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Brilliant teaching and training in FE and skills A guide to effective CPD for teachers, trainers and leaders

Read the full report by clicking here

‘Brilliant teaching & training does not happen by accident,’ is the opening line of this report. I’m finding it difficult to argue with this, as long as we allow for those odd flukes of an unplanned lesson going remarkably well.

It is suggested that instead, ‘it is created through careful thinking ahead and preparing teaching or training to meet the needs of each learner.’ In addition, ‘Brilliant teachers and trainers can adjust their teaching approaches and mix of techniques, flexibly and rapidly, based on their professional judgements about what will work best.’ I’m not sure any of us could argue with that either. This report gave me a very early indication that it wouldn’t contain much in the way of challenge for me but that it would instead confirm some key messages about professional learning.

Even in the face of an ever-changing landscape, what was once brilliant practice (in 2010 when this report was published) is still brilliant practice today:

‘Every learner deserves to have professional teachers and trainers, who have the confidence, up-to-date knowledge, understanding and personalised approach to ensure the best outcomes for their learners’ and development is essential for this to continue to be the case. 


‘Effective CPD is fundamental to the sustained, positive learning and continuous improvement of teachers and trainers, and their learners.’ CPD will have impact if there is a ‘focused and wise investment’ in it. But how do we ensure it’s wise?

‘Our research indicated strong agreement that CPD should be shared in some way; it was less effective if guarded as secret knowledge.’

‘Another strong message was that the best CPD forms part of a teacher or trainer’s ongoing weekly activity, not a one-off special exercise or rush of activities.’ Fostering a love for learning in professionals is something I will continue to strive for; offering professional development opportunities that do not stifle creativity or prevent real growth but those which empower and energise colleagues.

Brilliant Teaching

‘It is not easy to define brilliant teaching; there was broad agreement that we know brilliance when we see it, and we know only too well when it is missing.’ Yet that gap in between is still missing- how can it be defined? And if it was defined, would it enable us to achieve brilliance more easily?

‘We found a consensus that continuing professional development needs to support brilliant teaching and its characteristics are:

  • Teachers and trainers love what they are doing and the learners love it too
  • There is the intellectual, physical space and time to innovate to meet learners’ needs
  • When learning is the central organising principle of an organisation
  • The environment fosters learning and develops the ability of all
  • Learners consistently enjoy learning, are challenged and achieve high standards’

‘We find that brilliant teachers and trainers have a good repertoire of teaching methods, experiment and reflect on what leads to excellent outcomes for learners, and that they:

  1. Make time for reflective practice and critically analyse their own objectives. They build their confidence in their own professional judgement tailoring learning activities to individual students’ and trainees’ needs and circumstances.
  2. Learn from others and are willing to share practice and engage in peer support, mentoring and collaborative action research, sharing, networking with other teachers and trainers and learning from others in communities of practice.
  3. Require the support of leaders who are experts in learning and can prioritise improving teaching and learning. The best leaders set the tone for brilliant teaching and develop a culture of self-improvement.
  4. Are expert at how to design and match teaching and training methods to learners’ needs, the subject and level of programme. They have a wide repertoire of methods on which to draw and know which are most effective in what circumstances.
  5. Continually listen and respond to learners, bringing enthusiasm and creativity to learning, monitoring progress and acting upon feedback. They recognise the importance of being a professional with a full commitment to the learner.
  6. Are confident in their use of technology, inventive with different and emerging technologies to enhance the learning experience and successful learning.
  7. Maximise use of VLEs and online learning to build knowledge and become more effective teachers and trainers.
  8. Are actively involved in assessment for learning and target-setting for learners.
  9. Work with newly qualified teachers and trainers, and peers, to build discussion and reflective practice.’

Ensuring this can all happen in a workplace is the challenge.

In addition to all of the above, it’s essential that teachers and trainers are real experts in their subject area and invest time in updating this, as well as keeping up with change in the wider context of education.

‘Research of ours shows that the key to success is when CPD mirrors the learning of others, including students and trainees, what is good practice for one is good practice for the other. Effective CPD is not an end in itself but fundamental to the sustained, positive teaching and continuous improvement of teachers and trainers, sector organisations and brilliant success for learners.’

“Excellence in teaching is the single most powerful influence on achievement. ” John Hattie, 2009

“ Most successful educational systems have an unwavering focus on improving the quality of teaching and that this is centred on developing the practice of individual teachers. ” Ofsted, 2009. Annual Report 2008-2009. London: Ofsted.

CPD is “ a key driver in maintaining and raising the quality of teaching in our schools, colleges and universities. ” Skills Commission, 2010. An Inquiry by the Skills Commission into Teacher Training in Vocational Education. London: Edge.

IfL’s model of the teacher or trainer as a dual professional

“ We aim to take teachers and trainers away from a tick-box approach or mere compliance with development opportunities. Professionals should drive their own CPD and develop their practice so that it really makes a difference to their learners. ” Dr Jean Kelly, Director of Professional Development, IfL

Being a great teacher or trainer

‘Reflecting on outcomes for learners- Brilliant teachers and trainers make time for reflective practice, critically analyse their own objectives and then take decisions about professional development for themselves.

Learning from others, collaboration and networking- The vast majority of our respondents believe that there is still a lot to be discovered and developed for consistently brilliant teaching. Our evidence shows that the CPD most likely to lead to the desired impact is based on learning from others – from shared resources, from peer support and working together and through formal and informal networks. Organisations with a real interest in developing teaching and learning also identified working in teams, mentoring, and engaging in action research as most likely to lead to brilliant teaching and training.

Leading CPD- Respondents also emphasised the role of leaders in setting the organisational tone, giving priority to improving teaching, training and learning amongst other conflicting demands and developing a culture of professionals’ self-improvement as a vital element in realising brilliant teaching. Many stressed the importance of CPD being undertaken regularly, throughout the year, rather than as an end-of-year activity.’

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Learners’ expectations

‘When teachers or trainers enter the classroom or workplace, however, learners expect them to be fully committed and able to focus their attention on teaching and learning.

Learners expect their teachers and trainers to behave as ambassadors for their organisation, upholding its reputation.

“ Staff should be able to talk positively about their college or provider. ” National Learner Panel member’

Some final reflections

If we set a precedent for telling or showing teachers and trainers, via CPD, how to do things then we remove their professionalism and we say loudly and clearly that we don’t trust them to make the professional judgements in their own space.

What we need to achieve, somehow, are learning and development opportunities that empower individuals to reflect on their practice and the needs of their learners: seeking to change what they do to better influence learning experiences.

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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Learning Festival 2016

Tuesday 12th July had finally arrived. The Learning Festival. My first development day in my new job at a new college. We had made the