Banging Your Head Against Bad CPD

This was an article originally written for the TES earlier in the year under a pseudonym. I decided to post the unedited version on my blog for those that may have missed it. All views contained within are my own and this is not reflective of any particular institution.

Data and Impact. Two of the most important words in the FE sector. The problem is, impact doesn’t always result in data and data of course doesn’t necessarily mean impact. Where am I going with this? Well CPD is such a raw, organic process and is unique to the individuals that undertake it, yet FE managers often make the mistake of trying to keep too much control. Controlling CPD to ensure that data can be captured (i.e. numbers attending, evaluation forms, observation grades, etc) negates the impact. This article aims to highlight where FE managers might be getting CPD wrong and how they may reconsider future CPD opportunities for teachers?

  1. The Conveyor Belt

This involves offering a day of CPD where teachers move from session to session like they’re on a conveyor belt. EDI training, behaviour management training, assessment, English and maths training etc etc. At the end of it all, how much do they take away and remember? Not a great deal. In his book ‘Why students don’t like school’, Willingham (2009) asserts that there is a limited capacity to our working memories. Indeed, he goes on to say that this capacity is more or less fixed. So, bombarding teachers with lots of information on one day and then expecting them to go away and remember it all is ambitious to say the least.



Use this time to allow teachers to reflect and share their current practice. Identifying problems and collaboratively solving them will do more for the teachers than any training session. Take it one step further. Don’t give a day to this, give several part-days so that teachers can revisit the information over a series of weeks. This then reduces the cognitive overload and allows them to solve issues that are pertinent to them and their learners. One method that is highly regarded as an effective approach to CPD is Teacher Learning Communities (TLC’s) (Wiliam, 2007). TLC’s promote focussed, research-informed experimentation, reflection and collaboration which leads to improved student learning – win win!

2. Mandatory Online Training

Hands up if you have clicked your way through a Moodle quiz without truly reading the content? Yep, me too. This is the problem with online training. Many teachers struggle to find the time to check their emails, that is when they can actually log on to the computers, so expecting them to find the time to complete an hour of mandatory online health and safety training is likely to be met with resistance.

Further to this, who here has completed the quiz at the end, failed and then clicked their way back through to change answers? Yep, me too. Sam Shepard has written a fantastic blog post on cheating games. As we do with entertainment games, online learning games will be subject to finding cheats to complete them and we (not all of us, but most) will spend a greater amount of time focussing on getting our PDF certificate for achievement over learning the content of the resource. So what benefit does online training have? It can be done anywhere at anytime, that’s a good thing I suppose, but most importantly, it will provide statistics as to who has completed it and their scores! Data and impact spring to mind.


Rather than being consumers of these online CPD courses and attempting to cheat the system, can we encourage teachers to become creators of them? If a teacher goes through the stages of creating, they must first acquire some knowledge surely? Maybe this is a utopian thought, but it certainly works better with the learners, so why not the teachers?

3. ‘Big Names’

There are a number of ‘big names’ doing the FE circuit, churning out their sessions for hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a time. Sure, the content isn’t too bad in some cases, but are they worth the money they demand? I’ve highlighted the problem above with the ‘one off’ training sessions that overload working memory and therefore have little effect on teachers. Aside from that, within every institution across the UK, there is a wealth of experience and expertise, so why do FE managers insist on buying them in so frequently?


There are some amazing practitioners that get amazing results year after year and it should be these individuals that FE managers support and reward to share their practice with peers. This does not necessarily have to be financial; give them a bit of free time and I am sure they will pay that back with what they give to peers. Encourage them to share their strategies at a TeachMeet or ask them to allow their peers to observe their lessons and look at their work.

4. Prescription

A lot of CPD is done to teachers and not with them. This is particularly the case when a new theory/fad makes its way on the scene, FE management are often quick to jump on board and a broad brush training package is provided to all teachers at the college. ‘Learning Strategies for Learning Styles’, ‘The Outstanding Lesson Recipe’. These methods may work in some lessons with some learners, but prescribing a teaching approach to teachers is just outright wrong – particularly if it isn’t supported by credible research.


Teachers need to be able to be critical of different approaches, they need to find out what works with their learners. In order to do this, yes provide them with an abundance of strategies and approaches, but allow teachers to be learners themselves. Allow them to reflect on what might work best in their situation and to try it. If it improves their practice, give them the opportunity to share how. If it doesn’t, certainly give them the opportunity to share it. Lesson study is a promising approach that allows teachers to plan, observe and reflect together to improve learning ( and might be worth considering as an alternative to a prescriptive approach.

So there we have it, four things that often go wrong in FE CPD with four possible solutions. Please feel free to comment.


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