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Challenge the C in CPD: Should it be C3PD?

Written by: David Bowman
|Figure 1 shows the Programme for the academic year illustrating that there are continued and collaborative opportunities as well as discrete events following a coherent plan.
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In 2020, 82 per cent of UK households (Ofcom, 2020) had a mobile phone that requires a SIM card to function. How many of those users have ever thought about what SIM stands for? Similarly, CPD is widely used in the education world but how many of us think deeply about what it is? The Chartered College of Teaching is proposing a quality assurance (QA) framework for continuing professional development (Chedzey et al., 2021), which uses a definition of CPD as:

‘intentional processes and activities which aim to enhance the professional knowledge, skills and attitudes of teachers, leaders and teaching staff in order to improve student outcomes’.

This resonates with the foreword by Sir Michael Grylls in Turner (1994):

‘Each one of us should be in love with learning and this desire for self-improvement should remain with us as long as there is a breath in our body.’

It also links in with Dylan Wiliam’s introduction to the ‘Standard for teacher’s professional development’ (DfE, 2016, p.3):

‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.’

The common theme is continuing improvement. Learning is a process. This is only achieved by continual coordinated input and reflection on our own learning. Attendance at one-off, unconnected days or a series of training events is not sufficient to change and for that change to be embedded and sustained.

Prior to entering teaching, I worked for 25 years in the defence and software industry. The technology and requirements were rapidly changing and there was an evolving need to lead and develop effective teams. To support my development, I attended formal training courses on the areas of expertise identified as necessary to fulfil my responsibilities. In today’s terminology, these courses would be considered accredited, and the colleagues with and for whom I worked would probably be classified as mentors or coaches (Law, 2013). I was required to feed back the objectives of the courses to colleagues and had the opportunity to include them in my work on a daily basis.

My experience was not labelled CPD, but it did involve:

  • intentional processes and activities that aim to enhance professional knowledge, skills and attitudes
  • retaining and motivating staff and meeting customer requirements effectively and efficiently as a result.

I use my previous experience to make a comparison with how CPD is approached in our teaching profession. How often is training followed by the opportunity to put what was covered into practice? Is there a coherent vision to the training and is there opportunity for collaboration? To be effective, the continuing element of CPD needs to be:

  • Coherent: What is the short-term, medium-term and long-term development required to meet personal responsibilities and the ambitions of the school? There is a multitude of varied opportunities for courses/events/online learning, but how do they build on previous development and how do they fit into the future?
  • Collaborative: Learning does not take place in isolation from others. What are the daily opportunities to challenge and be challenged on what a teacher is doing?

How much time is currently spent on creating a coherent, continuing programme that supports the necessary collaboration? While I have concerns that a QA framework will provide its own industry, the first section on intent, which asks for the intended impact of the CPD, is something that every school leader can be doing with their staff today.

In this article I describe an example of a model of CPD for teachers of mathematics that I have been involved in. It supports the three Cs of coherence, collaboration and continuing.

ACME (2016) identifies the key elements for the professional learning required for teachers of mathematics. They include:

  • Teachers of mathematics should reflect on the depth of their knowledge about mathematics and knowledge about how to teach mathematics
  • Teachers of mathematics should have the opportunity within their school or college setting to sustain their mathematics-specific professional learning through the ongoing support of a collaborative learning group.

The National Centre of Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM) has a programme for the professional development of teachers of mathematics using workgroups to lead improvement across a department and within a school. This model puts as much emphasis on a teacher’s routine practice in school as it does on out-of-school activity. The model has a clear aim of improving the teaching of mathematics, with a consequential positive impact on students’ understanding of mathematics. The programme identifies key pedagogical elements for teaching mathematics, such that students develop a deep and connected understanding of mathematics. Underpinning the programme is Guskey’s (2002) model for professional development and teacher change. The programme is evaluated against the four aspects:

  • professional learning
  • practice development
  • whole school policies and approaches
  • pupil outcomes.

The programme is led by a teacher of mathematics accredited by the NCETM, supported by other accredited teachers, and brings together teachers from different schools who wish to develop their classroom practice to provide better outcomes for students in mathematics. Each school must nominate two internal staff who act as advocates to facilitate dialogue within the school on a regular basis. They are also given their own external supporting teacher, who works with the school at regular intervals. The aim is to provide a collaborative and challenging environment. Figure 1 provides an outline of the programme. This example includes external input, but the model of discrete coherent events supported by continuing practice is just as suitable for in-house initiatives.

Figure 1: Programme for academic year

Is this approach to professional development working? The ultimate test must be whether students’ understanding of mathematics is improving. Early indications from qualitative evaluations suggests that it is working. Evaluations are predominantly positive but do highlight the difficulty in transforming a whole department compared to an individual. These are some quotes from teachers on the programme.

Pupil outcomes:

‘I think the most noticeable change is in the Key Stage 3 pupils; they are definitely more keen to explore the maths behind certain topics and spot patterns/rules that work!’

‘My Year 9 students who often struggle with maths feel more confident in choosing a representation that works best for them and see more positive as they feel they can understand the maths.’

Professional learning:

‘I have put more emphasis on Year 10 students defining what something is and what it isn’t through variation, as well as exploring more examples and non-examples. They are ready for non-examples now and are more “on their guard”.’

‘All participants said they benefited from the joint sessions held with all other participant schools and the individual bespoke work for their school department.’

Practice development:

‘Our lessons have been developed to embed more time for reasoning using resources that allow for discussion and think, pair, share activities through false statements.’

‘Time is set aside for more thorough planning and discussions to take place.’

Whole-school policies and approaches:

‘All the original outcomes were met and all knowledge of the power of collaboratively planning and adopting a less-is-more approach to examples and exercises was used. There is a belief that it is important to make every question count and all participants are keen to progress their understanding of TFM next year. However, the common concerning theme was the challenge of spreading the enthusiasm for TFM from the advocates to the rest of their department.’

All participants commented on the benefit of collaboration and a coherent theme running through the year. They also recognised that CPD needs to be embedded within their daily practice. Learning and change only occur through regular purposeful practice – the same message that we give to our students.

This article was written to challenge the reader to reflect on the importance of the C in CPD. Perhaps we should think of it as C3PD: coherent, collaborative and continuing professional development that improves the learning experience of students. Written from the perspective of improving the teaching of mathematics, the principles are transferable to other subjects. Attendance at events should fit with the identified needs of the school, and attendees should formally feed the main points covered back to relevant colleagues. Then there needs to be the opportunity to incorporate those points, with appropriate challenge (a fourth C?), into improving the education of the students. As the ‘Standard for teacher’s professional development’ (DfE, 2016, p. 13) states, we need:

‘a pervasive culture of scholarship with a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop so that pupils benefit from the highest quality teaching’.

For those still thinking about the meaning of ‘SIM’, it represents subscriber identification module. CPD and SIM are both three-letter acronyms that are multi-layered and require deep thinking to unpeel their purpose.


Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) (2016) Professional learning for all teachers of mathematics. Available at: (accessed 3 May 2021).

Chedzey K, Cunningham M and Perry E (2021) Quality assurance of teachers’ continuing development: Design development and pilot of a CPD quality assurance system. Available at: (accessed 24 June 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development. Available at: (accessed 3 May 2021).

Guskey TR (2002) Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching 8(3): 381–391.

Law (2013) The Psychology of Coaching, Mentoring and Learning. Chichester: Wiley and Sons Limited.

Ofcom (2020) Online Nation: 2020 report. Available at: (accessed 3 May 2021).

Turner C (1994) Born to Succeed. Shaftesbury: Element Books Limited.

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