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Building subject-specific CPD opportunities

Written by: Laura Gatward
5 min read
Laura Gatward, Assistant Headteacher, Enrich Learning Trust, UK

Developing subject knowledge and pedagogy for pupil success

Powerful knowledge, created and delivered by experts, ‘enable[s] students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own experiences’ (Young et al., 2014, p. 7). But how do teachers gain this powerful subject knowledge in school when so often CPD is a generic approach for all? Schools that have the poorest pupil outcomes or inspection results are often schools where this generic approach to CPD is used (Cordingley et al., 2018).

Evidence Based Education’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit evidence review’ (Coe et al., 2020) found that a key feature of great teaching is that teachers ‘understand the content they are teaching and how it is learnt’ (p. 5). Subject communities can help to achieve this by enabling teachers to share expertise and resources, deepening their understanding of their subject and how best to teach it. Subject communities give teachers autonomy (Turner, 2017) to deliver the ‘best that has been thought and said’ (Arnold et al., 2009) and we are able to give pupils knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to (Burns, 2018). The more that we know about what we are teaching and how to teach it, the greater pupil outcomes will be.

How can teachers develop their subject knowledge and pedagogy?

Building subject communities opens doors to sharing the thinking around a subject’s curriculum and its pedagogy. On attending free teacher CPD at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), in conjunction with our subject association, The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD), I was speaking to another head of art and we felt that we would benefit from starting a local network. Thus, the Network of East Anglian Art Teachers (NEAAT) was born. NEAAT was the brainchild of four heads of art in Norfolk. We met over coffee and discussed starting a subject network. We were lucky that NUA could sponsor us with meeting spaces, refreshments and communicating our events online. We now have 35+ registered colleagues and are growing. NEAAT provides a forum for sharing subject-specific practice and acts as a safe place to ask questions of others who have experience in your specific subject. Another bonus is that we are now seeing more and more events being organised for art educators by NUA.

A common challenge in teaching art is that pupils simply do not look at what is in front of them. For our first meeting, we (four teachers) decided to use various different examples of evidence-informed pedagogy that we have used in our own classrooms. Attending teachers could develop knowledge of these approaches and go on to apply them appropriately (EEF, 2018) in their own classrooms. We all contributed resources for the main task of a practical workshop, including a walking photography tour. I have used this idea in my own classroom by creating such a tour and having pupils explore different textures and surfaces at school. Engagement of pupils really looking at what is around them and being able to think and respond creatively to it has increased and outcomes are improved.

Another challenge in art education is that many pupils on a gallery visit do not know how to interact with it. A fellow NEAAT founder created a fantastic activity for us all about engaging with galleries, and NEAAT met at Norwich Castle for this CPD. Coming away from this session, I felt empowered to bring a group of Year 11 art pupils to the very same gallery and use the same activity with them to get them to engage with the artwork that they saw, enriching their cultural capital and making it a truly valuable experience.

At my previous school, I created a subject-specific in-service training (INSET) day every year across our multi-academy trust, where we taught each other new skills and we shared our curriculum and pedagogical ideas (Myatt, 2018). These meetings were used to share resources, successes and misconceptions – it was truly invaluable. The impact of this community was twofold: we, as art educators, felt that our shared work was validated by others and we were also able to receive fantastic resources and pedagogical ideas from others. My department went from strength to strength and ended up with increasingly great pupil outcomes.

Is it okay to spend your PPA ‘just’ reading?

In short, yes! Reading around your subject is hugely beneficial. From reminding yourself of a text that you are about to deliver, to teaching yourself about an area that is not your strength, reading is the simplest way to do this. Joining your subject association is always an excellent way to stay up to date with current issues, and joining an online Facebook group or following subject specialists on Twitter will often mean that great blog posts will crop up for you to read. What is important is that you make reading a dialogue, find a forum to share and debate, and then practise the subject pedagogy that you are reading about.

Unfortunately, and this may be more evident for my subject, good CPD often comes at the expense of our own time. Christine Counsell (2018) states that each subject has ‘its own rules of enquiry and evidence’, making it vital that we find subject-specific opportunities for CPD so that we no longer endure ‘generic strategies that fail to attend to subject distinctiveness’. Teachers should try to seek subject-specific CPD opportunities as much as they can, and I hope that in the near future this becomes much more embedded within individual schools’ CPD programmes. We must ensure that we have deep and fluent subject knowledge so that our pedagogical approaches can become more flexible in the classroom (Coe et al., 2020) and ultimately improve teaching and raise outcomes for all.

Ideas for building subject-specific CPD:
  • Keep in contact with previous colleagues
  • Join your subject association (including their social media channels)
  • Contact your local university/college outreach department
  • Read about (and listen to/watch!) your subject
  • Work with other local departments
  • Use the evidence to highlight the importance of this with your leadership team.


Arnold M, Garnett J and Museo Internazionale Delle Ceramiche (Faenza, Italy) (2009) Culture and Anarchy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Burns R (2018) Applying the ‘powerful knowledge’ principle to curriculum development in disadvantaged contexts. Impact 4: 10–12.

Coe R, Rauch CJ, Kime S et al. (2020) Great Teaching Toolkit evidence review. Available at: (accessed 13 August 2020).

Cordingley P, Greany T, Crisp B et al. (2018) Developing great subject teaching: Rapid evidence review of subject-specific continuing professional development in the UK. Wellcome Trust. Available at: (accessed 23 June 2020).

Counsell C (2018) Senior curriculum leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge. In: The Dignity of the Thing. Available at: (accessed 23 June 2020).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2018) Metacognition and self-regulation. Available at: (accessed 23 June 2020).

Myatt M (2018) The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence, 1st ed. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Turner S (2017) Should the curriculum be prescribed or should teachers have autonomy? In: Summer Turner. Available at: (accessed April 2020).

Young M, Lambert D, Roberts C et al. (2014) Knowledge and the Future School: Curriculum and Social Justice. London: Bloomsbury.

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