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How to Cut CPD Costs…Without Cutting Corners

Failing to invest in staff development could damage children’s education, says Stephen Tierney – but effective CPD needn’t cost a fortune...

  • How to Cut CPD Costs…Without Cutting Corners

The lack of school funding is having an impact on education.

Some of these are very obvious: bigger class sizes, fewer teachers and support staff, lack of support for our most vulnerable children, buildings in a greater state of disrepair and below inflation salary rises, or none at all for many years, adding to the recruitment and retention difficulties.

Much less obvious are other cuts that school leaders, headteachers and governors, make.

One example is to budgets funding the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff. Recent research showed a nearly 9% reduction in CPD spending in 2016/17 compared to the previous year; potentially even more concerning, 10.5% of secondary schools and 4.5% of primaries spent nothing on CPD in 2016/17.

These cuts to professional development might not have an obvious and immediate impact; but in the long term a lack of investment in staff will seriously damage the quality of education children receive.

It may also lead to more teachers choosing to leave your school or possibly even the profession. Understandably the adults working in school want to be educated and trained as part of their journey towards greater mastery and increasing agency.

Amidst calls for school leaders to commit 1% of their budget – approximately £10,000 for a one form entry primary school or £45,000 for an average sized secondary school – there is a need to do more with much, much less.

I see the 1% CPD Challenge as a symbolic commitment to the importance of investing in and developing staff.

Here are a few thoughts on how to get £10,000/£45,000 or more of impact whilst spending less.

Keep it real

The first and obvious one is to ensure that you align all CPD with the school’s development and improvement priorities.

Be brutally realistic about the amount of time required; most leaders totally underestimate the professional development a new whole school initiative needs.

When we were implementing a major new reading programme at St Mary’s Catholic Academy (an 11-18 comprehensive school in Blackpool), the headteacher asked what CPD might those leading the initiative or individual strands of it require? What might all staff require? What ongoing CPD would be needed to address implementation and fidelity issues?

There’s always a need to invest time in keeping things on track but too few schools do.

CPD isn’t a one hit wonder or a lightning strike; rather a planned, phased systematic rolling of thunder over months, sometimes years.

It’s either, choose your priorities or waste a whole load of time and money doing too many thing badly; the latter is a curse in many schools.

Build CPD into the structure of your school week and academic year. For well over a decade now, St. Mary’s has shortened the school day, once a week on a Thursday, by thirty minutes.

The pupils go home at 2:40 pm and staff have professional development from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.

Most of the meetings are given off to departments with the expressed intent of collaborative working to improve teaching and consequentially learning. The cost of this in £nil.

Likewise, we have used our academy freedoms (though the idea came from a maintained school) to have additional INSET days at our three academies – one secondary and two primaries – with a similar approach to that described for the Thursday afternoon CPD time.

If schools are willing to coordinate INSET days it can be much more cost effective to bring in an external expert to provide specific input, sharing the cost across schools.

Get together

As well as collaborating in school, collaboration between schools increases the pool of expertise.

For example, within our Trust a RE secondary specialist is supporting the development of a conceptual framework and writing of schemes of learning for the primary academies’ curriculum RE.

He also provides subject specific professional development of our primary teachers.

The cross Trust lead on maths, a mathematician and Key Stage 1 trained specialist, is supporting the development of the Key Stage 3 maths curriculum.

She is helping secondary teachers avoid the dip that can so easily happen at transition.

Working beyond the Trust, a group of secondary and primary staff are about to start meeting regularly to plan a Key Stage 2 scheme of learning for science.

The meetings are full afternoons, so a bit of internal or supply cover is required, but the curriculum documents produced are great value for money.

Once the science schemes are developed there will need to be ongoing professional development for all staff in the schools to ensure high quality implementation and teaching.

This programme was supported by giving a BOGOF offer to the schools involved on our Research School training programme on the Education Endowment Foundation Key Stage 3 Guidance (which is equally applicable to Key Stage 2).

Teachers from the Trust got the training for free; we don’t charge ourselves for the courses, another money saver.

The Research School at St. Mary’s, jointly funded by the EEF and the DfE, has been a real bonus in many ways.

Our research leads, who contribute to the development of EEF guidance documents, training programmes and programme resources, deliver internal courses for staff at no further cost.

Many Teaching School Alliances have operated in a similar way, also offering courses in a locality; collaborative approaches can see schools offering to lead some of these courses at no cost and in return having access to the full range of courses available for free.

Whether you are a Research School or Teaching School or neither, all schools have a level of internal expertise that can be utilised in this way.

Read about it

A great way to develop staff’s knowledge of a particular issue or in a particular area is the read and discuss book club.

The process is voluntary and staff can engage with some books and not with others, as suits their interest and other time commitments.

We order books for staff, handing them out for people to read and keep, then set up a couple of meetings after school that staff came along to, having read the book, to discuss their thoughts; massive impact for just a few hundred pounds in total. We’ve had different readers for headteachers and for cross Trust senior leaders.

Professional development mustn’t become an add on or a nice to have luxury. When correctly focused, it is at the heart of school improvement; because school improvement is so much easier when you have a knowledgeable, skilful and committed staff.


5 steps to great value cpd

  1. Make sure you align all CPD with the school’s development and improvement priorities.
  2. Be brutally honest when planning for the professional needs of staff when implementing new developments/initiatives; it takes more time than you think.
  3. Build professional development time, for all staff, into the structure of the week and year; maximise it in directed time and provide additional voluntary CPD.
  4. Teachers collaborating together – within school and across schools – on curriculum planning, development & evaluation is a powerful form of CPD.
  5. Book clubs provide an effective low cost way of developing and deepening staff’s knowledge and understanding.

Stephen Tierney is CEO of BEBCMAT, a blogger (leadinglearner.me) and author of Liminal Leadership.

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