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Overcoming barriers to powerful professional development (part 1)

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David Weston is the founder and chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, the independent national charity for teachers’ professional development. He is a primary governor and former secondary teacher, author and consultant. Follow him on Twitter @informed_edu.


This is the first part of a series of guest posts by David following a collaboration between The Key and the Teacher Development Trust in June 2014. Together we surveyed more than 1,000 members of The Key for School Leaders on their views surrounding CPD. This survey informed the Teacher Development Trust's annual report.

When children in our schools receive the most effective teaching, they progress faster. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds close the gap with their peers and all are able to experience a deeper enjoyment of school.

For all teaching in every classroom to be as effective as possible, teaching staff and school leaders must receive targeted, sustained and strategic professional development.

The recent survey of school leaders by The Key and the Teacher Development Trust has highlighted that schools across England are facing a number of barriers to ensuring that this is the case. What are the obstacles to powerful professional development and how can school leaders overcome them?

Accountability pressures

Almost one in five secondary school leaders in our June 2014 survey listed accountability measures such as Ofsted and league tables as their main priority when planning CPD for staff. Over 60% of all respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they had felt under pressure to change their professional development priorities due to accountability measures.

Constantly trying to react to Ofsted or other external pressures can jeopardise the strategic use and development of expertise within a school, damaging morale and keeping staff from actively engaging in activities targeted at their students’ specific needs.

While school leaders cannot escape accountability structures, it is possible to mitigate their impact on staff’s professional development. Starting every decision around professional development with an analysis of learning needs in the classroom ensures that all professional development is targeted at effecting sustainable, whole-school improvement in teaching and learning.

Removing Ofsted vocabulary from conversations about professional development will further promote the understanding that professional learning takes the form of an individual journey. The purpose is to support teachers and through them to support students.

-David Weston, Teacher Development Trust


Recommended reading on The Key for School Leaders

Recommended reading on The Key for School Governors

Next in part two of David's series: top down decision making processes

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