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Continuous professional development and career progression in mid-career teachers

4 min read


Recent data suggests that even though there are some early signs of progress, teacher recruitment and retention are likely to remain an issue over the next few years. While teacher retention improved slightly in 2018/19, recruitment for the secondary sector remains below target and this particularly affects subjects such as physics, maths, modern foreign languages and chemistry (Worth, 2020). As Worth (2020) outlines, retaining more teachers in the profession means that fewer teachers need to enter the profession to ensure sufficient supply, which in turn would mean that recruitment targets could be met more easily and supply pressures would be eased.

A strong focus of the Department for Education (DfE) in England recently, has been to support early career teachers, for example, through the development of a two-year package to support the professional development of new teachers (DfE, 2020). Supporting early career teachers is essential, especially as the retention rate for newly qualified teachers (NQT) from their first into their second and from their second into their third year continues to fall (Worth, 2020) and research shows that high-quality teacher professional development is a crucial factor in retaining teachers, especially in their early and mid-careers (Coldwell, 2017).

While additional support is increasingly becoming available to early career teachers, less is known about the needs of mid-career teachers (with around five to 15 years of experience) and how they could best be supported.

A collaborative project between Sheffield Hallam University, the Education Policy Institute and the Chartered College of Teaching aimed to understand the professional development needs of mid-career teachers and how they might relate to job satisfaction and teacher retention. The project used a mixed-methods design, combining a systematic review of literature, an analysis of the OECD TALIS 2018 data (OECD, 2019) school case studies, an online survey and focus groups with members of the Chartered College of Teaching.

The literature revealed that ‘mid-career teachers’ are difficult to define, since the term may be applied to the number of years they have taught, their professional role, or the experiences or skills they have acquired. Any assumption of linear career stages is often criticised as not taking the changing demands of the system, the iterative, cyclic nature of learning and skill development, or outward movement, into account.

However, a number of key characteristics appear to emerge as teachers transition from the early stages of their career. These include an increased interest in experimentation in their practice, more responsibility in school, the management of changes in professional roles and identity and increasing tension between work and personal life. Even though teachers in this career stage could be characterised or grouped along these lines, they still differ in terms of their motivation and commitment to the profession. For example, Day (2012) found that teachers’ motivation and commitment could increase, stagnate or decrease, depending on how well they were able to cope with the competing demands of this career phase.

The TALIS data shows that mid-career teachers’ satisfaction with the profession broadly decreases with experience. However there are some interesting similarities in teachers’ satisfaction with their work environment, which suggest that specific aspects of the work environment are more important than experience alone, including access to high-quality CPD and a supportive leadership team (Sims and Jerrim, 2020). Interestingly, the data also shows that mid-career teachers participate in marginally less CPD than early career teachers and that they report significantly greater barriers to engaging in CPD, which is in line with the competing demands of their work and personal lives we discussed above.

The qualitative data from focus groups with members of the Chartered College of Teaching sheds further light on these issues. It highlights clear regional and school differences in teachers’ access to high-quality CPD (e.g. more CPD available in London and south-east as well as opportunity areas) and a desire from teachers for more CPD that takes teachers’ career stages and personal commitments into account. The incompatibility of CPD and leadership positions with personal commitments was highlighted in particular by female participants in these focus groups. This is supported by TALIS data, which shows that mid-career teachers tend to judge the CPD they engage in to be less effective than colleagues in earlier stages of their careers, suggesting the reason for this might be a lack of focus on the specific needs of those in this stage of their career. Finally, most participants felt strongly that there is a need for CPD that is aimed at developing expert teachers rather than leadership skills as not all teachers want to or can move up to leadership positions and that they would appreciate more autonomy in choosing CPD that is relevant to them.

In conclusion, results from this project indicate that mid-career teachers are likely to require distinct CPD tailored to their career stage, that access to high-quality CPD differs between regions and schools, that commitments in teachers’ personal lives can present barriers to CPD and career progression, and that mid-career teachers would appreciate higher levels of autonomy in choosing their CPD.

Considerations for your practice:

  • Which career stage are you at? How easy was it to define your career stage? What were the factors you took into account? Just your experience or other factors such as teaching expertise or position in your school as well?
  • Consider how CPD is organised in your school/setting? Is it easy for teachers to combine CPD and other commitments? If not, how could this be improved?
  • Does your school/setting offer career-stage-specific CPD or do you mainly offer whole-school CPD? What could you do to differentiate CPD according to career stage?


Share your experiences with educators globally by joining the discussion below. What might be the benefits of tailoring professional learning to career stage in your context?
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