Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Developing Evidence-Informed CPD in FE and Skills Settings

When I read about the CPD taking place with staff at Oldham College and the fab Rachel Irving (read about it here), I was thrilled to bits for a number of reasons-

  1. It was CPD and I’ll read anything that will give me ideas about CPD
  2. There were some graphics created by Oliver Caviglioli
  3. Tom Sherrington was leading it
  4. Austin’s Butterfly was involved

The most important feature of it was that it described CPD taking place in Further Education. I read so much about the development of teachers in schools that I soak up anything related to the FE and Skills Sector with extra enthusiasm. In many ways, we are a different beast altogether. We are –

  • A space in which school-leavers and adults returning to study gather together to seek a route into work, pursue long-held dreams, and find a purpose. From the 16 years olds with little clue about where to head next, to 17 year olds who tried another year at school but sought a more diverse and independent learning environment instead. From 18 year olds setting on a new path after going off the rails, to 40 year old parents looking to do what they felt they should have done when younger; taking brave new steps into an entirely new life as a nurse, plumber, or teacher.
  • An eclectic mix of staff, most of whom have held numerous careers before stepping into the shoes of a teacher. Over the years I’ve worked alongside a rocket engineer, a Michelin starred chef, a flight attendant, a dancer, and multiple business owners. These staff are often professional first, and teacher second, which brings its strengths and challenges in equal measure.

Yet we share a number of similarities with schools –

  • At a basic level, we all have a group of people sat in front of us who are looking to learn something (whatever their motivation or aspiration).
  • We all employ a variety of tactics to help these people make progress: explaining, modelling, questioning, assessing, feedback…

No matter what sector you work in, read anything written about teaching practice over the last couple of years and it won’t be long before you come across the importance of being ‘evidence-informed.’

Tom Bennett’s ResearchEd movement has a great deal to do with this in gathering educators together to share research they’ve either conducted or engaged in themselves.

The Learning Scientists are working hard to get all students and teachers thinking about what makes learning most effective.

The Education and Training Foundation‘s Professional Standards highlight reflective and evidence-engaged attitudes-

  • 1- Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners
  • 2- Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.
  • 8- Maintain and update your knowledge of educational research to develop evidence-based practice.
  • 9 – Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.
  • 10 – Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning

The Chartered College sets out in its vision that –


The DfE’s Standard for Professional Standards created by the Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group, including some CPD superstars – David Weston, Helene Galdin-O’Shea, Philippa Cordingley and many others, states- ‘Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.’ It’s asserted that CPD should ‘draw on the evidence base, including high-quality academic research, and robustly evaluated approaches and teaching resources.’

With all of these prominent voices selling the benefits of engaging in evidence, it would be easy to get blinded into thinking it was a good thing to do just because they said so. I believe that the benefits of engaging more heavily in evidence can be summed up as follows –

Educators, whatever their sector or context, make thousands of small decisions every single day that they judge will improve their students’ learning experience. Engaging in how other experts and practitioners have solved a specific challenge, overcome a barrier, or enhanced an approach will only improve our own practice and maximise the impact we have. Educators are first and foremost learners. Engaging with evidence challenges us, injects joy, and encourages us to experiment; allowing us to easily model the learning process to our own students.

So, now that we’ve established that ‘evidence-informed’ is particularly en vogue AND it’s for a good reason, shall we begin?

A project proposal on a gloomy day

I’m at work on one of those days where the meetings stretch endlessly into the distance, I’ve inherited an entire other team ‘temporarily’ because my boss left and wasn’t to be replaced, and I was questioning the impact anything I was doing was having. Cue an email from Joss Kang that went something along the lines of-

I’m getting in touch to see if you would be interested in… YES! Anything!… Wait, what is it? (Remember this lesson Hannah – you weren’t wrong. The power of networking is strong…)

It’s a tender for what ETF are calling a Professional Exchange (Special Project) and I think the topic may be of interest… Developing evidence-based CPD in FE and skills settings. If successful it runs until next March. We would be looking at approx. 25 teachers carrying out mini R&D projects, lasting one term, testing 5-7 interventions. I know the action research approach is one you advocate and are doing anyway. You had me at ‘CPD’. And yes to anything related to research!

Tom Sherrington has agreed to undertake… Say who? What? Really? Where do I sign? (sorry Tom! I know you’re just a human but I really was this excited!)

I’m wondering if you would like to be the FE College project partner? Well, yes, quite obviously I would!

My day suddenly had that awesome butterflies in the stomach feeling to it. The warmth of a project that fits with my values, will engage me in collaboration and reflection, and provides me with the rarely needed excuse to experiment with a new approach to CPD.

The project evolved over the coming weeks and after years of reading Tom’s blog and seeing him speak a couple of times, I got the chance to speak to him via video call…! So plans progressed – Joss was the organiser and research knowledge, Tom would be our learning expert, and I became increasingly nervous about what I could actually offer this dream team. Ok – staff. I could offer that. Then the realities of recruiting enough practitioners to register in the first few weeks of a brand new term immediately after a restructure hit and led to some sleepless nights. After all my excitement, could I actually hold my rather straightforward side of the deal and get enough staff involved?

Day 1 has arrived… almost!

A few months later and we arrive at Day 1 (on Friday) with enough practitioners to go ahead.

The project will allow practitioners to engage with FIVE approaches that hold promise for the FE and Skills Sector. They’ll select ONE of the approaches and test it out in their own context before reporting the findings in early 2018. The FIVE approaches selected, after discussion, by Tom and input from the ETF are as follows –

  1. Retrieval practice and use of knowledge organisers
  2. Redrafting for excellence and Austin’s Butterfly
  3. Responsive teaching through questioning and checking for understanding
  4. Modelling and metacognition
  5. Revision techniques supported by cognitive science

Participants’ reflections will be based on the challenges their students’ face with learning so that we begin from the right place of what really matters.

For me, the success of this project will not be in whether the approaches are successful or not (whilst I believe significant success will be achieved). The success will come from College staff and those from further afield having the opportunity to engage in some high quality CPD that involves research, a focus on impact, collaboration with colleagues, input from an expert, and all with explicit relevance to their own context and students.

Ahead of Friday, many concerns fleet across my mind. Most of these, as usual, involve my pesky gremlin so there’ll be lots of dealing with that. The remainder are mostly logistical – Will I remember to find batteries for my clicker? Will everyone turn up?

Yet there are many hopes too and not all of them centre around how much of a fool I might make in front of the two superstars that are Tom and Joss. My hope beyond all hope is that this event can be a further part of our journey towards a culture of professional learning at The Sheffield College and as usual, if we can make a difference to one person and one of their students then it will have been worth it (perhaps a few more than one this time… Tom is having to catch a painfully early train, after all!)

Kathryn Morgan shared this journal article with me last week –

Staff Development and the Process of Change by Thomas Guskey

It’s a cracking read for any leader in education, and indeed for any educator interested in taking charge of their own CPD. One thing it suggests is what I believe this project has the potential for and it makes me look forward to Friday all the more –

‘Research indicates that teachers generally engage in staff development ‘because they want to become better teachers’ and crucially believe that ‘their students will benefit’ as a result. The best kinds of CPD can not only ‘combat boredom’ but they also present ‘a pathway to increased competence and greater professional satisfaction.’ (Guskey, T)

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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