What is teacher professional development?

Teacher professional development (often also called continuous professional development  or ‘CPD’) is the process by which teachers develop their professional skills throughout their time in the profession. It covers a wide range of activities including whole-school talks, attendance at training courses, coaching and mentoring.

What is the impact of professional development on teachers and students?

Professional development helps students learn and keeps teachers in the profession according to the latest analysis of over 50 research studies by the Education Policy Institute in 2020.  The researchers concluded that 35 hours of high quality CPD per year was ‘almost as effective for improving pupil outcomes as having a teacher with 10 years classroom experience’.

How has teacher professional development evolved?

The need to train teachers before they entered the classroom has been understood for a long time – the first teacher training college in the UK was founded in 1841 in Battersea in London. However, for a long time any further training once in a school was at the discretion of the teacher and their school – unlike other professions such as law or accountancy that require training every year to maintain professional status.

As the impact of professional development became clear, changes were made to allow teachers to be able to do more of it. For example, in England in 1988, 5 of teachers’ holiday days were redesignated as ‘In Service Training’ (often known as INSET) Days – allowing teachers to meet and train together with no students in school.

Other governments have followed this example. Most recently, in 2019 the Indian Government rolled out an initiative using digital technology to upskills over 4.2 million teachers (read our report).

Other alternatives introduced over time include:

  • Regular after-school sessions (often known as ‘twilight sessions’ and often tailored to a smaller group of teachers in specific subjects or phases)
  • External courses that individual teachers attend for one or more days
  • Blended learning or fully online courses – the latter has become especially popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Coaching – where an expert works with a single teacher or small group to give specific feedback
  • Mentoring – a different process to coaching where an experienced teacher is available for discussion with the classroom teacher (read one example of international coaching here)
  • Lesson study – drawing on a long-established Japanese idea where teachers work together to plan and deliver a series of lessons
  • Conferences – subject- and phase- specific conferences have been around for many years, but have recently been joined by those looking at keeping teachers up to date with the latest findings in educational research such as ‘ResearchED’ or ‘BrewEd’.

What does professional development cover?

There are many different areas that can be covered under the term ‘professional development’. Whole school INSET days can be used to introduce whole-school learning interventions such as new behaviour management or assessment systems, new ways of teaching such as group work or phonics, or to discuss and analyse examination results. External or online courses might be used to help teachers understand new external assessments or to prepare for inspections.

Smaller groups might look at how to best teach one subject. And a small number of schools are moving to give teachers individual budgets for their own development – we suggested some ways to use this in this article.

How can schools make the most of professional development?

The Teacher Development Trust has undertaken research into the aspects of professional development that have the most impact. They found that, irrespective of how they were delivered, good training should:

  • Be sustained over a period of two terms or more
  • Reflect the actual experience of the teachers undertaking the training – not ‘one-size-fits-all’
  • Involve both theory and practice – including seeing experts demonstrate how things should work in the classroom
  • Challenge the existing status quo in the classroom – ensuring that all participants are able to contribute and learn

Many schools have also seen the benefits of delivering training through larger networks – these can be school led or by external organisations such as The PiXL Club.

What is the future of professional development?

The acknowledgement that professional development helps both student performance and teacher retention means that it is more important than ever in a competitive global education market. This has led to new innovations in policy and practice.

In England, the Government has brought in the ‘Early Career Framework’ to help support teachers new to the classroom with focused mentoring as well as targeted training sessions. Teachers will also get more non-contact time to help them reflect on lessons. The country’s ‘standards for teacher professional development‘ also set out clearly that ‘professional development must be prioritised by school leadership’.

The use of technology is also transforming teacher CPD. A huge challenge in the past has been getting a true picture of what is actually happening in lessons in order to improve them. ONVU Learning’s video capture system gives a full 360-degree picture of the classroom while being unobtrusive. Teachers can pan and zoom around the classroom to see both the teacher’s actions and their impact on the class.

Video footage also provides a much better start for effective coaching, mentoring and self-reflection. Teachers can focus on critical incidents in the classroom that spark or hinder learning and move back and forward in time to see how they were created. Read this blog on lesson starter ideas to see how this could impact the start of your lesson.

For more information about Teacher Professional development through video, watch our video, below.

Ebook Mockup



The School of the Future Guide is aimed at helping school leaders and teachers make informed choices when designing the learning environments of the future using existing and upcoming technologies, as they seek to prepare children for the rest of the 21st century – the result is a more efficient and competitive school.

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