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Evaluating the Impact of CPD

Teachers’ Continuous Professional Development has been something I’ve been working at getting right for roughly the last three years. It’s something I’ll continue to try and get right for however long I remain involved in it. Teaching young people is a complex art to say the least; if you’ve ever taught in FE or HE then you’ll know that the art of facilitating an effective learning experience for adult learners is far more complex than one would might at first imagine. Throw in that these adult learners aren’t given the time and space to engage in whatever learning experience you’re offering and you’ve got a little closer to what it’s like facilitating effective CPD for educators.

I sat with some educators before Christmas and they shared with me that the majority of teachers they work with describe the CPD at their workplace in one of two ways:

  1. It involves us sitting and listening to someone else present and talk at us.
  2. It rarely happens because the manager usually lets us all go home early.

It saddens me that many teachers are exposed to such bad learning experiences when they heavily invest in making the learning experiences of others so positive. It saddens me even more that leaders have such low expectations to work against; motivation has now become a barrier to engagement in CPD as staff have become disengaged due to poor experiences. Things have to change.

As a profession, we’ve already begun to attempt changing CPD for ourselves; with TeachMeets, conferences, MOOCs and Twitter all helping to make our learning more self-directed and informal- this has met many of the teachers’ needs but what about the students and what about the educators sitting outside of this vibrant community?

I’ve been trying to facilitate different kinds of learning experiences since I got involved in CPD and I will continue to seek to do so, ignoring the cries of those around me who believe CPD should be a quick sticking plaster to cover their pains; generally in the form of ‘training’. CPD has a lot more to offer us than that but we don’t realise it because we’ve been so bad at measuring its impact. In a bid to ensure that I become better at doing this, I have been reading a great deal on the subject and the latest is this report from Warwick University:

Evaluating the Impact of CPD

Just like much of the other reading I’ve undertaken and written about, this reading has exposed further avenues to explore and the list becomes never-ending but I’m enjoying my learning experience:

  • It’s challenging
  • It’s relevant
  • It meets my needs
  • It’s self-directed
  • I’m learning new things
  • It provokes reflective practice

If only all other educators’ learning experiences could be just as great…

A summary of the findings

  • Most CPD consists of courses run in-house but there is a shift beginning for CPD to be seen as far more than that: mentoring, professional discussions, observations…
  • Time is considered to be the barrier to effective CPD by many.
  • INSET days, mentoring/critical friend discussions, informal networking and workshops are generally perceived to be the best CPD.
  • Professional growth and change is perceived by teachers to be attained through observations and professional discussions.
  • There exists a real tension between meeting personal, policy and organisational needs.
  • Evaluation of CPD still remains ineffective – focused on the reactions of participants rather than the resulting impact on the students.

*the perceptions here are the dangerous part- many educators have only experienced a limited range of CPD types, or at least their current perception of what is classed as CPD, is limited. 

The recommendations

These are the recommendations made in the report:

  1. Continuing Professional Development in schools needs to be evaluated more effectively.
  2. Evaluation of CPD should be appropriate to the events and experience(s) evaluated: not all events need formal evaluation
  3. Training in the use of tools for effective evaluation of CPD should be made available to schools.
  4. Evaluation of the impact of CPD should be linked to other parts of the life of the school, planning cycle, performance management cycle, etc. as appropriate.
  5. The leadership and management roles of the CPD leader need to be clearly defined.
  6. This role should be undertaken by a senior member of staff.
  7. Dedicated training for the role of CPD leader should be made available to all who fulfil this role.
  8. Schools should be supported in providing opportunities for all staff to access a range of CPD.
  9. These opportunities should be related to the needs of the individual, the school and national policy.
  10. Greater differentiation of provision is needed in CPD to ensure the needs of all staff are adequately met.

