Comparisons between professions are fraught with danger. And comparisons between teachers and other professions are especially problematic. Should teachers be compared with doctors or nurses, with barristers or solicitors, architects or engineers? Teaching has always had a rather ambiguous position in the social order.

Uncertainty about status extends to the way teacher development is perceived. Whilst most people would expect health staff and lawyers to be conversant with the latest treatments or cases, few would extend the perception to teachers. In this paper, we want to argue that this should change. We strongly believe that a teaching profession that is demonstrably up to date, conversant with new knowledge and skills, and confident about the evidence on which practice was based would be significantly strengthened. Such a profession would more easily command the respect of society and would be less subject to the fads, foibles and grumbles of central government.

This paper is about teachers in England. Whilst we think the general thrust of our arguments would apply to all parts of the UK (and internationally), we have specific proposals that need to be rooted in existing institutional frameworks. We also want to focus on classroom teachers, from the early years through to 18, after they have entered the profession. The New Visions for Education Group has some interesting ideas about the forms and structures of teacher qualifications and initial education and training. The Group also has significant concerns about current policy developments in this crucial area of teacher preparation. These ideas and concerns will be the subject of a future group paper.

We present our analysis teacher professional development in two parts. First, we look at the evidence about the organisation and quality of teacher development in schools. As we show, there are very significant concerns. In the second part of the paper, we set out our proposals for change, including our strongest plea – that the teaching profession needs to become independent of government and take teacher development into its own hands.

The quality of teacher development in England today

There have now been a number of studies that, as the Times Education Supplement reported (10 September 2010), demonstrate that the professional support provided to teachers is ‘haphazard, poorly planned and poorly assessed’. The leadership of professional support is seen in one study as ‘unstrategic, disjointed and erratic’ and in another study as ‘lacking in any overall coherence’. Surveys of teachers show them to be, quite rightly, highly critical of the activities provided. One in four primary teachers sees the time they commit as of little use. The figure is higher for secondary teachers. Teachers express concern that there are insufficient opportunities for developing classroom teaching or subject updating – activities we would see as at the core of professional learning.

In England, for more than two decades, teachers have been required to participate in five in-service training days per year The research evidence demonstrates that these are rarely well organised, are seen as of little use by participating teachers, and represent a wasted resource. Some schools convert these days into after-school events or extend the school holidays. The use of consultants is common, although there is often little evaluation of these inputs, and sourcing expertise relies heavily on word of mouth.

On resources in general, the situation is opaque, verging on chaotic. Many schools do not have a professional development budget. Thousands of teachers have no idea of the resources being set aside for their professional development, and very few have any sense of a resource entitlement for improving their practice. In this context, it is not possible to calculate the investment involved and what variations there might be between schools, phases or geographical areas. One of the recent studies has pointed to the structure of most professional development programmes. These, it is suggested, are conceived in terms of inputs rather than processes that could lead to changes in thinking and practice. Little thought is given to outcomes – what will happen as a result of the development activity – and teacher development activities are still largely thought of as ‘off site’ courses and conferences involving release and cover for absence.

OFSTED has also been critical. A 2006 report, based on a survey of school inspections that identified good professional development, found that teacher needs were not effectively identified, that evaluation was poor and that school leaders had no conception of value for money in devising professional development programmes. OFSTED revisited teacher development in 2010 and found the picture broadly similar. Again, they found leadership as lacking in expertise, inadequate evaluation, and inadequate opportunities to develop subject knowledge in many areas of the curriculum.

This overall picture is disappointing, particularly given the growing evidence about the extent of the linkage between achievement and the quality of teaching. Research by LSE and Stanford, commissioned by The Sutton Trust suggests that the effect of having a very effective as compared to an average teacher adds between 25-45% to a pupil’s math score performance across a school year. And the impact of effective teachers is most marked for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There are, of course, examples of good teacher development practice to be found in individual schools and groups of schools. The growing networks of Teaching Schools are of interest and will surely have an important role in the sorts of initiatives we propose in the second part of this paper. The centres for mathematics and science teachers, likewise, provide lessons about how and how not to approach professional development. The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information Coordinating Centre at The Institute of Education provides valuable analyses on a range of professional issues. We have seen these incorporated in professional development programmes. Such practice, however, is not reflected across the education system as a whole, and our concern is with systemic improvement and a real step-up in the professional opportunities provided to teachers. It comes as no surprise that, given the inadequacies of the present system, research also shows that what is provided leads to little change and improvement in schools and classrooms. Teachers, we believe, deserve much better than this.

