Professional development


The landscape of continuing professional development (CPD) is changing. Rather than one person attending an externally delivered event, schools are increasingly making use of internal CPD, delivered by staff or external providers. This offers the advantages of tailoring learning to the needs of the school or cluster of schools, creating opportunities for peer learning and sharing learning across the workforce.

CPD can be delivered in a great variety of ways (such as mentoring, online webinars, action research activities and peer observation). It is becoming ever more closely linked to performance management targets and its impact on learner attainment. Making sure that your school is investing in CPD that will benefit staff and learning is key; research can help you to achieve this. Indeed it can be a form of CPD in its own right!

What could I research?

There are many topics with CPD that schools could investigate. Here are some ideas:

Which staff members or subject areas have been involved in most/least CPD activities? Why?   What CPD activities do your staff prefer? Which seem to have the greatest impact? Why?   What impact has a particular CPD activity had on your students, colleagues and/or school?
What CPD needs do your non-teaching staff or governors have?   Research ideas   Within your cluster of schools, do common CPD needs emerge?
How does your school decide what CPD is undertaken? Could this decision making process be improved?   What areas of expertise, skills or examples of best practice do staff have that they can share with colleagues?   How do we measure or assess value for money from CPD?

What research design should I use?

Here are some things you will need to consider when designing your research project.

You will need to consider who to include in your research. You may want to involve senior leaders (e.g. to find out how they identify CPD needs); CPD coordinators (e.g. to identify the CPD priorities for the next year and the reasons for this); staff who have attended or want to attend CPD and/or learners (to help measure impact). Depending on the scope of your research, you could compare and contrast different stakeholders’ views within (or between) schools.


When assessing CPD, you are likely to use qualitative, quantitative and observational methods. For example you may interview staff to find out what CPD methods they find most useful and why; or you may choose to survey staff to explore what their CPD needs are. Observation before and after CPD events can help you monitor a colleague’s change in practice and application of learning. You could also consider an action research approach so that learning can be applied, monitored, adapted and reviewed more widely.


Measuring impact
When evaluating a CPD activity, you will probably want to assess its impact. You can do this by collecting information on intended learning outcomes and how this knowledge will be transferred to learners (do this before the CPD event). You can then assess whether these outcomes have been realised after the activity, and measure to see if there has been any change in learners’ attainment, attitude or behaviour.


Working with other schools
You may want to work with a cluster or network of schools to find out if you share common CPD needs or to identify who has specific skills in priority areas, so that learning can be shared through in-house CPD. Research findings from your school may be of interest to colleagues in other schools locally and nationally.

Relevant research and guidance

NFER has carried out a great deal of research into workforce development and CPD. Here are links to some of our publications.

The changing role and influence of senior support staff in schools

Making the Links Between Teachers' Professional Standards, Induction, Performance Management and Continuing Professional Development

Research into the Role of CPD Leadership in Schools

Qualitative evaluation of the National Science Learning Centre

An investigation of Headteachers' and teachers' views towards science-specific CPD

Evaluation of the Mathematics Specialist Teacher (MaST) programme

NFER also offers training days in your school on future planning. 

You may also find some of these organisations' publications useful:


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