst a teacher might improve quite rapidly during the first five years in the profession, due to targeted support, any improvement then tends to level off and the teacher becomes no more effective according to any measurable outcome.  In fact, Clark and Hollingsworth argue that ‘teachers may change their beliefs as a result of CPD, but this does not mean their practice will change’, with CUREE (The Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education) finding that only 1% of staff say CPD has had a transformative effect on their practice – an incredibly worrying statistic.

The alignment of Professional Development and Performance Management (mainly UK)

Certainly more relevant to the UK, but this unhelpful alignment between Performance Management and Professional Development has done much to destroy the enthusiasm for professional learning. Jones and Macpherson, in their book The Teaching Life (2022) sum the process up perfectly stating that ‘professional learning or CPD…is…closely linked to ticking boxes as opposed to promoting ongoing and meaningful review, reflection and effective development and dialogue.  Teachers would be set a specific target for a term or year, sometimes with no input or involvement in what those targets would be; then once that box was ticked that particular door would be closed permanently, only for another to be temporarily opened.  Professional learning felt disjointed and not always productive or helpful, when in fact is should be the opposite.’

The idea of professional learning being ‘closely linked to ticking boxes’ as opposed to promoting ongoing and meaningful review, reflection and effective development can be seen in the nature of targets that are often set.  Here are a small sample of targets set for teachers over the past couple of years:

  • 100% of pupils in a GCSE class to meet or exceed their FFT targets
  • A minimum progress score of 1.5 and 10 grade 9s from a mid/low prior attaining GCSE group
  • 96% of year 6 to pass their SATs.  4% was a child who wasn’t sitting them at all.
  • Achieve grade 6 or above for 50% of your class.
  • Move around the room more.
  • Raise achievement of underachieving boys in English and history
  • 100% A-C at A level.
  • Show an increase of growth mindset across key stage two
  • Do more group work.

These are deeply problematic.   Firstly, because of their focus on numerical outcomes.  Secondly, the suggestion that one person alone is responsible for these outcomes.  Thirdly, the complete absence of the processes involved in improving practice to achieve outcomes. And finally, the lack of specificity in terms of how improvement can be gleaned.

Attitudes towards Professional Development

So when you combine a less than successful delivery, genericism, with little tangible impact or very real outcomes is it any wonder that teachers zest for Professional Development within schools has withered?

In Part 2 of this blog post, I will look at how we can, as individuals, really reinvigorate what we do with Professional Development….either in conjunction with our school programme or in spite of it.


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