England is not alone in appearing to have a poor record of teacher development. Research in other parts of the world reveals similar shortcomings. In the USA, the Institute of Education Sciences within the US Department of Education recently looked at the record of teacher development over the previous decade. In a critique that resonates with the English evidence, they found a lack of coherence with provision ‘a patchwork of opportunities – formal and informal, mandatory and voluntary, serendipitous and planned’. A particular target for criticism was the prevalence of ‘single shot’ one-day workshops that were found to be intellectually superficial, disconnected from deep issues of curriculum and learning, fragmented and non cumulative. This evaluation was carried out seven years after the No Child Left Behind Act had mandated that all teachers should receive career-long learning with a strong focus on classroom practice and subject teaching.

In 2008, OECD also carried out an intensive study of teacher development. A particular feature of the report (TALIS – Teaching and Learning International Study) was a synthesis of a detailed survey of teacher development in 28 OECD countries. It is a great pity that England chose not to participate in this. It would have been instructive to look at our record in comparison with others, particularly high-achieving systems such as Finland and Singapore. Across the 28 countries surveyed, teachers took part annually in just over 15 days of teacher development. Teachers in England simply do not have similar opportunities and their professional development suffers in consequence. Over half of the teachers in the OECD survey indicated important curricular and pedagogic areas where further development was necessary. No one country provided a model for career-long development that could be held up as good practice. Three out of four teachers surveyed reported that attempting innovative approaches in the classroom would not be encouraged by senior managers. The OECD study was helpful in producing a useful summary of the linkage between the creation of effective learning environments and the consequences for any framework for teacher development.

Finally, in looking at present policies for teacher development, we ask: who thinks they are responsible? There was a time when Local Education Authorities would have seen this as a major responsibility, and a few did it quite well. But the erosion of the LEA/LA role is such as to make this unfeasible today. Universities have also played a role, although are now primarily confined to a tiny minority of teachers taking masters’ degrees. Universities, like local authorities, have been mistrusted by governments and have rarely featured in strategic thinking around professional development. Finally, the professional and subject associations have done their best. Although it is inevitable that their efforts touched a minority of the profession, it underlines what we think important, namely that teachers themselves now need to be in the driving seat in establishing a systemic underpinning of teacher development.
Education ministers have made repeated attempts to play the key role. In a 1998 policy initiative, Teachers: meeting the challenge of change, the then DFEE said:

A clear and continuing commitment to professional development throughout a career should be at the heart of teachers’ professionalism … much existing training is unsystematic and unfocused. We intend to set out a clear framework for professional development …

In 2001, government therefore initiated another strategy for teacher development with millions of pounds spent on launch events and road shows. However, there was little follow-through on this, in part because of a funding crisis two years later. In 2005, responsibility was passed to the Training and Development Agency, one of the quangos later (2011) rolled back into the Department for Education, but with a remit reduced to focus on recruitment and initial training. Indeed, inexplicably, a very useful and comprehensive TDA web guide to CPD provision across the country was closed down. In the same year (2010), however, the DFE produced yet another document The Case for Change. (We estimate that the DFE attempts to engage with teacher professional development on a two-yearly basis.) Although this was produced under the coalition government, the rhetoric reflects that of 1998.

The record shows that governments, from as far back as the well-received James report in 1971, have just not been good at following through from advocacy to the creation of realistic implementation strategies. In large measure, we think this is due to government mistrust of the very organisations (LAs, universities, teachers’ associations) that are capable of providing an infrastructure that could serve all teachers. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that ministers, officials and inspectors repeatedly revisit the issue, but do not reflect on why their previous policies failed. Moreover, there seems to be an approach that appears to ‘blame’ schools and teachers for the current state of affairs. OFSTED, for example, is particularly prone to see effective professional development as a managerial problem. If only school ‘managers’ planned, implemented and evaluated through what OFSTED terms ‘logical links’, then policies would work. We believe this is simplistic and naive. The leadership and management of professional development is crucial, but for teachers to engage fully they, rather than their managers, need a sense of pride and ownership of the process. That patently is not the case. Teachers deserve better.

The future of teacher development

The purpose of this paper is to stimulate debate and discussion of the ways in which teachers can call upon more appropriate and effective professional development support. We know that successful change comes from the judicious implementation of a range of interrelated measures and much detailed work will be necessary. Here, we set out in outline a number of ways in which we believe relatively rapid change could be brought about.
Our first proposal is that teachers should take control of the professional development agenda. We have shown that repeated attempts by different governments to exercise control have failed or fizzled out. Government just does not have the reach, structures or systems to do this. In making this proposal, we are aware of the dismantling of the local authority structures and we know there is no longer the capacity to take on the scale of the challenge we have described. We are also aware of the failure of the General Teaching Council in England to gain sufficient trust and support from teachers. Our proposition is the establishment of a National Institute for Teacher Development in England that is wholly independent of government.

