High-quality professional development improves outcomes, says study

Professional development may be more effective at increasing pupil attainment than performance-related pay or making the school day longer. This is the finding of a new study conducted by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Ambition Institute, which sought to assess the potential costs and benefits of high-quality professional development for teachers.

The study took the form of a ‘rapid review’, extracting key data from 53 randomised controlled trials, professional development interventions and international studies, and analysing these to identify the average impact of 35 hours of high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) every year. CPD can include training courses, mentoring, seminars and peer review. The report uses effect sizes to quantify the impact of CPD compared to other interventions.

The rapid review found that high-quality CPD for teachers has a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes, with an effect-size of 0.09. This was close to the effect-size of having a teacher with ten years’ experience rather than a new graduate, which was 0.11. CPD also has similar attainment effects to those generated by large, structural reforms to the school system (effect-size 0.1).   

While CPD did not make as significant an impact on pupil outcomes as some other interventions – for example, one to one tutoring had an effect-size of 0.28 – CPD was typically less expensive than these other interventions. CPD programmes also generally produced positive responses from teachers. This contrasted with other interventions. For example, large, structural changes to the school system, while as effective as CPD at improving pupil outcomes, incurred substantial costs in terms of staff turnover and dissatisfaction.

The study also looked at how access to professional development could be improved for teachers, and found that CPD is more accessible for teachers and has a greater impact when it receives sustained support from school leaders. CPD programmes that make allowances for workload and limited teacher time are also likely to be more effective, so interventions are likely to see success if they are both attractive and strive to minimise the demands placed on teachers.  

A major impediment to the effectiveness of CPD programmes is teacher turnover. However, the study found that increasing the availability of high-quality CPD improves teacher retention, particularly for early-career teachers, with induction training and mentoring programmes particularly effective for improving retention rates early on.  The report recommends that those designing professional development programmes should seek to anticipate and mitigate predictable problems, such as teacher turnover, leadership support and limited time.

James Zuccollo, director for school workforce at the EPI, and one of the report’s authors, commented: ‘Teacher development programmes compare favourably with other costly education interventions, but can be overlooked as a route to improving young people’s outcomes.’ He added: ‘Given there is also evidence that professional development can help to tackle acute teacher retention problems, policymakers are right to explore how they can improve teachers’ access to high-quality support programmes.’ 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘Opportunities for teachers to develop throughout their career are essential for ensuring it remains an attractive profession while enabling all pupils to benefit from a world-class education.’

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/rfu9zjo

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