Those of you seriously interested in CPD may wish to read on where I have extracted useful quotes (there are a great deal) and included some of my own reflections as I was reading but as many of you may choose to leave at this point, I include one quote that you really must take note of before you go:

‘The international research literature has consistently shown that professional development is an essential component of successful school level change and development (Day 1999; Hargreaves 1994). It has confirmed that where teachers are able to access new ideas and to share experiences more readily, there is greater potential for school and classroom improvement. Improving schools invest in the development of their staff and create opportunities for teachers to collaborate and to share best practice. Evidence also suggests that attention to teacher learning can impact directly upon improvements in student learning and achievement. Where teachers expand and develop their own teaching repertoires and are clear in their purposes, it is more likely that they will provide an increased range of learning opportunities for students (Joyce et al, 1999). The research literature demonstrates that professional development can have a positive impact on curriculum, pedagogy, as well as teachers’ sense of commitment and their relationships with students.’ Talbert and McLaughlin, 1994

The big question is, how do we get to the point where we are evaluating CPD’s impact well enough to say, with certainty, that it’s making the difference all of the evidence suggests it has the capacity to? 

 How is CPD defined?

An wonderful definition of CPD this report relies upon:

“Professional development consists of all natural learning experiences and those conscious and planned activities which are intended to be of direct or indirect benefit to the individual, group or school, which constitute, through these, to the quality of education in the classroom. It is the process by which, alone and with others, teachers review, renew and extend their commitment as change agents to the moral purposes of teaching; and by which they acquire and develop critically the knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence essential to good professional thinking, planning and practice with children, young people and colleagues throughout each phase of their teaching lives” (Day 1999)

The skills needed by a CPD leader


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‘In terms of the skills and abilities needed for the role, organisational skills were highlighted most often; one leader summed up the requirements of the role as, “Organisational skills, clearly, because you are pulling together a lot of strands…. anticipatory: forward planning is very important, wherever possible to predict as much as you can. Flexibility, because the unexpected happens all the time, normally in the worst possible scenario you could ever envisage…. Negotiating skills,… Integrity… that’s I suppose, not a skill but a quality but I think it’s an important one, because you do carry a lot of confidential information… Reliability, … you have to be very up-to-date with what’s happening and reliability of accessing that information and relaying it to colleagues.” (Respondent 8). Analytical skills were also mentioned (Respondent 9), in terms of analysing needs and impact, as well as (interestingly in view of the importance of the definition of CPD, see below) untangling where and if CPD has taken place.’

In the CPD leader interviews about what their role encompasses and how they view CPD, there was one response that resonated me and reminded me of something I’d come across at an LSG conference a while ago- organisations will expect quick results and therefore the sticking plaster of a course or a training day is seen as useful- it is in fact far more useful for us to think about development over time (even if it is slower) as this will have a far greater impact. The development of people cannot be simplified through ‘training’- we are not robots or machines to be trained in processes.

“It does worry me, with a lot of the stuff that comes out now, … And it’s training; it’s always training. And there’s a difference for me between training and staff development. We train staff in fire safety and how to use it and how to get out of the building: that’s training. But I think the staff development, developing the learning of staff … is the thing that actually – 84 – improves standards, because it’s attitudes, it’s engaging, it’s emotions, it’s motivation and those are the things that have the impact.”

One leader summed up the role in saying, “I think a CPD Co-ordinator – I don’t know whether you’re a spider in the middle of the web, or the cog in the middle of the wheel, or whatever, but you are the person who has to have your antennæ out, find out what’s going on and make the links between.”

So what does ‘good’ and ‘bad’ CPD look like?

SPOILER: The picture is about as complex as you thought it was…

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‘…This ‘fit’ between the developmental needs of the teacher and the selected activity is critically important in ensuring that there is a positive impact at the school and classroom level. Where staff development opportunities are poorly conceptualised, insensitive to the concerns of individual participants and, make little effort to relate learning experiences to workplace conditions, they make little impact upon teachers or their pupils (Day 1999).’

‘Research has shown that in order to achieve improvements in teaching and better learning outcomes for students, teachers need to be engaged in professional development that promotes inquiry, creativity and innovation. Using peer coaching, mentoring, sabbaticals and other forms of sustained professional learning has been shown to have positively affected teaching and learning outcomes (Joyce, Calhoun et al. 1998; Little 1993).’

