Developing better teachers

Bridget Clay of the Teacher Development Trust explains that Britain’s teachers need better professional development if they are to get the best from their students.

People taking part in workshop discussionThere is a significant gap in achievement amongst children in the UK. 36 per cent of pupils on free school meals (FSM) achieved 5 GCSE A* to C grades, including English and maths, last year, compared to an overall national average of 59 per cent.1 While the gap between the rich and poor in all OECD countries has widened in the last thirty years, the UK is particularly affected. This is significant because an improvement in educational equality, and in overall learning outcomes, is associated with national economic success, lower incidence of crime, and greater wellbeing. This means that teachers need to meet the pressing needs of the nation’s children more effectively. So what can be done to address this?

The Teacher Development Trust was established in response to this need. Set up by former teachers, the Trust is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for children through raising the quality of teachers’ professional development. Research by the Sutton Trust shows that high-quality teaching has a strong effect on student outcomes, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.2 Similarly, John Hattie has shown that teacher practice is the most effective way for schools to improve student achievement, as student characteristics and prior attainment cannot be altered.3 High-quality teaching has to underpin efforts to reduce the attainment gap amongst children in the UK.

Professional development and learning have been shown to benefit not only pupils, but teachers as well.4 Effective professional learning has been shown to have a positive impact on student motivation, student performance, student responses to specific subjects, better organisation of work, and increased sophistication in response to questions. Equally, it has been shown to give teachers better confidence, higher morale and self-efficacy, and a greater commitment and willingness to change and innovate. Effective professional development has the potential to transform the educational landscape in the UK, and close the gap in student attainment.

So how can we ensure professional development is effective? Many teachers across the country have negative experiences of continuing professional development (CPD), particularly CPD which is imposed on teachers from the top down and which is not directly relevant to the pupils they teach. It has been shown that the most effective professional development and learning is that which is:

  • collaborative and teacher-driven
  • focused on learner need, rather than teacher practice
  • sustained over time
  • rigorously evaluated
  • supported by specialist external input.5

Whilst most schools consider at least some of these factors, greater rigour and depth are still needed in approaches to CPD. For example, while only 6 per cent of primary and 8 per cent of secondary schools claim not to evaluate continuing professional development (CPD) at all, only 7 per cent of all schools evaluate CPD on actual pupil progress.6 This is partly a result of CPD being focused on teacher practice rather than on pupil learning, so that the evaluation in turn also has the wrong focus. CPD needs to be turned on its head; it should be driven by the needs of the pupils, and should be focused around how to meet those needs. This means that evaluation should also be based on pupil learning.

To support implementing effective professional development, the Teacher Development Trust has set up a free database – the GoodCPDGuide – of CPD providers, courses and resources. Users can review and rate the quality of its delivery and its impact on their professional practice. There is also a quality assurance process to ensure that schools and teachers can find relevant and impactful CPD opportunities for free. Teacher Development Trust also runs the National Teacher Enquiry Network, which is an innovative network of schools that are working together to transform their professional development.

Bridget Clay is the National Teacher Enquiry Network Support Officer at Teacher Development Trust. She is a former maths teacher and education consultant at CfBT Education Trust.

  1. Harrison, A. (2013, June 20). ‘Invisible’ poor children let down by schools, says Ofsted head. BBC News. Retrieved from
  2. Sutton Trust. (2011). Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK – interim findings. Retrieved from
  3. Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence?Retrieved from
  4. EPPI Centre. How does collaborative Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers of the 5-16 age range affect teaching and learning? Summary. Retrieved from
  5. Centre for the Use of Research Evidence in Education (CUREE). (2012). Understanding what enables high quality professional learning. Retrieved from[site-timestamp]/CUREE-Report.pdf
  6. National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). (2009). NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus June 2009 Survey. Retrieved from


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