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Piloting a CPD quality assurance system

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The need for teachers to have access to high-quality professional development is clear: quality of teaching is arguably the most important in-school factor influencing pupil outcomes (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2012; Burgess, 2015); the impacts of high-quality teaching are particularly significant for disadvantaged students (The Sutton Trust, 2011); and there is evidence that engagement with good professional development leads to increased pupil attainment and, especially for early career teachers, is associated with positive career experiences and retention (Ingersoll, 2001; Ashby et al., 2008; Hattie, 2009; Day and Gu, 2010; Desimone and Hill, 2017; Coldwell, 2017). However, teachers themselves report that ‘too much professional development is currently of poor quality and has little or no impact on improving the quality of their teaching’ (DfE, 2014, p. 10). Furthermore, a recent study published by the Education Policy Institute found that very little professional development meets the DfE’s standard of quality (Van den Brande and Zuccollo, 2021).

In 2020, the Chartered College of Teaching, with colleagues at Teacher Development Trust and Sheffield Institute of Education (part of Sheffield Hallam University), were commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to develop and pilot a system for quality assuring teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). The aim was to develop a system that would enable teachers and school leaders to make more effective and efficient decisions when commissioning CPD, ultimately improving the quality of the CPD experienced by teachers and thereby maximising its impact. Here we provide an overview of the pilot, discuss our findings and consider the implications for any future system of CPD quality assurance. 

Developing and testing a CPD quality assurance system

Initial design of the CPD quality assurance system drew from earlier scoping work, which involved two parallel strands of activity: stakeholder engagement and a rapid review of the evidence around CPD quality assurance (Perry et al., 2019; Booth et al., 2019). This work led to a set of design principles that would guide the development and testing of the CPD quality assurance system. Summarised briefly, these design principles emphasised the need for the CPD quality assurance system and its outcomes to be practical, relevant and trustworthy to all stakeholders: the system should enable CPD providers in a range of contexts to assess and improve the quality of their provision. For teachers and school leaders, it should aid their decision-making around CPD, further develop their understanding of the evidence behind the quality measures, and inform quality assurance of in-school CPD.

A final design principle was that teachers and school leaders should play a significant role in the quality assurance process. Therefore, we sought input from teachers and school leaders throughout this pilot. Mechanisms for this included, firstly, two consultations used to seek teachers’ views on quality assurance and to gather feedback on the quality assurance criteria that would underpin the system design. Next, practising teachers and school leaders made up a significant proportion of the review panel, whose role it was to review and assess submissions from CPD providers undertaking the quality assurance process. Finally, we sought input on the potential outcomes and impacts of a quality assurance system from teachers and school leaders through focus groups and surveys.

The pilot involved the design and testing of a four-stage process for quality assurance:

  1. ‘CPD quality assurance criteria’ (see Figure 1) set a standard for quality CPD
  2. CPD providers collated a portfolio of evidence demonstrating how they met each of the quality assurance criteria, and submitted this via an online platform
  3. Each portfolio of evidence was reviewed by a review panel of up to five panel members, who met to make a judgement about the extent to which each quality assurance criterion had been met
  4. The outcomes of the review panel meeting were shared with the provider, alongside feedback on strengths and potential areas for development.

The pilot consisted of two ‘cycles’ of testing, with 10 CPD providers undergoing quality assurance in the first cycle and a further nine in the second cycle. A formative internal evaluation (Perry et al., 2021) ran alongside the design, development and piloting of the system of quality assurance to inform the development of the system during testing and future developments of the project beyond this pilot.

The quality assurance criteria

The quality assurance criteria that underpin the system are drawn from existing research around effective professional development, developed through stakeholder testing and broadly aligned with the ‘Standard for teachers’ professional development’ (DfE, 2016). Twelve criteria were developed initially. Following consultation and testing, the criteria were reduced to nine (Figure 1).

Figure 1 is titled "CPD quality assurance criteria for cycle two". It is a diagram with three columns and three lines each. The columns are titled Section 1 to 3. 
Section 1: Intent. 1.1 The intended impact of the [training/CPD/CPD programme] is clear. 1.2 The [training/CPD/CPD programme] aims to develop participants’ beliefs, knowledge, understanding and/or teaching practice. 1.3 Support is given to participants and/or their schools to identify CPD requirements, support implementation and monitor and evaluate the impact of CPD in their own contexts. 
Section 2: Design. 2.1 The [CPD/training/programme] design and content is underpinned by robust evidence and expertise. 2.2 [Training/CPD/Programme] design takes into account the prior knowledge, experiences and needs of participants and/or their school contexts. 2.3 CPD activities are deliberately designed to facilitate sustained changes to practice – activities may include opportunities for application, practice, reflection, collaboration and expert challenge.
Section 3: Delivery. 3.1 Effective processes are in place to ensure that the [CPD/training/CPD programme] is delivered to a high standard. 3.2 Internal and external evaluation processes are used to review impact and inform ongoing improvements to the [CPD/training/programme]. 3.3 Consideration is given to addressing broader factors that may impede the effectiveness of the [CPD/training/CPD programme] – participant experience; value for money; staff time.

