Planning your CPD for next year

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Many schools are starting to plan their CPD spend for the year ahead. Maria Cunningham offers advice on effective CPD planning

We know it can be a challenging task for school leaders to balance the co-ordination of plans currently in place with also thinking about next year’s overview, particularly when it comes to CPD.

Yet in an educational landscape where budgets are shrinking and pressure is mounting around recruitment, retention, pupil outcomes and quality of teaching, there has never been a more important time for improving staff development.

An investment worth making

Great development and a supportive environment can reduce staff turnover, improve morale and reduce stress. By investing a portion of this up-front into a dramatically improved CPD programme, you can reduce long-term costs and the headache and stress of the annual recruitment challenge.

Finding the time

When we visit schools and speak to staff, they frequently cite time as one of the greatest barriers to making CPD visions a reality. Time is indeed one of the most precious things in a school, but our most successful members allocate as much as this as possible to CPD so that senior leaders and teaching staff alike recognise that professional learning is a priority activity.

This means thinking beyond the realms of INSET days or disaggregated twilight sessions – can you be more creative with your timetable next year? Many schools begin by organising regular weekly or fortnightly CPD time, which could for example comprise year-group joint lesson planning for 90 minutes per week in a primary school.

One multi-academy trust we’ve worked with blocks off an afternoon per half-term to assemble teachers from across its schools to work on Lesson Study, a Japanese teacher enquiry model, while others host “teach-meet” style gatherings over breakfast to share research, ideas and best practice.

Of course, how this time is used is also crucial. The most powerful professional learning is sustained over the year, with iterative opportunities to reflect, collaborate and refine practice. The most successful schools organise carefully structured collaboration in which groups of teachers (and often support staff) work together to improve pupil outcomes that are important to them.

Deciding your focus areas

We know that one-off INSET days or staff briefings focused mainly on information-giving (think curriculum updates, statutory training, generic training advice) tend to have little long-term impact on pupil outcomes, so adjust your school focus to prioritise fewer themes and take more time on each. Each priority can then be weaved in across the year, with multiple activities establishing a rhythm of repeated and sustained improvement and learning.

It is important that these chosen areas are meaningful, rather than arbitrary – they can be identified through analysis of curriculum, assessment, external examination data and teacher judgement, perhaps with links to whole-school priorities or a wider improvement plan. Examples of themes could include specific areas of student learning, such as subjects, topics or learning behaviours.

These areas can then be balanced with statutory or systems training, and crucially, the career development needs of teachers, teaching assistants and non-teaching staff, which encompass leadership, accreditation (both professional and academic) as well as support and opportunities such as job swaps, shadowing, coaching or mentoring.

Adopting this approach minimises the risk of your CPD programme becoming a list of what teachers should do and how they must perform. Instead, the priority is what students need and teachers can develop to achieve better outcomes, which intrinsically encourages much more focus on aspects of curriculum and on subject and specialist knowledge.

Creating the culture

For professional learning to take place, teachers must feel trusted to change their practice and evaluate whether that is successful or, in some cases, unsuccessful. Encouraging disciplined risk-taking and innovation in one’s practice is an important part of a developmental culture. High-stakes observations, teacher assessment and appraisal are all counter-productive to this.

If the traditional “top-down” model of CPD is based on a headteacher or senior leadership team member drawing up the annual CPD plan, a more modern approach creates a more positive culture by seeing professional development leadership distributed more evenly among senior and middle leaders, as well as those with responsibility for teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, induction, early career development and leadership development. With these colleagues it is important to set and embed a vision for effective professional learning and its value within the school, since if colleagues do not see CPD being invested in (in terms of time and resources) then it sends a message that teacher improvement is not valued.

As a headteacher or senior leader, be sure not to neglect your own professional learning when planning for next year. How much do you talk about what you are working on in your practice or your classroom? For professional learning to be a priority, this needs to be visible at all levels of any organisation. It is particularly powerful when you lead in a potentially vulnerable process, for instance, by volunteering for your own lesson to be observed or filmed for sharing with colleagues.


Once you are clear on your CPD themes, whether they are fixing a problem or building on current strengths, ask yourself “what would success look like?” This will help to avoid the common pitfall of seeing evaluation as something that is just done at the end, and allow you to identify well in advance the types of measures that you will look for when evaluating your programme.

As well as this, there is a tendency to consider the evaluation of CPD as something that is done by school leadership to justify spending. That is obviously one factor, but there are two key aims to evaluating CPD – a summative evaluation of whether it has had an impact, and a formative evaluation of how it can be refined or changed as the learning takes place. Staff need to have a major role in formative evaluation as they are the ones who spend the most time with the pupils and have the most information on what needs they have.

Thomas Guskey’s Evaluating Professional Development breaks down evaluation of CPD to five different levels which can help structure this. Read more about using these principles in the previous Headteacher Update article by the Teacher Development Trust’s Bridget Clay (Evaluating CPD provision using Guskey’s five levels, November 2016:

Effective professional learning is one of the most powerful things that you can implement as a school leader. By empowering colleagues to adapt their practice to best meet the needs of their students, you are enabling student achievement, school improvement and greater retention and self-efficacy among teachers.

  • Maria Cunningham is a network officer at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for professional learning in schools. She is a former primary school teacher and supports schools across the TDT Network with developing their CPD processes. To find out more about membership, visit or keep up-to-date with the latest CPD news on Twitter @TeacherDevTrust

Further information

The Teacher Development Trust will be supporting senior leaders and CPD leads at the event Planning your School CPD Programme in Harrogate on Wednesday, June 17. For more information or to reserve a place, visit

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