Meeting the challenge of providing high-quality continuing professional development for teachers: The Wellcome CPD Challenge Pilot Delivery Report

PERRY, Emily, HALLIDAY, Joelle, HIGGINSON, Judith and PATEL, Sai (2022). Meeting the challenge of providing high-quality continuing professional development for teachers: The Wellcome CPD Challenge Pilot Delivery Report. Project Report. Wellcome.

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Governments worldwide view teacher professional development as a route to improved teaching, and thereby improved educational outcomes. However, in England, teachers typically participate in less professional development than teachers in other high-performing countries and appear to access a lower proportion of subject-specific compared to generic professional development. Therefore there is a strong case for improved access to, and engagement with, teacher professional development. In recent years, the government in England has implemented large-scale teacher professional development initiatives, but there is limited evidence of sustained change towards a goal of all teachers being able to participate in high-quality professional development throughout their careers. The Wellcome CPD Challenge, a three-year pilot, was commissioned by Wellcome alongside an external evaluation, to understand whether and how an entitlement to teacher continuing professional development (CPD) with defined criteria related to the quality and quantity of professional development teachers participate in, could be implemented in schools. The CPD Challenge was managed and delivered by staff from Sheffield Institute of Education, part of Sheffield Hallam University, working in partnership with Learn Sheffield. The evaluation was carried out by CFE Research. Forty schools were set the challenge of meeting defined criteria relating to the quality and quantity of teacher professional development. By meeting these criteria, it was hoped that all teachers would participate in a transformational amount of high-quality professional development directly relevant to their practice and contexts, with the criteria acting as ambitious but achievable targets, independent of schools’ starting points. The CPD Challenge criteria were defined as: • Continuing professional development (CPD) meets the needs of the individual teacher and is predominantly focussed on subject-specific development; • CPD is high quality and aligns to the Department for Education’s (2016) standard for teachers’ professional development; • Every teacher participates in a minimum 35 hours of CPD annually. The schools selected to participate in the CPD Challenge included secondary, primary and special schools, representing a mix of school types and contexts. Each school designated a ‘CPD Challenge Champion’ to lead change in professional development practices and to support operational aspects of the project in their schools. The Champions were essential to the project’s success: they were the drivers of change in schools and teachers’ main point of contact with the CPD Challenge. CPD Challenge Champions were supported through schools’ briefings which brought the group together, and regular contact with a CPD Challenge Facilitator, external to the school. Schools’ briefings enabled Champions to engage with and consider research evidence about professional development and related issues, to reflect on their own practices and to learn from each other. The Facilitators were vital in supporting the Champions to fulfil their roles, through dynamic and flexible support. The Facilitators variously acted as sounding board, mentor and coach, problem solver, critical friend, and a link to other schools, enabling Champions to manage both developmental and logistical aspects of their role. Each school received an incentive payment as a recognition of the time needed to engage in the CPD Challenge. This was not ring-fenced to activities relating to teacher professional development, and it was not expected that, for most schools, the funding would be sufficient to enable meeting the CPD Challenge criteria. A range of activities, initiatives and practices were trialled, reviewed and revised in the schools. These included: • development of shared understandings of professional development, for example through school-specific definitions of professional development and re-designation of meetings and other ‘administrative’ tasks as opportunities for development; • new or adapted whole-school approaches for professional development planning, delivery and evaluation, such as explicit linking of professional development to teacher appraisal and performance management and systems for tracking engagement in, and the impact of, professional development; • new approaches to individualised and subject-specific professional development, including teacher research projects; subscriptions to subject associations; the use of departmental time for developing and sharing subject-focussed practice, and the identification and deployment of in-school expertise for the leadership of professional development. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the second year of the CPD Challenge, had a significant impact on schools’ ability to participate in the project and the ways their teachers engaged with professional development. However, as the practicalities of dealing with the pandemic became embedded in day-to-day practice, school leaders adapted their plans to remote learning solutions. Overall, it appears that the changes schools had made to their professional development practices before the pandemic were largely resilient to its impact. Further, the use of online learning environments, and teachers’ increasing confidence in working within these, opened up some opportunities for more flexible and individualised professional development. Where schools made less progress towards meeting the CPD Challenge criteria, this tended to derive from factors such as competing priorities in school. These limited the CPD Challenge Champions’ ability to engage with support, and school leaders’ and teachers’ ability to maintain a focus on the potential positive impacts of participation in the project. However, many schools experiencing the most challenging of circumstances, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, were able to adapt their approaches to professional development in response to those competing priorities and changing external conditions. The levels of commitment shown by the schools in the CPD Challenge indicate that there is an appetite for system-wide and school-level change in approaches to professional development. The changes put in place by schools led to increases in the quantity and quality of professional development teachers engaged in, and to fundamental shifts in schools’ professional development cultures. Our experience, complementing those of the evaluation, indicates that these changes are sustainable in the long term. Our findings suggest that, given appropriate support for school leaders, schools are able to meet an entitlement to the provision of high-quality professional development (where quality is clearly defined) for teachers at all stages of their careers, and that such an entitlement provides a focus for improvement in schools’ practices around professional development. We offer these recommendations for school leaders and policy makers: • all schools should appoint a senior leader with explicit responsibility for leading professional development, who is given support to develop their understanding of professional development, to plan for, lead and reflect on change and to engage staff in these changes; • all school staff should participate in building a shared understanding of the purpose and outcomes of sustained high-quality professional development, moving away from ideas of professional development as attendance at external courses and towards shared ownership of professional development as an ongoing process of learning through multiple activities; • school leaders can embed small changes in practice to balance and align school development objectives with teachers’ individual learning needs, such as redefining the purpose and content of staff meetings; linking professional development with performance management or appraisals, and developing systems of teacher-led inquiry. Finally, we recommend that the government implements an entitlement to professional development for teachers at all stages of their careers.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2022 16:45
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2022 17:00

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