Key findings and recommendations

The findings from this pilot indicate that there is interest and desire for an effective means of quality assuring teachers’ CPD. School leaders were positive about the potential benefits of a quality assurance system in saving them time and pressure in identifying appropriate high-quality CPD, and in saving money spent on less effective professional development. Our evaluation shows that the CPD quality assurance system that we have developed appears to be workable, enables valid judgements to be made based on evidence submitted by CPD providers, and has the potential to be robust, fair and valuable for school leaders and the wider system. The CPD providers engaged in the project valued the support, training and guidance that they received to use the system, and felt that it was a developmental process leading to reflection on their practice. The panel members involved in the quality assurance process found it to be workable and beneficial in helping them to consider what contributes to quality in professional development.

Implications for a future quality assurance system

Based upon our findings from this pilot, we outline 12 key requirements for a CPD quality assurance system:

  1. The system must function as part of a complex and varied system of teacher professional development
  2. The system must have a clear purpose that is meaningful to stakeholders
  3. The system needs to be underpinned by a clear definition of ‘high-quality CPD’
  4. Assessment must be undertaken by well-trained, suitably experienced assessors; be rigorous and fair; and not privilege certain types of content, provision or providers
  5. The outcomes of the process must be clear and meaningful
  6. Guidance should be provided to schools to assist them in using the outcomes of the process to support the commissioning of high-quality CPD
  7. CPD providers should be supported to engage with the process and the quality assurance criteria
  8. The system needs to be managed by a reputable organisation with trusted and transparent governance
  9. The quality assurance system and criteria must be relevant to the broad variety of CPD available to teachers and schools
  10. Costs and benefits must be a consideration in any future system of quality assurance
  11. Any CPD accredited through quality assurance must be open to future review and reaccreditation
  12. Any quality assurance system that is launched into the sector must be open to ongoing evaluation and development.

Each of these requirements is explored in detail within the final project report, along with a proposed model for a future system of quality assurance (Chedzey et al., 2021).

In addition to these 12 requirements, we identified a number of challenges. First, in the process piloted, the time involved in collating and submitting or assessing evidence was significant. Processes might benefit from further refinement and panel members might need to be remunerated for their time, particularly if we want to retain experienced panel members within the review panel moving forward.

Concerns also arose as to whether the system could be applicable to and accessible by all types of CPD provider. While we have tested the system with a range of CPD types and provider types (including school-based, independent, small and large providers) and it appeared to work effectively, in the long term, a quality assurance system and criteria may require greater adaptation to reflect the large and changing variety of CPD available to schools.

By necessity, the quality assurance system needs to set a consistent standard when it comes to making judgements of quality. There are risks that a one-size-fits-all system may be of greater benefit to some CPD providers than others. While our findings did not suggest that this is the case with the system piloted here, considerations must be made to ensure that CPD providers are not unduly restricted from engaging with or successfully undertaking quality assurance, and that assessors are able to assess the quality of a broad range of evidence against the indicators provided.

Linked to this, a final challenge is the potential for any definition of quality reducing innovation within the sector. The quality assurance criteria are not intended to be used as a checklist, and while we believe that the criteria as they stand provide an effective way to assess the quality of professional development, this does not mean that no other indicators of quality exist. All of us involved in professional development have a responsibility to learn about and from new approaches and new developments in teacher professional development in order to encourage rather than hinder innovation.


Ultimately, the aim of a quality assurance system should be to support the effective and efficient commissioning of CPD, improving the quality of the professional development experienced by teachers. Our findings suggest that the model we piloted has the potential to do this. If this, or another system, were to be developed, building on what we have learned, the process should begin with a further phase of development and testing. Moving beyond this, the CPD quality assurance system must include planned opportunities for review, evaluation and further development to ensure that it fulfils the requirements above and meets its aims.

The quality assurance criteria were not designed to be used as a checklist, however, they offer a useful starting point for practitioners when commissioning or designing professional development programmes. Questions to consider include:

  • Intent: Are the aims of the CPD really clear and aligned with your needs? What support is available to ensure this CPD has the intended impact in your classroom or school?
  • Design: Is the actual content supported by evidence? Does it come from a trusted, reputable source? Is it purposefully designed to help you make sustained changes to your teaching practice?
  • Delivery: Are those delivering CPD well-positioned to provide high-quality, expert input? What is in place to ensure the CPD is delivered to a high standard?

CPD will only be effective if it is closely aligned to individual or school needs. Whilst quality assurance might provide an indication of quality, we still need to exercise our professional judgement in determining which CPD is most appropriate and likely to achieve the desired impacts. Evidence suggests that the most effective CPD enables teachers to build their knowledge and expertise over time. When engaging in ‘one-off’ CPD, it’s worth considering how this might fit within a more sustained programme of activities, particularly if we want it to lead to long-term changes to practice.

A project report containing full details of the pilot can be found on the Chartered College of Teaching website, along with the accompanying evaluation report: 


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