Rethinking how we support teachers and improve teaching and learning

Teacher recruitment, retention, workload, mental health and professional development are, quite rightly, hot topics at the moment.  As I’ve been reading for both my doctorate and generally to feed into our practice in school, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we could rethink CPD, lesson observations and quality assurance in schools beyond just calling for no more meaningless whole school CPD sessions, removal of lesson gradings and stopping ‘checking up’ on teachers; these calls sound great and on the surface would help support workload issues but are they really going to solve the problem?  I’m all for saying no or stopping doing things that are working but I’m not sure throwing out the baby and the bathwater is the way to go.

So I’ve pulled together my thinking so far and come up with an alternative model to what I’ve experienced in the 4 schools I’ve worked in over the last 12 years based very much around Mary Myatt’s argument that driving forward in schools needs to be able high challenge but low threat.  I haven’t got rid of lesson observations.  I haven’t got rid of quality assurance.  But instead, I’ve tried to make it so they are owned by the teachers and their departments as a way to work together to improve workload and teaching and learning for students.

This is still very much a work in progress and owes most of its basis to arguments and ideas proposed by others.  I have tried to reference where I picked up ideas from the work of others but if there is something here you recognize as your work and it’s not credited, please let me know.  There are a number of questions it still leaves unanswered and there is still a fair bit of work and thinking to do before I’ll be happy with it.  But here’s how far I’ve got for now…

Why do we need to rethink CPD, lesson observations and quality assurance?

These are all powerful tools for improving our schools for our young people but they seem to have been lost to a tick box culture to show someone else that we’ve done them.  Done well and with purpose they have the power to transform our schools and the experiences for teachers and students.

For me, rethinking how these work to present an alternative framework for practice in schools is about refocusing on 3 specific things:

  1. Improving quality teaching and learning.
  2. Improving teacher workload and reducing staff absence.
  3. Developing middle leader subject expertise.

This thinking has been shaped by the following points from the literature/recent thinking in education I’ve been reading:

  • Teacher burnout is becoming a reality and there is a rising awareness of the need to reduce stress and improve teacher wellbeing to avoid this; with 20% of people leaving teaching at the end of their second year post qualification and 30% within five years of qualifying, teacher retention is a big issue (DfE, 2016).
  • Blandford (2017) in Born to Fail? Social Mobility: a working class view restates the well-researched (eg Ingersoll, 2003 and Freedman and Appleman, 2009) that disadvantaged students are disproportionately impacted by this and are taught by the least experienced teachers with high teach turnover.
  • Quigley (2016) talks about needing to support teachers to develop a confident level of expertise that will lead to a lifelong and satisfying teaching career.
  • Salles (2016) discusses how becoming an expert practitioner requires deliberate practice through investing time into developing as a teacher; in Bounce (Syed, 2010) and Outliers (Gladwell, 2008), 10,000 hours is considered to be needed to become an expert, which for teachers equates to about 10 years, but they argue this time needs to be focused on continuous improvement for it to be successful.
  • Quigley (2016) talks about needing to support teachers to develop a confident level of expertise that will lead to a lifelong and satisfying teaching career.
  • Garvey (2017) proposes a model for Talk For Teaching to move beyond seeing observing and talking about teaching as something to judge people by to using collective expertise in a school to develop teaching and learning and improve staff morale.
  • Myatt (2016 and 2017) talks about being robust yet kind and reducing high stakes activities for staff in schools in return for greater frequency low stakes challenge. Ensuring high quality practice is the basis of daily exchanges and not used as judgement.
  • Allison and Tharby (2015) talk about 6 principles of ‘making every lesson count’ that form the basis of high quality teaching and learning.
  • Proposed changes to how QTS is awarded and teacher career progression with a key focus on ongoing support for early career teachers is currently a moveable feast.
  • Growing recognition of the need to stop introducing the next ‘new thing’ and to look for a solid evidence base for implementing change. “Unleashing Great Teaching” and the EEF’s recent report on evidence based CPD look to incorporate evidence-based research and classroom practice.
  • Looking at a CPD cycle for evidence informed practice as presented by David Weston at ResearchED Brum early this year – which I believe will be developed further in his book published later this year.

The Proposed Framework

Rethinking CPD – a model for in school subject specific CPD (002)

What are the barriers to implementing the type of framework I’m suggesting?

