Funding is tight, but please don’t cut CPD...

Written by: Paul Whiteman | Published:
Paul Whiteman, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

The funding crisis in education risks creating barriers to CPD as schools are forced to cut costs. Paul Whiteman urges headteachers to resist any temptation to cut back on staff training and CPD

We all know that schools are struggling financially. We survey the members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annually about their budgets in a report entitled Breaking Point.

Last year, Breaking Point revealed that 21 per cent of school leaders had budgets in deficit – up 13 per cent since 2015. And only eight per cent of school leaders did not foresee a year where they would have an untenable deficit.

Of course, the government has just announced a new funding package for schools and the £7.1 billion extra by 2022/23 will go some way to restoring the real-terms cuts we have seen since 2010 but will not chalk it all off. Also, there is no extra money for schools this year and that is still a big problem for schools whose budgets are already at breaking point (for more details on the funding announcement, see our report here).

For some time now, schools have been forced to make cuts anywhere they can find them. Breaking Point shows that schools are having to cut spending on school equipment and building maintenance, as well as reducing the amount of hours worked by some staff and, in very dramatic cases, making valued team members redundant or not replacing them when they retire or move on to other jobs.

Of further concern is that the third most common way for schools to balance their budgets is reducing investment in CPD and staff training.
Developing your staff can be expensive. The costs do not just include course fees and travel, but also finding cover for the staff member while they are out of the office. We know this is a big barrier, not only for those in charge of budgets, but also for teachers themselves, who often feel like they cannot ask for CPD or training as they would be putting a burden on their colleagues.

Previous NAHT research shows that staff just below senior level are something of a “squeezed middle”. It typically falls to them to fill in for colleagues, and they find it hard to prioritise their own learning and development.

The barriers to accessing CPD are only getting worse as the funding crisis deepens. But the benefits to training for school staff and teachers are equally clear. Investment in teachers’ professional development has significant knock-on benefits, not just to those individuals but to other colleagues and children too.

Teaching is a skilled graduate profession, and we need to take that seriously in order to maintain and raise its status. In other graduate professions, like law or medicine, on-going CPD, training, learning and research are expected, not additional. We would do much to raise the status of the profession if we moved to something similar in education.

It would be unthinkable to allow someone to prescribe medicine if their knowledge was years out of date. It is just as important that teachers can keep up-to-date with the latest research and methods, sharing that with colleagues and making an impact across the school.
Many teachers, especially those who are newly qualified or at the start of their careers, report that it is a challenge to manage their classrooms, and that they are taken by surprise by the reality of teaching day-in, day-out. Additional training, learning and mentoring during this time can go a very long way to improving NQTs’ morale and confidence, as well as the quality of their teaching.

With data showing that almost a third of teachers quit the profession within the first five years (SecEd, 2016), anything that can prevent this loss is well worth the investment. Earlier this year, the government launched its Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019). Delivered well, this has the power to transform the working lives of new teachers – but of course, without sufficient money in the system, there are still no guarantees that less experienced members of staff will get all the support they need.

Equally, more experienced teachers, who have often taken on additional responsibilities and leadership duties, should not be overlooked. It is easy to get lost in the endless pressure of teaching, pastoral care, paperwork and day-to-day management of departments and classrooms. Taking time out to go on courses, that can feel quite removed from the immediate realities of school life, can feel impossible and not at all the priority.

But taking that time really boosts morale. It shows that schools are willing to invest in individuals and their careers. It demonstrates that leaders are serious about their efforts to retain them and their valued skills and experience.

Again, statistics show that our teaching workforce is getting younger – in fact it is one of the youngest measured by TALIS, the Teaching and Learning International Survey (OECD, 2019). We are losing experienced teachers and middle leaders, whose expertise we need and want to develop as the school leaders of the future.

Investing in the CPD of teachers at every stage of their career is one way of doing this. Teachers who feel more in control, appreciated, invested in and nourished are less likely to leave. And it is far better and more cost-effective to retain happy, fulfilled, inspired teachers, than to lose the benefit of their experience and have to find the money and resources to meet the recruitment costs and effort of replacing them.

Additionally, it is those teachers with the most expertise and experience who make the biggest different to those children who most need it – those with additional needs or from deprived backgrounds. We need the best teachers, with not just experience, but with refreshed drive and passion, to deliver the very best care and education for the most vulnerable in our society, if we are ever to make any headway improving social mobility.

There is also the fact that teachers whose skills are boosted then also become a great resource for their school. They can pass that knowledge on, training and mentoring others, or even generate income for the school by running courses for others. So, despite the funding pressures facing schools, there is a huge value in maintaining CPD spending.

  • Paul Whiteman is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Further information

  • Poor NQT retention figures spark further workload warnings, SecEd, November 2016:
  • Supporting early career teachers (ECF), DfE, January 2019:
  • TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I), OECD, June 2019:
  • The NAHT is hosting a Primary and Early Years two-day conference in London on November 21 and 22. Speakers include Ofsted’s Gill Jones, Durham University’s Rob Coe, and the co-founder of Teacher Tapp Becky Allen:
  • The NAHT is expanding its CPD offering this year. For details of its events and courses, visit

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