Best Practice

The 7 domains of school improvement through people development

By reviewing your CPD through the lens of seven domains focused on school culture and the needs of teaching staff, we can address common concerns about why CPD is not working. David Weston explains


Increasingly, school leaders recognise that schools can only improve when the people in them are supported to grow their expertise. In our work to support hundreds of schools to do this, leaders often share key frustrations with us, including:

  • "My staff seem really disengaged and lacking in drive around their learning."
  • "It's hard to find enough time for my staff to engage in CPD."
  • "Teaching practices in our school need updating and sharpening up."
  • "We struggle to involve associate staff in professional development processes."
  • "We put a lot of effort into CPD, but it's unclear if it's having any impact."
  • "Our school culture is characterised by isolated teachers, low trust, and limited collaboration."
  • "I'm concerned about the resistance to change and CPD among some staff members."

In order to address these common challenges, we like to explore each of these issues through the lens of our seven domains of school improvement through people development.

When working with a school we use surveys and interviews to gauge at which level schools are working (from emerging to gold standard), benchmarking against other schools, and then, most importantly, identifying ways to remove roadblocks and make progress.


1, Culture and wellbeing

This domain is key to effective professional development in schools. Without it, even the best CPD plans can fall flat. Staff must have a shared vision and sense of purpose to make it successful.

School leaders must communicate the value of CPD and emphasise its benefits to pupils. CPD should be viewed as a valuable investment, not a burdensome "bolt-on" to daily workloads.

Collaboration and constructive critique are key components of successful CPD, and an open-door culture should be encouraged where staff can observe and share feedback. In gold standard schools, all staff understand the link between effective CPD and pupil outcomes. They feel supported to give input to the school's CPD and have opportunities to deliver it.


2, Focus

This domain emphasises the importance of linking CPD to improving teaching and learning. CPD should enable staff to apply, embed, and refine new ideas in their practice.

Schools must strike a balance between generic pedagogy and subject-specific needs. Research (Cordingley et al, 2015) highlights the importance of teachers' subject knowledge and guides us as to how generic CPD can be contextualised to respond to specific learning issues.

In gold standard schools, CPD is specifically targeted at selected pupils, topics and practices and allows for iterative and sustainable changes to teachers' practice. Support staff also have access to effective and valued CPD.


3, Needs analysis and evaluation

This domain ensures that staff CPD is tailored to the specific needs of the pupils they work with, through formative and summative evaluations. Many schools think they are doing this well but may only evaluate CPD at the end of the programme without considering the intended aims and how to meet the needs of pupils. Gold schools prioritise pupil learning needs in identifying CPD processes and opportunities, and evaluate the impact of CPD in the short, medium and long term using a range of measures.


4, Internal support and challenge

The fourth domain of the framework emphasises the importance of internal support and challenge in effective professional development. Collaborative learning between teaching and support staff is crucial to creating a developmental culture, where staff are continually improving their knowledge and practice.

Gold standard schools ensure that staff have opportunities for critical friendships, coaching, and collaborative inquiry. They also provide clear and transparent career pathways for all staff. In these schools, performance management is closely related to professional learning and follows the principles of being pupil-focused, evidence-informed, challenging, with evaluation built in.

There is a culture of constructive challenge based on evidence, where staff are confident in deeply reflecting on their own practice and constructively critiquing that of their colleagues. Finally, the gold school involves teachers in the performance appraisal process, giving them a voice to ensure that the process is perceived as fair and useful.


5, Use of expert knowledge

This domain highlights how schools can effectively utilise external resources to support staff CPD. Engaging with external expertise allows exposure to the latest research and support in translating it into daily practice.

Schools should ensure that staff grow their expertise and their expectations of what is possible, catalysing their learning and sustaining engagement with their practice. Staff attending external courses should be given sufficient time and support to embed new ideas or strategies into their practice.

Additionally, schools should consider how they commission external providers of CPD and explore opportunities for collaboration with other schools.

Gold schools have strong links with other local schools or networks of teachers/leaders based on advancing CPD, robust decisions about commissioning external providers, and encouraging staff to visit other schools to observe practice.


6, Processes and structures of CPD

In this domain, gold schools prioritise the processes and structures of CPD to effectively support professional learning. They have a clear and distributed leadership structure that involves senior leaders, middle leaders, and teaching and learning teams.

Meetings are strategically planned to focus on developing teaching and learning, while minimising administrative tasks. Time is carefully allocated to support effective CPD, and change is managed in a way that optimises buy-in from staff.

For example, staff are given time to collaborate during PPA and have cover “vouchers” to enable peer observation and collaboration.

Gold schools ensure that all staff have the time and space to develop their knowledge and practice, with timetables creatively adapted to support this.


7, Research, innovation, and evidence

The final domain is about the importance of using research ideas in professional development processes. Gold schools base their professional development on evidence-based strategies, ensuring that the theory underpinning them is shared, discussed and debated by staff.

Staff are able to identify the evidence behind any CPD programme they request and have access to a wide range of pedagogical research to inform their practice. They are also aware of the importance of being selective, critical consumers of new ideas or interventions that have worked in other settings.

Additionally, gold schools may have links with higher education institutions or key academics to contribute to studies or trials looking into up-to-date ways that teachers can best meet pupil needs.

In our work to review schools against the framework, we find that senior leaders often have different perceptions than the staff members. Through support and challenge, discrepancies can be uncovered and addressed, ensuring leaders’ improvement efforts are effective, instead of finding themselves pouring efforts into activities that don’t seem to sustain.


Final thoughts

Reviewing the way your school develops staff through culture, CPD processes and leadership can be powerful. And adopting a people development-focused approach means leaders can create targeted and impactful strategies for staff growth and improvement.

By exploring the seven domains of school improvement and drawing on external expertise, schools can overcome some of the common concerns about CPD that isn’t working well.

Through reflection, collaboration, and evidence-based interventions, schools can unlock staff potential and create a lasting impact on teaching and learning.

  • David Weston – @informed_edu – is founder and co-CEO of the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for schools, childcare settings and colleges focused on creating workplaces where teachers thrive and become expert so that pupils succeed. Read David’s previous articles for Headteacher Update, including articles in which his work is cited, via and find out more at


Further information & resources

  • Cordingley et al: Developing great teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development, Teacher Development Trust, 2015: