The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Joanne Miles

The challenges of sustaining joined-up CPD

When coordinating a whole-school development cycle for all staff to get behind, there are several common pitfalls to be aware of. 

This year I have written online materials and organised workshops for Optimus on the thorny issue of joining up continuing professional development (CPD) cycles with other aspects of development, to create a sustainable model for improvement in teaching and learning.

I have met a range of senior and middle leaders from schools and colleges in an effort to establish what is working and what isn't. The following are some common pitfalls that have become apparent from our conversations.

Connecting the dots

Observations, appraisals, CPD, coaching, mentoring and learning walks often evolve organically under different senior management teams, at different times in a school’s history. This can lead to a lack of clear communication between elements of the quality improvement work. 

In some schools, appraisal does not involve a focus on what was developed after the lesson observation.

In others, CPD programmes reflect strategic priorities but do not address any emergent training needs that arise from observation cycles over the academic year. 

With your colleagues, it's important to discuss:

  • how well the elements of your development work intersect
  • where the connections are strongest and where you might need to enhance them.

Who owns what?

In some settings, the different leaders and teams who ‘own’ parts of the development process don't collaborate effectively. For example, HR may lead on appraisal but be almost entirely disconnected from the observation team or CPD lead. This can lead to:

  • fragmentation
  • a lack of follow-up across processes
  • the neglect of emergent trends, that may go unnoticed because of a ‘silo mentality’.

With your colleagues, it's important to:

  • establish who needs to talk to whom across the different teams
  • agree on the most appropriate times for these discussions.

Tracking woes

A joined-up approach to improvement work can only be achieved if you have an accurate set of records related to observation, appraisal, CPD, coaching and mentoring, as well as learning walks.

Asking school leaders what they currently have in place is often met with a deep sigh, their answer being any combination of:

  • different online platforms for different elements of the process, with limited capacity for reporting
  • some poor person grappling with an array of undecipherable spreadsheets
  • a miscellany of documents in various folders, inaccessible to lead coordinators.

In short, record keeping can be a nightmare!

The absence of a joined-up tracking system can affect the school’s ability to see what is happening and identify their need for better development.

Senior leaders will often need to have difficult conversations if they are to establish the right infrastructure, and I recommend asking colleagues within the sector about platforms they have used.

The greater sense you have of the advantages and disadvantages before investing, the wiser decisions you will make.

It's important to determine whether your recording system allows you to plan and track development effectively. If not, what needs to change or be improved? Who is best placed to assist you? 

Time is of the essence

A perennial complaint is that no one has enough time for all the development people want to undergo. Teachers don't have enough CPD meeting slots, and the agendas of the meetings they have are crammed with a punishing list of operational items.

I understand the importance of allocating time both for school-based CPD and individual or group activity. I also know time must be set aside for reflection after an appraisal or observation.

However, it seems that CPD time is used unproductively, or ‘hi-jacked’ for other priorities in many schools. Furthermore, the people who lead sessions will sometimes lack the skills or confidence to make them effective.  

There’s more to the problem than the allocation of time. It’s also about how schools use the time they have.

It's important to consider the following questions with colleagues.

  • How can we best use the time we currently have, to foster greater improvements?
  • How can we develop skills and confidence for high quality in-house development work?
  • If we could secure a little more time, what would be the best way to harness it?

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