This National Teaching Institute would have a number of interrelated purposes including:
• recommending a curriculum for in-service teacher education (initially focused on classroom teaching in primary, secondary and special schools) that, drawing on the most recent evidence and analysis, would provide a foundation and route for career-long teacher development programmes
• establishing a framework of accredited and non accredited teacher development programmes through which schools and teachers could build and design programmes and, within which, providers of all types (public and private) could offer development opportunities, activities and courses;
• creating an evaluation model, independent of government and OFSTED, which provides teachers and schools with appropriate information upon which professional development can be planned;
• creating a national teacher development portfolio that is owned by teachers and gives recognition to the career-long process of development;
• disseminating new thinking and innovation of all kinds around teacher development.

The curriculum would be open and flexible, encouraging innovation, offering alternative visions of pedagogic practice but strongly focused on children and students growing their potential and achieving the highest standards. It would embrace important concepts that, surprisingly, receive little attention in current provision – new understandings of the way children learn and changes in subject knowledge are just two examples. The curriculum would also acknowledge that, whilst external courses and visits have an important role, it is within the school environment that most professional learning will take place. In creating such a curriculum, it would be necessary to establish some definition and vision of the processes of professional development, including, for example, the role of research, modes of leadership and coaching in schools and partnerships. We also believe that there needs to be an explicit values dimension to professional development that provides focus to the social purposes that schools serve (addressing all forms of disadvantage or discrimination, for example).

Our priority concern is with classroom teachers, although subsequently the Institute may interface with existing provision around issues such as leadership and management.

In suggesting that the Institute be independent of government, we do not seek structures that are oppositional to government. We believe that the curriculum of teacher development could be formulated in ways that accommodate changes in government and we envisage that, over time, the Institute would become a wise partner and critical friend in the governance of education. A National Teaching Institute could give to teaching the sort of professional knowledge base that other professions have (the Royal Institute of British Architecture, RIBA, for example) and that has characterised many occupations for centuries – the guilds would be one illustration.

Most crucially, the Institute would be charged with gaining the confidence of teachers and head teachers, providing intellectual leadership and bringing to teachers a much greater sense of the sheer fascination and excitement that the best professional development provokes.

We are aware that, as we developed the ideas in this paper, a number of parallel discussions have been taking place about the sort of independent initiative we are proposing. In part, the consultations with key groups and individuals in the development of this paper have already fed into debates. We think there is a momentum building that could be exploited. Recent House of Commons select committees have considered an Institute of Teaching. There have been meetings where a Royal College of Teaching has been considered. We support such ideas, provided the essential ‘independence of government’ dimension is writ large.

Our second proposal looks to the ways that such a body should be established. We recommend that four groups work jointly to do this:
• the teachers’ associations and unions;
• the subject associations (and this would include associations representing primary and special education and other interest groups);
• the universities;
• other appropriate organisations ( The British Educational Research Association, CfBT, The Princes Trust and independent school associations are just four examples ).

We are aware of the tensions that sometimes exist within and between such groups. And we are aware that some groups command greater government confidence than others. But these are the major stakeholders, and teachers recognise their legitimacy. None could take on this crucial task alone, and all, we believe, have the capacity to work cooperatively for such an important purpose.

Our third proposal relates to universities and accreditation. As we have indicated, we believe that the linkage between teachers and universities should be strengthened. The universities hold the understanding of new developments in subject knowledge, as well as the awareness of new developments in research around teaching and learning. The university represents the public face of the sorts of enquiry that ought to be central to teacher development.

We propose, therefore, that firstly, the National Teaching Institute should find systemic ways in which the work and ideas of leading academics in school subjects and education can be made accessible to teachers. Some initiatives in this area already exist. The experience could be used to plan for this on a national basis; including the exploitation of the new communication technologies now available (see our fifth proposal below).

Secondly, we propose that all teachers would be expected and encouraged to complete a master’s level qualification within ten years of joining the profession, and that provision for updating and refreshing this should created through the curriculum of teacher development. Recent attempts by the last Labour government to move in this direction faltered. A radical rethinking of how this could be achieved would be a central task for the National Teaching Institute. Moving the teaching profession to a master’s level standard through the teacher development process would be a very important statement about the status of the profession, with important implications for the future of teacher recruitment.

