The role of governors in supporting CPD

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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How much does your governing board know about effective staff development – and to what extent do governors support and challenge your school’s work in this crucial area? Maria Cunningham advises

I was recently at an event where I met the chair of governors of a primary school. Realising the common ground, we struck up a conversation about our respective work in education with teachers and leaders. When I explained that I was visiting a school the very next day to facilitate a collaborative session on effective teacher development, I was met with the response “CPD? In exam time? Teachers don’t have time for that, they’re too busy cracking the whip!”.

The comment, though tongue-in-cheek, reminded me how surprisingly common it is that governing boards and trusts are not always as aware of the importance of staff CPD as they should be. Given that a governing body’s number one priority for a school is a high quality of education for pupils, it must follow that their number one focus must be constantly improving the quality of teaching.

While effective governance may not involve having an operational level detail of the training and development opportunities available to teachers, it does require knowing the school, which includes staff, and asking challenging questions related to teaching and learning.

Recent papers such as the Developing great teaching report (Cordingley et al, 2015) have undoubtedly helped headteachers and leaders to be more aware of what makes effective professional learning, inspiring them to make decisions to ensure that CPD has the best likelihood of impact on children’s outcomes.

Rather than the traditional one-off, generic INSET sessions, nowadays schools and trusts are designing innovative, impactful professional learning programmes that are relevant to pupil-need, sustained, iterative and well-evaluated.

One of the ways in the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) supports schools to improve their internal processes and structures for professional learning is by helping to diagnose what is going well, plus what could be developed further, using our CPD audit framework.

When the TDT visits schools across the country to carry out this audit process, governors and trustees have the option to take part in informal interviews. These conversations tend to reveal a real range of both understanding and depth of engagement with CPD from members of governing boards. Some examples of light-touch questions that we use to gauge this are:

  • How would you describe effective CPD?
  • To what extent are parents informed about, or involved in, staff development?
  • Is CPD seen as a priority with regard to other policies?

Consider the above questions. How would any one of your governors respond to these and how would their responses compare with what you would expect to hear from teachers or support staff within the school? If you are not fully confident that all governors would instinctively be able to describe the features of effective professional learning, or link this to pupil outcomes, you might want to encourage them to read Developing great teaching or the government’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (DfE, 2016).

In many cases, it is through no fault of their own that governors or trustees see CPD as merely an afterthought. Avoiding this depends on adept reporting from senior leadership, clear prioritisation of CPD within the school development plan and including evidence of impact and evaluation when updating governors – an external audit of the school’s approach can be a helpful way to present this in an objective way.

It is also good practice to have one named governor who is responsible for overseeing the school’s approaches to professional development. This governor can then arrange conversations and visits to speak to the CPD leader as well as other staff. As with all governance, a variety of sources should be used to gather information and make assessments to feedback to the board.

This should then be matched with an adequate level of training offered to governors themselves, to ensure they feel well-equipped to carry out their duties and are aware of what is expected of their role. In the very best schools, the governing body receives frequent opportunities to develop professionally, e.g. through in-school training mornings, online webinars or e-modules, or being invited to take part in learning walks and attend whole-school CPD sessions.

Giving governors an opportunity to interact and collaborate with teachers in this process can be a really powerful way to promote a culture of professional learning across the whole organisation. Of the importance of prioritising effective governance, Lord Agnew, Parliamentary under secretary of state for the school system, said recently: “We would encourage all schools, trusts, and local authorities to think carefully about the level of professional input that their board requires (and) invest proportionately in this important role.” (NGA, 2019)

There is no denying that a critical part of good school governance depends on maintaining healthy financial performance and managing resource effectively. Staff are a school’s most costly but also valuable and high-impact asset and there is nothing more important in any school than ensuring that leaders are getting the best from their people and ensuring they are constantly improving and developing.

Indeed, guidance published by the National Governance Association (2015) advises that “governors must make sure that adequate time and resources are devoted to CPD at the school ... Having allocated the budget, the impact of expenditure on CPD needs to be assessed and reported.”

Traditionally, a CPD budget catered for one-off external courses, but how aware are your governors of the broad range of activities that need to be properly resourced? These include:

  • External courses, conferences and meetings – ticket costs plus travel/subsistence.
  • Consultants, coaches and external partners.
  • Professional development books and access to knowledge databases.
  • Supply staff costs to allow class teachers the time for planning, collaboration and training.
  • Professional subscriptions, e.g. subject associations or Chartered College of Teaching.
  • Contribution towards the cost of academic study, e.g. at Master’s or Doctoral level.
  • Professional qualifications, e.g. NPQs.
  • CPD audit and evaluation tools.

Your school budget may have an allocated sum labelled as “CPD”, but are your governors aware of which of the above activities are expected to come out of this? If your school is taking staff development seriously, it should be spending at least one per cent of total salary costs (for teaching and non-teaching staff) on the above CPD costs, and looking to spend well above that level as soon as possible.

The NGA has recently published some guidance for its members on implementing a cost-effective staff structure. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, to ensure that the structures support the recruitment, retention and development of a self-improving staff body the starting point for a governing board or delegated committee could be to ask themselves:

  1. Does financial planning ensure that there is a suitable balance of time spent on delivering and time spent on improvement and development?
  2. What proportion of our staffing budget are we investing in ensuring that the staff we have are performing well and continually improving?
  3. How does this compare to the amount we invest annually in maintaining physical assets such as buildings?

Some useful resources to compare yourself to similar schools or multi-academy trusts are the DfE’s financial benchmarking tool (DfE, 2016) and the TDT’s CPD benchmarking tool.

Finally, teachers and leaders could also think about becoming governors of other schools to enrich their own professional development, as is currently being encouraged by a campaign led by Inspiring Governance and the NGA.

In the powerful words of Emma Knights, the NGA’s chief executive, “Boards, as the employer, can create a culture that enables staff in their school to go out and govern – they can bring back practice from other contexts and will have an understanding of what a governing board does.

“When considering succession planning to leadership positions, staff will also have experience of strategic leadership and working with a board. It is absolutely fabulous development for educationalists and I encourage teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders to consider whether governing is for them.”

  • Maria Cunningham is network development leader for the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective CPD in schools and colleges. A former primary school teacher, she now supports headteachers and leaders to improve the quality of their processes for staff professional learning. She also leads on the development of the TDT’s government-funded CPD Excellence Hub programmes in six Opportunity Areas and is secretariat for the DfE’s CPD Expert Group.

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