Navigating the CPD marketplace

With so many experts, partners, consultants and providers, how can school leaders better navigate the CPD marketplace? Maria Cunningham looks at new quality-assurance research and its implications for your school’s CPD commissioning

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update

In April a consortium of the Chartered College of Teaching, Teacher Development Trust (TDT) and Sheffield Institute of Education launched a report to design, develop and pilot a system for quality-assuring teachers’ CPD. The aim of the project was to, first and foremost, design a system which enables school leaders to make decisions about CPD more easily. When we held consultations with school leaders, they said things like:

  • “Personally I feel there is a lot of pressure on me to make the right decision, and a lot of money being spent. A tool would improve that and put me at ease. I would find it really valuable.”
  • “At our school we really care about outcomes. What is the impact on that person going on CPD, and what will the long-term impact be on our young people? But not all CPD providers offer these things in their marketing.”
  • “If providers did want to gain a badge it would make a lot of schools’ lives easier. We spend a lot of money…it is a minefield, and trying to prioritise high-quality CPD is very difficult.”

Our learning suggests that the quality-assurance system we have developed has the potential to be robust, fair and valuable for school leaders and the wider system. This is a huge development in the landscape, as we know that not all CPD available to schools is equally effective – with huge variation in quality of design, service and delivery.

Before selecting partners, consultants, providers or experts to work with, you need to be able to present your needs as clearly and specifically as possible, and ensure that colleagues within your school have a basic understanding of the principles of effective CPD so that they can meaningfully contribute to evaluation of whether the input or training has met its intended purpose. Here is some guidance we developed alongside the CPD quality-assurance project to help you do exactly that.

Who or what is the target of the CPD?

Before selecting a provider to work with you need to be able to present your needs as clearly and specifically as possible. A CPD quality mark might confirm that a provider has systems in place to support participants and/or school leaders in identifying CPD needs and requirements to ensure that the content presented is suitable – but success also relies on you, as a leader, identifying in advance:

  • What depth of expertise should the CPD programme be aiming to achieve (e.g. a webinar to raise awareness against an extended approach over time with expert input to secure entrenched practice)?
  • How does the intended CPD contribute or relate to your school improvement plan?

How will you evaluate the impact?

When we at the Teacher Development Trust do our CPD diagnostic reviews of schools, a common misconception we come across is that evaluation of professional development must mean lots of feedback forms!

While collecting participants’ immediate responses to a professional learning activity is an important way to work out whether the content felt relevant, the delivery was effective or they enjoyed the experience, research also shows that whether teachers are ‘conscripts’ or ‘volunteers’ does not matter as much as a positive learning environment, provision of sufficient time, and how the professional learning fitted in with their classroom and school context.

As such, the proposed CPD quality-assurance blueprint does not take into account customer reviews or incorporate any sort of satisfaction ratings. However, it will check that providers actively seek feedback from participants and their schools and draw upon this to improve their ongoing quality and effectiveness.

Greatest value for money?

CPD programmes that are quality-assured should have had to demonstrate that value for money for schools has been considered in the design process; however, it is up to you to make a judgement as to whether the price of the service can be justified within your budget, or if there are other genuinely equivalent services, experts or courses which might provide similar for less.

Some top tips

Finally, we spoke to a range of school leaders in TDT Network member schools and asked them to share their top tips for finding the right provider for you and your school. Four main themes emerged from this exercise:

  • Pick up the ‘phone: use the criteria above to identify your needs, clarify some minimum expectations and be a discerning customer – if you are paying for a programme of development, do not feel you cannot have a conversation about it.
  • Look for opportunities to adapt: many providers will arrange a meeting, send a form or survey in advance to better understand your needs. Check that this is available to you if you do not think something ‘off-the-shelf’ will achieve your aims.
  • Ask to be put in touch with other users: many leaders say it is more helpful to hear testimonials directly from past participants – providers should be happy to arrange this.

Involve participants: if you are commissioning CPD for individuals or teams other than yourself, make sure to include them in the process to ensure it is fit-for-purpose – for example, do they require a facilitator with specialist experience?

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