Our fourth proposal relates to funding. We suggest that, in the first five years, private funding to support this initiative is sought from private foundations or equivalent. The purpose of this proposal is to create structures and visions for teacher development that go beyond the particular issues of the day. It is not, as some might suggest, a return to corporate structures. We envisage something that is nimble and lightweight in operation but influential in the way the remit is carried forward. We observe that as schools have acquired more autonomy for teacher development, so they welcome frameworks and ideas about development that can be trusted to be sustained over time. We note with interest the growing number of schools working cooperatively together and we believe the National Teaching Institute could offer important support and legitimisation for this approach.

Our fifth proposal relates to the use of new communications to support teachers. Government initiatives to do this have failed (the DFE’s Teachers’ Virtual Centre was one misguided experiment). There are initiatives in other parts of the world that do appear successful. Wikiwijs (translated as Wikiwise) in the Netherlands and the Le@rning Federation in Australia and New Zealand are two examples. Both have embraced an ‘open source’ or ‘open educational resource’ approach, and we would expect an English equivalent to do likewise. Teacher support sites exist in the media but we are looking to something that is world beating in terms of overall quality and professional rigour. If every teacher is to participate in master’s level activity, they need access to the electronic library resources enjoyed by university academics. But beyond that, we believe that teachers have a right to online support that rivals the best in the world in terms of vision and quality.

Our sixth proposal addresses the problems on INSET days. We know that some schools use these days imaginatively, but the evidence is that these are few in number and the teachers who benefit are in a small minority. The Centre for the Use of Research Evidence in Education has shown how sustained professional development activity can impact significantly impact on pupil achievement. To show impact teachers need to be involved in at least in 50 hours of professional activity spread over no more than two terms. A priority task for the National Teaching Institute would be to provide a range of models as to how such provision could be achieved and the ways impact and effectiveness could be monitored. We know that the present INSET day structure is an irritant to many working parents and new models would have to be sensitive to this.

Our final and seventh proposal looks to a new role for government. We believe that government’s policy role in relation to teacher development would be strengthened if it became more hands off. International evidence suggests that the most successful schooling systems have a tradition where governments work within policy frameworks supportive of teachers controlling their own development. Integral to systemic teacher policies are strategies for teacher learning and development. To quote the OECD (2011):

The frequently cited claim that the best-performing education systems all recruit their teachers from the top-third of graduates … is not supported by the evidence. Successful reform cannot wait for a new generation of teachers; it requires investment in the present teacher workforce, providing quality professional development, adequate career structures and diversification, and enlisting the commitment of teachers to reform.

We believe that countries that have teacher development strategies agreed with their teaching professions and their representatives are the ones that create the best conditions for embedding high levels of achievement for all their young people. In such contexts there is a partnership between teachers and government that reflects critical dialogue but also trust.

Sadly that hasn’t happened here.

It has, nevertheless, been the task of government since 1944 to plan teacher numbers and to make sure pay and conditions are agreed at national level. This has been one of the strengths of the UK system, and we are not suggesting changes there. We think, however, that beyond these matters there is plenty of evidence that shows the limitations of central authorities trying to intervene. A good government, we believe, would welcome an initiative such as the National Teaching Institute and provide ways of contributing to its success. For example, there has been some discussion about the possibility of linking proven and approved professional development activity with earlier pension entitlement. Teachers’ conditions of service agreements could become friendlier to professional development. We think an explicit commitment to a career-long entitlement to support for professional development for teachers would enhance the status of the profession. Some countries (Canada for example) have a structured programme of teacher secondments, which could form a part of such an entitlement. Government, as it currently does, will wish to monitor the nature and impact of professional development programmes. An expectation that schools would have an earmarked professional development budget should underpin such evaluations. The National Teacher Institute, in the form we propose, could also contribute significantly to a richer and more grounded evaluation framework than is currently the case.


The central message of this paper is simple. We believe that teacher development should become more relevant, a great deal more interesting and be more sharply attuned to improving teaching and learning in ways that demonstrably raise the bar of pupil achievement. We believe that a new model of teacher development is best planned by teachers. The English school system, a newly centralised system, is subject to repeated political and governmental change. This may well go on for some time, but we do not believe the great profession of teaching should be beholden to government for the way the profession manages professional development. We believe that it is teachers who could and should bring coherence, and hence our strong support for creating a new concordat in the setting up of a National Teaching Institute for England.

We invite the leaders of the teachers’ associations and unions, the teacher subject associations and the universities to establish a means through which this can be brought about.

Select references
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The authors would like to acknowledge the advice and comments of members of The New Vision Group , in particular John Bangs, Dave Brockington, Jonathan Crossley-Holland,Christine Davies, Peter Earley, Ron Glatter and Margaret Maden, in the preparation of the paper.


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