Evaluating CPD

SPOILER: The evaluation of CPD is just as complex as you thought it was…


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When students are asked to carry out an evaluation of something; teachers expect them to consider the issue from multiple perspectives. They are expected to draw on all of their knowledge gained on the course and make use of evidence from a range of sources, applying it all to the specific context they’re presented with. The same should apply to CPD yet it doesn’t. Instead, we seem largely satisfied with dishing out ‘happy sheets’ and keeping our fingers crossed for the best possible result, which we measure by looking at the data that’s pushed out at the end of an academic year: forcing a relationship between the two where there is none (when I reference ‘we’ in this blog, this is my general perception of the sector and may or may not include you- if it doesn’t include you, please get in touch as there are a lot of us who would love to hear from you!)

‘Any evaluation of CPD must take account of the indirect and direct impact upon different stakeholders, of its effects not only upon knowledge and skills but also commitment and moral purposes and to its effect upon the thinking and planning, as well as actions of teachers taking account of their life and career phases and the contexts in which they work. However the research evidence about evaluation practices in relation to CPD shows that:

  • It rarely focuses upon longer term or indirect benefits
  • It rarely differentiates between different kinds of benefits in relation to different purposes in the definition i.e. moral purposes, relevance to phase of development, change, thinking, emotional intelligence
  • It is often based upon individual self report which relates to the quality and relevance of the experience and not its outcomes
  • It usually occurs simultaneously, after the learning experience, rather than formatively so that it can be used to enhance that experience
  • It rarely attempts to chart benefits to the school or department (possibly because these are often not explicitly contained within purposes).
  • It is clear that evaluation practice is most useful when it explores the interrelationship between the impact on teacher, school and pupil.’

If we are to cater effectively for the varied needs, experiences and roles that exist within our staff then it’s important that the CPD evaluation methods we employ are sophisticated enough to take into account all of the possible impacts on each group and individual (and that’s without even considering the student yet!) 

It is also suggested that the evaluation of CPD should take into account setting too:

‘Evaluation models therefore must take account of the settings in which CPD occurs. Models for the effective evaluation of CPD (i.e. that which will further benefit the planning, models, strategies, outputs and outcomes) also need to be designed so that they will be able to relate to different:

  • Purposes (e.g. maintenance, improvement, change)
  • Locations (e.g. on/ off site)
  • Impact of learning models used (e.g. didactic, collaborative)
  • Outcomes (e.g. direct/ indirect benefits for school, department, teacher, classroom, pupil)

I find the overall layout of the image below a little confusing but I think it’s a useful overview of most of the aspects that should be considered in evaluations and the relationships that may exist between them.

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Evaluating CPD: Guskey

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Some thoughts: Evaluating the number of sessions attended is common practice but pretty pointless as an evaluation method as the numbers don’t really say very much about the CPD’s effectiveness let alone the resulting impact on participants and their learners. The next level of CPD evaluation’s existence is in participant satisfaction questionnaires, which don’t come close to considering the impact on students: they’re also incredibly subjective and highly unreliable. Few CPD events take place over the longer term therefore evaluation is limited when attempting to measure the impact of a short term intervention.

‘Good evaluation is built in from the outset of the professional development programme or activity not added on at the end (Guskey, 2002).’

Evaluating CPD: what works


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Respondents reported that discussions, as a method of evaluation, were seen as far more useful than questionnaires as staff could get together, share experiences, ideas and have their voices heard. Many felt it also gave them a greater chance to reflect on their practice. Some thought will need to be given as to how we can manage to capture this kind of evaluation yet still conduct it in a timely manner.

‘Discussion is more effective than form filling and creates opportunities to explore further possibilities’ 

‘Because I had to explain coherently and meaningfully to others after a time period had elapsed between the event and the evaluation. I had to reread notes and THINK about what had taken place. Often the course is done, form filled, and forgotten, and the whole school doesn’t benefit.’

