Best Practice

CPD: Is it making a difference in your school?

What are the key questions that you should be asking yourself when it comes to designing and evaluating CPD with measurable impact? Maria Cunningham advises

Since forming in 2012, the Teacher Development Trust has visited hundreds of schools around the country to review their CPD practices. One thing is for sure, we’ve seen first-hand how the most effective professional learning can drive school improvement by transforming teacher practice and in turn improving pupil outcomes. But we appreciate that it can also be a particularly challenging area in which to show measurable progression.

In an educational landscape where budgets are increasingly tightening, as a headteacher or school leader you will need to justify all areas of spending and know you’re getting bang for your buck. CPD is no exception to this. But what you might not have considered is that measuring impact is more than just a means of demonstrating value for money; it is also a powerful learning tool in itself. The more that all staff in your school are supported to formatively evaluate the effect of a change of practice in their classrooms, the more they will be active players in the process of meeting the CPD’s intended outcomes responsively according to all pupils’ needs.

Think about how you decide upon your professional development focuses as a school. Don’t fall at the very first hurdle by creating or providing the opportunities, and then trying to evaluate the impact afterwards as a separate activity. Evaluation of CPD is absolutely not something that just comes at the end – traditionally seen at one-off training sessions in the form of feedback forms or “happy sheets”, so discourage your CPD leaders from reporting in this way.

At its very worst, this type of feedback tells you that the room where training took place was too cold or that staff enjoyed the biscuits. At best, it will give you an idea of the perceived learning experience of the participants, but crucially in isolation it fails to ascertain where an actual development in practice has taken place, let alone the change to pupil outcomes. Evaluation and professional learning should be inextricably linked.

So how can you ensure that everyone in your school is involved in accurately evaluating the impact of staff development? I have listed the key questions that you should be asking yourself when it comes to designing and evaluating a CPD structure with measurable impact.

What do we mean by evaluation?

Studies have found that in schools, participants of CPD often confuse “evaluation” of professional learning with “dissemination”, so try not to make the mistake of viewing the process of sharing knowledge as evaluation in and of itself. An example of this could be if one of your heads of subject were to acquire new skills on an external training course, then arrange a staff meeting to cascade this material to colleagues. While the transference of new materials or techniques to colleagues can indeed be a worthwhile exercise in embedding professional learning, both for the individual and across school, evaluation goes beyond this.

It involves measuring (not necessarily in a quantitative or in-depth way) the changes that occur as a result of this new knowledge and skills. This impact can be both direct or indirect, but that distinction should be considered and clarified from the outset. Direct impact aims to specifically benefit learners, while CPD with an indirect impact aims to improve the overall environment and context in which teaching and learning occurs – e.g. changes to policy, leadership and management activities.

What are you trying to achieve?

It sounds obvious, but a common pitfall of evaluating whole-school CPD programmes is a lack of clarity around knowing what needs your training is addressing. From a leadership perspective, there are a whole host of strategies upon which you can draw in order to diagnose needs – including assessment outcomes, teacher surveys, lesson observations, video technology, pupil behaviours, and appraisal meetings. Ensure that you and your staff are able to take a range of these and ask yourselves “what will look different if we are successful?”

Who should be involved?

On an all too frequent basis we see professional learning processes where priorities are only set by senior leaders based on small snapshots of performance and test data. Yet it is always important to take caution about any performance data being collected and to not be afraid to question its validity – more often than not, findings from judgemental lesson grading or “book looks” are much less reliable than you think.

Bear in mind that both teachers and support staff who spend the most time with students will have the deepest insights into why and how classroom learning happens. Further to this, your staff should have a level of agency when it comes to their development, so as much as possible allow them to choose which measures are used to evaluate their performance, as well as the activities that will help them improve. Feeling a sense of trust and that one’s voice is heard is necessary for people to perceive that CPD is fairly planned, useful and a motivation to improve.

What tools will you use?

Once your teachers know what specific pupil needs they are trying to address, we recommend directing your CPD leader to Thomas Guskey’s Evaluating Professional Development (2000), which will help to structure a school-wide approach to evaluating a specific programme of professional learning.

Guskey’s five levels build on the traditional view of evaluation as measuring participants’ reaction, i.e. their satisfaction, then proceed to delve deeper into the knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired through training, as well as the organisational support in place, the changes in teachers’ behaviour as a result of their CPD and finally the impact on students – be it their attainment, behaviour or attitude.

For more on using Guskey’s five levels as an evaluative tool, see our previous article on this topic (Headteacher Update, November 2016).

What barriers need to be overcome?

A fundamental aspect of Guskey’s five levels is that they all depend on one another and build on the level before. If there are organisational barriers to staff actually applying what they have learnt, then CPD by default becomes unsuccessful, because the “D” for development will not occur. Examine whether your school systems are allowing the adequate resources and time for participants’ planning and evaluation of CPD. If not, there will be no change in classroom practice and most likely little impact on student learning. For leaders and CPD facilitators, a small but powerful tweak you can make immediately is to specifically carve out a time slot for collaborative needs diagnosis at the start of your professional learning programme.

Your school culture and ethos is important too. Poor organisational support or a lack of shared vision can be a stifling force. A culture of development encourages staff to take risks, allows staff to learn from mistakes and strikes a suitable balance of challenge and support. This means that if your evaluation of CPD involves measuring teacher performance, feedback needs to be meaningful and forward-facing, with emphasis on building on existing strengths.

Are we making an impact yet?

If this is a question that staff in schools constantly revisit in collaboration, as well as continuously checking in their individual practice, then evaluation will become implicit in the very doing of CPD. Headteachers, and by extension, line managers have the potential to cause a small but powerful cultural shift simply by achieving greater clarity between conversations that measure performance (appraisal), and conversations that evaluate and develop teacher practice (goal-setting).

These are two very separate objectives and therefore the targets themselves should look different too. During these conversations, we recommend that for more complex targets where multiple factors are at play, such as changes to pupils’ learning, leaders and managers should adopt a more holistic approach to individual learning goals so that the teacher can take ownership of evaluation and fully engage with their own professional learning journey.

There’s no doubt that measuring the impact of your CPD can be challenging, with some aspects more straightforward to evaluate than others. Given how important it is to adopt a range of evaluative processes, strike a balance between providing formative and summative feedback and adapt all this to student, teacher and school-wide needs, there’s no wonder that it is one of the most common areas where schools seek our support.

Despite this, if you start by using Guskey’s five levels to break down the needs that your CPD is meeting and the changes you seek to achieve in your organisation, it is possible to create a self-fulfilling system where CPD and evaluation happen simultaneously and the learning experience is even further enhanced for all.

  • Maria Cunningham, a former primary school teacher, is membership and engagement officer for the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools. Visit

Further information

  • Evaluating Professional Development, TR Guskey, 2000, Corwin Press.
  • Evaluating CPD provision using Guskey’s five levels, Headteacher Update, Bridget Clay, November 2016: