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How can we make departmental CPD more effective?

Written by: Richard McDonald
4 min read

Across my career, I have experienced different formats of CPD. Some of these have been successful, where they have given staff the opportunity to discuss the impact of strategies on their practice, but others have been less so.

In considering how to lead change in my department, I have been greatly influenced by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and their ‘A school’s guide to implementation’. This guide led me to reflect on how implementation of change and training needs to be an ‘ongoing process’ over time (EEF, 2019, p. 31). It also made me realise that the CPD of my staff would be a pivotal part of the overall improvement process, due to the potential for impact on the learning across a whole department.

The work of the Behavioural Insights Team (BI Team) has also been beneficial in developing effective CPD sessions. The BI Team use the acronym ‘EAST’ to summarise how, when looking to change behaviours, the process should be (BI Team, 2014, pp. 4–6):

  • easy, through ‘simplified messages’ and reducing ‘the hassle factor’
  • attractive, in terms of ‘attracting attention’ and making the behavioural change desirable
  • social, through a collaborative approach where people are encouraged to engage as ‘most [other] people do’
  • timely, by considering when staff will be most ‘receptive’ to the training you have planned.

I felt that engaging with this evidence was logical, in combination with the EEF guidance: by asking teachers to change their practice, we are essentially asking them to change behaviours in the classroom.

Long-term planning

When I started as Director of English, I did not really consider how to make CPD effective; instead, I was more reactive to issues as they arose. However, this often led to short-lived periods of a new strategy being trialled. For example, a session on feedback and how to ensure that students engaged with it still resulted in some staff reverting to strategies that supported neither student progress nor reduction in staff workload.

After engaging with evidence around effective CPD, I adapted my approach. This involved three main areas:

  • the specific content to focus on
  • how to match the needs of different staff
  • how the training aligns with whole-school priorities.

I then looked at how best to break down this content throughout the year (to support the ‘ongoing process’). Considering the ‘threads’ that CPD will follow through a year is also useful in providing opportunities for staff to reflect on their practice and share these reflections. In this sense, the CPD programme becomes more cohesive, versus the reactive, one-off sessions that I had delivered previously, which could be seen as a ‘bombardment of new ideas’ (EEF, 2019, p. 4). Therefore, staff have more opportunity to reflect on the impact of strategies and are more likely to continue using them.

A recent training session

Recently, the CPD programme for my department has followed the ‘thread’ of cognitive science. A recent session focused on how cognitive load theory (CLT) affects the teaching of writing, so we started with a quiz on prior knowledge of CLT. The subsequent discussion facilitated a ‘social’ means of self-reflection. Staff found this useful because it challenged some misconceptions that had arisen, leading to increased confidence in applying CLT.

I followed this up with how CLT impacted my teaching through some ‘non-examples’ from my own practice – that is to say, examples of where things had not worked because I had not taken CLT into account. Here I felt it was important to highlight my own reflection process in order to model the application of research and to generate a ‘low-threat’ environment (EEF, 2019, p. 19).

We then read an article on CLT and writing, divided into extracts (each member of a group would read their extract and summarise the findings). This made the reading section of the training more of a social activity, as the summaries led to discussion, contrasting with an alternative model I have trialled, where staff were emailed a ‘blog of the week’, which (due to workload) was only accessed by one or two teachers each week. Therefore, giving staff the time to complete reading and the opportunity to discuss and evaluate it led to more engagement with evidence for the whole team.

We concluded with staff committing to an idea that they would trial before the next meeting; the reflection on this next time would support the ‘ongoing process’ of CPD that I aimed for.


As a subject leader, I have noticed how this approach has helped me to build a team that is more evidence-informed and evaluative. This has meant that we have a culture where the team have the ‘opportunity to reflect and challenge’ their practice within a ‘low-threat’ environment (EEF, 2019, p. 29).

Staff have highlighted their appreciation of the time given to read and discuss research, bearing in mind the workload pressures of teaching. The focus on CPD as an ‘ongoing process’ has also been beneficial, as teachers felt that it’s given them more time to develop detailed knowledge of educational research (such as how memory works) because they get to cover the depth of this knowledge over time.

Top tips for evidence-informed CPD

  • Develop a long-term plan, so that the CPD programme is cohesive
  • Allocate time for staff to read and discuss research
  • Allocate time for staff to discuss and evaluate their practice in a low-threat environment.


Education Endowment Foundation (2019) Putting evidence to work: A school’s guide to implementation, Guidance report, 2nd ed. Available at: (accessed 2 January 2020).

The Behaviour Insights Team (2014) EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights. Available at: (accessed 2 January 2020).

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