Learning logs were rarely used as an evaluation tool but where they were, participants remarked that they had helped with the learning greatly:

‘Time to reflect upon my practice was invaluable and [a] journal helped me do this.’ ‘I feel that reflective journals and/or dialogues in conjunction with pupil interviews are the most powerful and effective measurements of the effectiveness of CPD in terms of improving teaching and learning.’ ‘I think teachers should be encouraged to keep an ongoing reflective journal that could reflect on practice for each CPD course they go on, and go on with that through their career.’

Follow-up support and continuous evaluation was regarded highly:

‘For another teacher, there was follow-up support from a CPD team in the classroom: ‘This evaluation helped me consolidate and put in place ideas that changed the management in my class and enabled better learning to take place.’ Evaluation that was spread over time, whether self-evaluation or with provider assistance, or evaluation that was broken into discrete phases, was also seen by some teachers as being helpful: ‘This self-evaluation, that was continuous, was extremely useful in focusing the mind as we went along and so why the course was useful was very apparent throughout.’

‘…asking participants to rate their own knowledge of the subject of the developmental activity before it began, immediately after the event and then three or more months later. The need to provide a base line for evaluation – what practitioners know/do before the event, was echoed by another provider, “How can you judge impact if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve in the first place?”

Evaluating CPD: unhelpful methods


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Teacher respondents frequently provided examples of evaluations that they felt had not been particularly helpful. For some, this appeared to be a result of not having experienced positive evaluation techniques, while for others, there seemed to be a desire to expose poor practice. And there’s the issue…classroom observations appeared to be used frequently as a method of evaluating CPD: as a stick to beat the teacher with rather than as a tool for further growth.

Frustration with questionnaires as a method for evaluation were often clearly conveyed by respondents. Many teachers felt that they were left to evaluate the usefulness of CPD by themselves in as little time as they could:

‘Mainly quick questionnaires at the end of the session. No impact on teaching or learning ever carried out unless self-motivated.’

‘Most courses give out a questionnaire at the end of the day or course. You usually want to get away so spend a minimum amount of time [completing the questionnaire]. A more imaginative process would help get more relevant information.’

Time, as per usual, was cited as a real issue affecting how well evaluations were conducted and how successfully CPD was participated in.

Barriers to Participation in CPD


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TIME! Obviously!

But this too- those staff who are particularly invested in their students are the ones who are likely to want to engage in CPD the most- this causes barriers-

“I think teachers take their job in the class very seriously and they don’t want to take time out to do things. … It comes from they’re away from the kids and they see that as a negative, they say it puts extra pressure on everybody else cause you’re away and therefore someone has to cover,…” (Respondent 10).

Secondly, I think more than staff ‘attitudes’ to CPD, it’s more their level of awareness of what it can offer to them and how well it can support their development.

“One of the barriers is people’s lack of appreciation of it”. Head teachers reported that staff were often reluctant to view CPD in terms of their own personal or career development, seeing it as more school based “It’s still quite difficult to think of themselves… but I still want staff to be thinking “Well what do I need in order to further my career?” and it’s quite difficult still to get them to think that way”. Staff attitudes could also form a barrier to uptake of CPD, seeing one facet of work in CPD being the need to “break down that sort of resistance to saying: “I need some help here.”

Teachers saw performance management as the main way CPD needs were defined…and this is the problem. If CPD is viewed in that light, rather than as something that is designed to help them grow as individuals and to improve the work they do with students, CPD will not appeal. The aim is to reach a point where staff engage in CPD, not because they’re under-performing, but because they recognise they’re always learning.

There seemed to be a sense from all respondents that they didn’t have a clear idea about how their CPD linked to aims, objectives, the school, their own practice, observations and the performance management cycle: the whole process was not linked together.

‘It would seem that the system is working, in that needs are assessed, targets set and their achievement (or otherwise) noted in the PM cycle, and that CPD events are undertaken in light of those targets. What is not clear to many participants, however, is the connection between these events.’



