Evidence to Action: The seven Es of effective CPD

Written by: Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There are some common and key themes to effective and successful professional learning and development for school staff. Fiona Aubrey-Smith distills these down to the seven Es of effective CPD...

We are now half-way through this academic year and our wonderful teaching staff have worked tirelessly through some really challenging circumstances to make children’s learning the very best it can be.

As school leaders we will be asking ourselves how we can do the same thing for our staff – how we can make their professional learning the very best it can be.

Fortunately we can draw on a superb synthesis of research evidence, curated by the Teacher Development Trust (see further information) about teacher’s professional learning, recommending that it should:

  • Be sustained, and with a regular rhythm of support over a period of two terms or longer.
  • Be based upon a teacher’s own experience, needs and vision of what their children’s success looks like.
  • Include opportunities to discuss with peers and “more knowledgeable others” both the theory and practice of new ideas, testing of ideas, seeing practices expertly modelled and receiving of expert feedback on their own efforts.
  • Be clear and explicit on the intended impact on children’s learning.

Few of us would disagree with these points, but in a busy school environment, with lots of different staff needs to attend to, how do we turn this into practical action?

As part of my research work with a number of trusts, I have observed some key themes to successful professional learning provision. These can be summarised through “Seven Es”, which I will share with you here.


Which children are facing challenges and barriers in their learning which need to be addressed? For example, white working class boys in writing fiction, children in Class 3L in mathematical word problem-solving, at-risk children with social confidence needs? (This relates to point 4, above).

Which staff are best placed to support these children? For example, experienced staff with the relevant knowledge and skills, as well as talent-development of staff who are at the right stage in their career to develop this knowledge and skills. (This relates to point 2, above).


Before signing staff up to courses, how much do you know about that teacher’s own vision of what children’s success looks like (point 2, above)? My tip is do not make the common mistake of assuming that even your longest serving teacher necessarily completely aligns with your school vision and ethos for teaching and learning. Evidence shows that “consciously we teach what we know, unconsciously we teach who we are” (Hamachek, 1998).

Moreover, in education we are very good at giving the answers we think people want to hear. To unpack more about your teachers’ visions around teaching and learning, try using The Pedagogy Framework as a conversational prompt (Aubrey-Smith, 2021).

In unpacking what your individual teachers think about teaching and learning – their pedagogical stance – you will probably surface a number of different ideas about how to address the needs of your focus children (see Enlist). You will need to engage staff in professional discussion about which of these is most appropriate in your specific school, by whom, with whom, and how – i.e. drawing out very explicit needs and actions. This ensures that you are “clear and explicit on the intended impact on children’s learning” (point 4) by the specific teachers who will be engaging in the professional learning. Different teachers will create different kinds of impact – so this is really important (Aubrey-Smith, 2020).


It is likely that you will have multiple strands of conversation going once you reach the Engage stage. These will result in the Enacting of a number of different types of professional learning across your staff – meeting the needs of those at different stages of their career, with different strengths and passions, and across different subjects, phases and areas of expertise. It is helpful to think of these knitting together as a pyramid (see image, below) that you climb together.

Referring to the pyramid, staff will move through “onboarding” training, complete their “compliance” training and relevant “qualifications” (whether ITE, NPQs, leadership or specialist).

Once those solid foundations are in place we can create “progression” across professional learning – moving all staff on in the same way we do for children. But – and I cannot emphasis this enough – we must understand our individual teachers better – what their personal pedagogical views are and why. This makes a huge difference to the way they interpret professional learning inputs and interventions (thus ultimately its application into practice and its impact on children’s experiences and outcomes).

When all of our staff are moving forwards on their own professional learning journey then we start to see improved teacher efficacy – self-belief in their own capabilities and the direct relationship between their actions and children’s outcomes (see Hattie, 2017).


As your staff undertake the range of professional learning that you have identified they will begin to explore new ideas about theory and practice. This is the sweet spot where you want to provide them with opportunities to discuss with a “more knowledgeable other” (remember Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the importance of social dialogue within learning to extend us just beyond where we might otherwise reach).

This builds upon point 3 – teachers testing ideas, seeing practices expertly modelled and receiving expert feedback on their own efforts. Importantly, they should be encouraged to discuss and challenge their thinking about both theory and practice (we too often focus predominantly on practice).

This phase is where coaching comes into its own – whether using in-school expert peers, online coaches as part of course provision or through external or formal coaching programmes. The discussion is an absolutely integral part of ensuring the professional learning has an impact – on both teacher and children.


It is also absolutely vital that Evaluation is woven throughout – keeping a very tight focus on that most basic of questions: So what? For every idea or discussion, encourage all staff to be asking this. What difference does it make to the child/children? Importantly, focus staff thinking objectively about what the evidence shows as making a difference. This is not about justifying plans and actions; often teachers (and leaders) can be desperate to show that an idea worked in order to justify the time and energy spent on it.

But it doesn’t matter if something has not worked, because we can learn from that – the important thing is reflecting on why, recalibrating our thoughts and ideas with new evidence, understanding, and then moving on to what that evidence suggests will work better.

Excel & Extend

When staff have experienced the kinds of professional learning outlined above, they build confidence as well as capability. That means that they can then become that “more knowledgeable other” to staff across your own school or trust, as well as offering expertise out to the wider teaching profession.

Encourage your staff to be thinking about where they could take this new competence and confidence. How might it affect their career development or aspirations? How can they play an integral part in school succession planning and sustainability planning so that your investment of time and energy in their development benefits the wider school or trust longer term?

This could be about retention and building new kinds of roles for staff that impact upon increasing numbers of children. It could be about recruitment – reflecting your school or trust as a place that invests in teachers.


Last but definitely not least, you may be reading this article as someone interested in developing professional learning in others. Please do not forget your own professional learning – go back through the seven Es: how many of these are in place for you?

  • Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning specialising in education research and consultancy. She is also an associate lecturer at The Open University, a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and sits on the board of a number of multi-academy and charitable trusts. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update at http://bit.ly/2IPHfe4 and contact Fiona via fionaaubreysmith@googlemail.com

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