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CPD: From the generic to the specific

Written by: Andrew Brown
4 min read

Why focus on continuous professional development?

Wiliam suggests that ‘teacher quality is the most important ingredient of an effective education system’ (2014, p. 4). A key measurement of the effectiveness of an education is the outcomes of students in the school. Research conducted by Fletcher-Wood and Zuccollo in 2020 suggests that high-quality CPD for teachers has a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes. It therefore appears logical to develop the quality of the CPD provision in schools and to further our understanding of what ‘high quality’ looks like.

What have we changed?

Our previous model was dominated by whole-school CPD, covering the core priorities of the school, with very similar training provided to all staff. Statutory training is an essential example of whole-school CPD; however, such an approach cannot always support the distinctiveness of specific subjects and the nuances in delivery of these subjects. The new approach has split CPD into three strands: one for whole-school CPD, the second for department-level CPD and the third for individual CPD. This maintained the ability to drive forward whole-school improvement whilst, at the same time, providing space for teachers and departments to take ownership of their own development in ways that relate to their own subject knowledge and pedagogical practices.

Why increase the amount of subject-specific professional development?

The Wellcome Trust’s ‘Developing great subject teaching’ report (Cordingley et al., 2018) found that schools that have the poorest academic or inspection results are the least likely to prioritise subject-specific professional development, whilst the Teacher Development Trust’s (TDT) 2015 report articulates that ‘subject-specific Continuous Professional Development (CPD) – by which we mean programmes which enhance teachers’ subject knowledge and/or their ability to teach in specific subjects – has a greater impact on student outcomes than generic pedagogic CPD’ (Cordingley et al., 2015, p. 2). Christine Counsell (2018) summarised this nicely when she argued, ‘Where SLTs have tried to reach into pedagogy with generic strategies that fail to attend to subject distinctiveness, all manner of distortions have occurred.’ Improving teachers’ knowledge of their subjects and respecting the individual nature of these subjects through our CPD delivery will lead to better-quality lessons delivered to students in the classroom.

What does it look like?

Department level

Department-level CPD has been increased from one hour fortnightly to two hours each week, by changing the school day and drastically reducing the number of unnecessary meetings scheduled after school. This released the time and, importantly, the trust for subject leaders to control the CPD within their own area. Consequently, administrative meetings have been transformed into regular subject-specific sessions. Blogs have been presented to departments, speakers have been invited in to share knowledge on a specific area, chapters from subject-specific books have been shared, common errors have been discussed, and degree specialism has been shared before a related topic is taught – it has brought relevance to meetings and more meaningful teacher development.

Individual level

Staff do not attend school for two out of five inset days – all staff stay at home rather than attending the school, giving that time ‘back’ to reallocate. This provides the opportunity to select a conference, school visit or twilight session over the course of the year that matches their own CPD target. Last year, we had staff attend an array of Saturday conferences, from ResearchED’s National Conference to the UCL’s ‘Unpacking the Holocaust’. Teachers engaged with their national subject associations’ knowledge-enhancement webinars; for example, our geographers gained an insight into ‘Marine debris and the impact on Iceland’. Staff also immersed themselves in educational research, and titles from the staff library increasingly found their way to staff desks. Developing a culture where teachers seek information ‘beyond the school gates’ provides the opportunity to develop understanding of teaching beyond the limitations of a single school.

What is the outcome so far?

We have seen a significant increase in the amount of CPD requested and, therefore, attended. We trust our staff to know best what our students need and to match up their CPD accordingly. Staff feel valued and supported both within subject areas and across the school. The results from a staff questionnaire based on the TDT’s ‘Developing great teaching’ (Cordingley et al., 2015) stated that the new model had ‘increased the quality of CPD received’ for all, and everyone preferred ‘the new model to the previous one’. CPD provision has increased exponentially, whilst costs, due to the reduction in cover requirements and pricing of teacher-led events, have remained stable. Finally, student outcomes at GCSE were our best ever, in both progress and attainment. Whilst this cannot be solely attributed to the new model, we believe that it has contributed to the outcomes we have achieved.

Final thoughts

To use a phrase from the Educational Endowment Foundation (n.d.), we are often making decisions about education by using ‘best bets’ based on the evidence that we have. The evidence points towards effective CPD being specific and closely related to the subject domain you teach; our ‘best bet’ has been placed, and we are excited to see how this model continues to grow.


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 26 March 2020).

Cordingley P, Higgins S, Greany T et al. (2015) Developing great teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust. Available at: (accessed 26 March 2020).

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

Education Endowment Foundation (n.d.) Using the Toolkits Available at: (accessed 26 March 2020).

Fletcher-Wood H and Zuccollo J (2020) The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students: A rapid review and meta-analysis. Wellcome Trust. Available at: (accessed 26 March 2020).

Wiliam D (2014) The Formative Evaluation of Teaching Performance. East Melbourne, Victoria: Centre for Strategic Education.

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