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“The first few years it was, “Right: I need you to evaluate your CPD,” so all people did was write down a list of what they’d been on and what they’d done. And it’s been a matter of chipping away: “Yeah, but what impact did it have, what difference did it make? You tell me.” “We went on it and we’ve changed our schemes of work.” Yeah, but have they had any impact on the children? Do the children enjoy it? How do you know the children enjoy it?” *interesting that ‘enjoyment’ is discussed here rather than the ‘learning’.

Happy sheets, as expected, are warned against as not really telling us what we need to know.

It was suggested that a variety of approaches (that would result in both qualitative and quantitative ‘data’) should be used simultaneously and some suggestions were:

  • Interviews with teachers
  • Documentary evidence ƒ
  • Interim observation ƒ
  • Informal Discussion ƒ
  • Reflective logs ƒ
  • Rating own learning ƒ
  • Questionnaires ƒ
  • Return to immediate evaluation information

The Missing Link


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Schools and individual practitioners generally did not make a distinction between learning and the use of that learning.

‘There is a missing link:  that practitioners should be able to articulate not only the effect on their own practice but the effect the changes in their practice have on pupils.’

‘That’s why we have the pre and post meetings- they have to be clear about what they want from the training, and when they come back they have a meeting with their pm [performance management] manager and then they book a meeting three months later to show the benefits from it whether it’s from observation in the classroom or a paper or whatever it is.”

Reviews of learning have been difficult in my experience as very few staff participate in them. Staff aren’t generally accustomed to continuing their learning but rather engaging in an activity and moving on with it or from it. If with it, they are often unable to articulate that the development in their practice came about from having attended CPD and if from it then they’ve attended the CPD and haven’t done anything with it.

There is remarkable benefit to be found from connecting development discussions seamlessly between the PDR process and 1-1s managers have with their staff- it is these through these discussions (relying on the positive relationships they’ve built with one another) where impact can really be measured and development encouraged (rather than via one central staff development function that serves hundreds of staff). CPD, evaluations, curriculum, planning, PDRs and impact considerations all need to be linked to one another: a holistic approach must be taken.

The Best Examples


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Characteristics of “high” banded schools included: ƒ

  • Awareness that pupil learning outcomes are the ultimate aim of CPD events
  • Planning for evaluation of impact at this level is an integral part of overall planning for CPD ƒ
  • Clear mechanisms for relating CPD events to pupil learning outcomes

Measured through:

  • Interview with pupils ƒ
  • Online feedback from pupils ƒ
  • Exam and course grades ƒ
  • Scrutiny of work ƒ
  • Discussion ƒ
  • Term/year evaluations/tests ƒ
  • Pupil self-assessment ƒ
  • Performance assessment
Some thoughts

Impact studies would be made far easier through ensuring that departments/the whole establishment have focused on one aspect of their practice for a period of time as then the observation and evaluation methods just need to focus on a single aspect of practice rather than multiple areas, which can be time-consuming in a large FE college with more than 1000 staff members…

Data can only go so far in demonstrating the impact of CPD: it neglects aspects of attitude and behaviour changes, which are so much more significant and likely to be the main aim of development anyway.

Key considerations in planning effective CPD


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Guskey (1994) reviewing research on professional development, highlights the following key considerations in planning effective CPD:

  1. Change is both an individual and organisational process. CPD needs to focus on the classroom level, but also needs to ensure that school culture and structures support the CPD effort.
  2. Plan large-scale change, but do so incrementally to minimise chances of failure.
  3. Work in teams to help alleviate the fear of change, but make sure that the teams are not too large, as the risk exists that too much time is wasted on meetings rather than action.
  4. Include procedures for feedback on results, especially information that the new method seems to be working, as change in affective attitudes often follows changes in outcomes that follow from changes in behaviour.
  5. Provide continuing follow-up, support and pressure, especially during the early phases of implementation when most problems will be encountered.