  1. Overcoming ‘this is how we do things’ as it hands much more back to departments and individual teachers.
  2. Needs everyone to be open to critique and recognize this comes from a place of desire to improve for all rather than an attitude of protectionism.
  3. Requires a greater degree of trust but also robustness from Senior Leaders as the control shifts to middle leaders for development of their subject area, teachers and results.
  4. Shift the role of a middle leader and this would need the middle leaders to see their roles differently.
  5. Would require a form of relinquishment of the ‘CPD budget’ to departments and Senior Leaders to hold middle leaders to account for ensuring they are using this to benefit their whole department and that all information is making its way to all department members.
  6. Needs commitment as the outcomes will not be immediately visible and it will require an increase in workload during early implementation, although long term it will reduce workload.
  7. Needs a shift to thinking about the quality of teaching and learning across a year group rather than a subject.
  8. Requires rethinking how student progress is tracked and a shift to looking at the individual rather than groups.

Draft of the proposed model for CPD and QA to drive up standards in teaching and learning:

Pre-requisites needed:

  • Each Curriculum Leader to have a budget for CPD for their department and to be in control of this.
  • Each department to have membership to their subject association.
  • Removal of graded lesson observations.
  • Protection of time on timetable for teachers to observe each other and to discuss their classes with the Curriculum Leader.
  • Teacher tracking of student performance to be readily accessible to Curriculum Leaders and the discussions to be about individual students and raising attainment.
  • No change to whole school foci or additional things to discuss in department time other than those communicated at the start of a term to the Curriculum Leader.
  • Dedicated team of mentors for early career teachers who are trained in mentoring and have accountability for the progress of their ‘mentee’ and their classes.


  • Each half term Curriculum Leader sees every teacher teach and has at least 1 formal discussion about the progress of their classes (with a key focus on exam classes) to inform interventions and close any gaps between actual and target grades. Student work is discussed as part of this and to inform future actions.
  • Each teacher goes to see at least 3 other members of their department teach over a half term and has a developmental conversation about teaching and learning afterwards.
  • These observations and discussions feed into a half term summary by the Curriculum Leader on their department and informs the decision for the next half term’s CPD time. This is not another paper report but in the form of a discussion with their line manager to develop a shared understanding of where the department is at.  Using this information, the Curriculum Leader decides where to allocate the budget based on the needs of individual teachers and the department (eg sending someone on a course, buying books to be read and discussed, visiting another school for best practice).
  • The department meets once a fortnight to focus on collaborative planning with a focus on developing expertise on one defined area to improve this aspect of teaching and learning across the department.
  • On the alternate week, mentors and mentees (trainees, NQTs and RQTs) meet to continue collaborative planning and/or for specific training sessions as needed.

Termly focus for department time follows the cycle:

Cycle for CPD

How quality assurance fits into this:

  • Curriculum Leaders should have an improved understanding of exactly what is happening in their department and the quality of teaching and learning.
  • Data drops become something to identify trends across cohorts rather than how Curriculum Leaders identify gaps and plan interventions; Curriculum Leaders should have already implemented intervention in conjunction with the class teacher.
  • Termly summary of the department will be an analytical reflection of the subject area and inform future planning.
  • Senior Leaders use the data drop information and learning walks by year group each half term to confirm where Curriculum Leaders feel their departments are at and also to quality assure the consistency of learners’ experiences across a cohort.

Possible limitations/unanswered questions:

  • Lack of cross-curricular discussion.
  • Requires developed research literacy skills.
  • Need to consider how Teaching Assistants and other student support staff fit into this model if they work across cohorts rather than within subject areas.
  • Need to think about how to also facilitate individual CPD as people start to think about developing their own career paths.
  • Where does student voice fit in?
  • How do we make sure it still all fits together under the whole school focus for the year?

Other aspects that I haven’t quite got to fit in yet but I like the idea of:

  • A monthly ‘journal club’ for teachers to opt into the look at general teaching and learning ideas and discuss these with a view to sharing ideas within departments.
  • Twice yearly “TeachMeet” in which the research activities within departments are shared with all.


One comment

  1. A great post as ever and a much needed discussion of school-wide accountability and CPD. You say that teachers need good quality CPD for the benefit of their pupils and I couldn’t agree more. The ideas of changing the focus of observations and paperworkless (not a real word – sorry) development meetings are long overdue in schools.
    The only criticism I’d have is that this model places curriculum leaders at the very centre. Where the leaders are strong and critically research-engaged, this could work well, but it’s also a very top-down approach that could be used as a way for curric leaders to push their own agendas, research-oriented or otherwise. Also, doing this within departments and subjects risks creating silos where teachers are unable to understand the needs and challenges in other subjects and can’t learn about school-wide best practices or act in the best interests of the whole child.

    Might I suggest the Japanese model of lesson study? Lucy Crehan discusses this in ‘Cleverlands’ – it involves groups of teachers watching each other teach and collectively planning lessons based on their professionally candid feedback. The key is that it’s devoid of hierarchy which may stifle honesty and confidence. Also, Thaler and Sunstein’s ‘Nudge’ presents excellent ways to steer people’s behaviour which has excellent utility in a CPD context.


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