The considerations here seem achievable and realistic: they make a lot of sense,

It’s important not to ignore the organisational development and aspects of culture that are so tied up with CPD. CPD can influence such aspects and is often a chosen as a key tool in achieving culture change and at the same time, CPD’s potential success is very much influenced by the organisation’s culture in return:

‘CPD activities have been found to transfer more easily into changed behaviours and teaching practices if there is good fit with individuals’ professional and personal values and if professional development approaches already existing in the organisation (Knight, 2002). As well as being important in leading to success of CPD programs, organisational change can often be a prime goal of CPD programmes.’

Much movement and conversation about CPD recently has centred around collaborative approaches and I think that the success of professional networks such as Twitter support the view that a collaborative CPD can be a beneficial one. This is a far stronger statement, suggesting that without collaboration, we’re lost and I’d be inclined to agree:

‘It has been argued that creating a collaborative professional learning environment for teachers is the ‘single most important factor’ for successful school improvement and ‘the first order of business’ for those seeking to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning (Eastwood and Louis, 1992:215).’

Benefits of CPD


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  • Motivation
  • Inspiration
  • Confidence
  • Stimulation

Imagine if all of our learners said that about our lessons? We’d be in an outstanding situation!

CPD for ALL staff is important; every member of staff needs to feel valued just as much as another:

“I changed all the contracts…to include five days’ training. Prior to that,…they couldn’t be trained, other than to send them somewhere for a day, and in changing that, it’s obviously had a huge impact. And it’s also a way of saying, “We respect you as professional workers”. If you don’t offer people training, you’re actually giving them a very simple message: you ain’t worth it, you’re not worth developing”.

Changing the role of meetings to focus far more on staff development:

‘To this end, a number of respondents (CPD leaders, head teachers and heads of department) reported a move away from using meetings for business, and toward using them for reflection and sharing of practice, “Any information I can disseminate on paper,… I’ll do that, and have the departmental time to talk about what we’re going to do, what’s gone well…”.

Learning from colleagues who have experience to share was seen as far more beneficial than any other CPD: seeing them as the experts. Chance to spend time with colleagues and learn from one another; no matter what the format, was seen as highly beneficial.

“It’s not the guru who’s been out of school for years …Credibility – people [colleagues] have credibility”. Observation (and its concomitant feedback and discussion) was highlighted as an important part of collegial learning. “The most successful CPD I would say we have had is really where we constructed a timetable of mutual classroom observation, really in order to develop our subject knowledge and expertise, and that sharing of practice has been the best-spent money of all, I think. Because you give people, in the safety of their own school, an opportunity to share what they actually do, from their planning to the delivery to the outcomes, with children that they themselves teach, and they can talk about it and review it one to another. And that, I think, that has been our best CPD because, quite often, it’s what’s on your doorstep that actually is the easiest thing to ignore”. “I think one of the best forms of CPD has been every kind of peer observation thing that I’ve done.“

‘Across all groups, the most important point about “good CPD” was that it should be practical: that what is learned, experienced in CPD has a direct application to the work of the practitioner, whether that is in terms of management or teaching. “…but it was because it was so closely linked; once we’d learned something on the day, we then came back and discussed with our mentor and tried to implement those things – it was that it interlinked between work and the fact [the learning from the event] and seeing how the fact would help the work; it wasn’t that somebody was a good speaker or good handouts, it was the practicalities of the course.”(Respondent 36)

Networking with colleagues in other schools was referenced as being of value too:

‘Network involvement, or more casual work with colleagues from other schools, was also mentioned as very beneficial, by all categories of respondents. Partially this relates to what has been said above about relevance and trust in practitioner knowledge. It also provides an alternative to the closed in attitude which can be present in established schools, “Also it gets you out of – ‘well our school does it like this, we do it like this’. We can now see what other people do”.

“In the end, the classic thing with a good provider is: can we see some sort of connection between the quality of the course, engagement with the member of staff, and something back in school? Has it actually affected our practice and been of benefit to a youngster somewhere?”

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