Last reviewed 10 December 2021

Currently, there are not enough teachers entering into the profession to accommodate rising pupil numbers. Improving staff retention is therefore seen as crucial.

Continuing professional development, or CPD, is widely recognised as playing an important role in both keeping staff and in helping them to develop and excel. This article will cover ways in which schools can both ensure that they have effective CPD systems in place and strengthen those systems where necessary.

What is CPD?

CPD refers to the requirement for teaching professionals to engage in training and learning activities throughout their careers, maintaining their levels of competence and developing their knowledge and skills. The Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (DfE, 2016) states that teachers must keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date and that professional development must be prioritised by school leaders.

Assessing CPD Provision

Reviewing and monitoring a school’s approach to the design and delivery of staff professional development should be a routine part of school governance and leadership. Reviews should cover both written policies and the practice and culture around how policies are implemented. Perhaps most important is determining the extent to which teachers feel that their professional development is being recognised and supported by a school.

Since 2020, disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic has forced teachers into unprecedented role-adaptation and created changes in their opportunities and scope for professional learning. With schools currently exploring their development priorities for 2022, there is now an opportunity to invite feedback from staff on how effective they feel CPD has been during the pandemic and the extent to which they have felt able to access development opportunities over this time.

Staff feedback provides both a measure of success and a driver of change. Collecting information in consultation with staff will provide a staff-centred starting point for analysing training needs and mapping recommended CPD opportunities against role types and levels of experience. From feedback common themes can be identified which open up the potential for making improvements.

From this work schools should be in a good position to support building a “menu” of professional development that staff can choose from, rather than a “prescription” of what staff must do.

Performance Management

Performance Management is a key tool in supporting the development of staff and making the link between performance and professional learning.

Research suggests that getting performance management right is crucial in staff development. Judging, evaluating and rewarding teacher effectiveness in a fair and transparent way is a key element in any effective CPD programme. Limiting performance management to merely a system to generate evidence for performance-related pay is less effective for supporting progress and CPD. This type of approach is opposed by both teachers in general and teaching unions.

Often, performance management practices are used to help in planning next career stages. However, it is also important for nurturing the development of classroom teachers to practice goal-setting.


Goal-setting provides an opportunity to involve teachers in establishing and committing to goals that are valued and have true impact.

Typically, goals are chosen from the following sources:

  • school development goals — key areas of the organisation development plan to which teachers can contribute through learning and developing professionally

  • team development goals — priorities for a year group, phase, subject or house, set by the team in which the teacher mainly works, led by the development plan for that area and team, helping the teacher see how their learning helps their colleagues

  • personal performance goals — areas of learning that are directed to improve the performance of a key task, typically around class teaching or a leadership responsibility

  • personal development goals — areas of learning that are related to career development, including academic study or taking on recent or future responsibilities.

Providing teachers with a choice of CPD strands set up by senior leaders will usually relate specifically to the school development plan. Teachers should be free to choose their own strands but support in choice-making can be provided where needed. This method can generate a feeling of cohesiveness. In some schools opportunities have been given to certain individuals to carve out their own strands by explaining how they intend to use their gained knowledge to improve pupil or student outcomes.

Regarding a “career stage” centred approach, this method is usually more focussed on the individual stages of general career progression. Explicit pathways or “roadmaps” can be created, offering CPD opportunities that are specific to the varying stages of teachers’ careers. Delivery of CPD in this way can encourage an open and equitable approach.

Autonomy and CPD

Research by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) and the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) suggest that teachers’ feelings of autonomy regarding their CPD can make a huge difference to their morale and intention to stay in teaching.

Autonomy relates to the control that someone has over their work and development. Increasing teachers’ autonomy, particularly over their professional development goals and CPD, is seen by the NFER and TDT as having great potential for improving job satisfaction overall and staff retention in general.

Teachers’ perceived autonomy over their professional development and CPD is particularly low, with 38% of teachers reporting having “little or no” influence over their goals. Teachers within the first five years of their careers report the lowest levels.

Strategies to increase autonomy might include:

  • examining motivators for CPD and ensuring they are intrinsic (personal) as well as extrinsic (organisational)

  • enhancing the fit between support for teachers’ CPD requests and “whole-school” development priorities

  • encouraging teachers to give feedback on their CPD learning

  • establishing a CPD culture which promotes on-going professional dialogue and the sharing of ideas.

Another possible approach to increasing autonomy over CPD goals is to utilise middle leaders’ development plans as a template from which key development areas can be chosen. This is most effective when team members are allocated specific CPD time and opportunities are provided for discussion, group work and presentation.

Implementing CPD strategies

Schools implementing strategies to increase teacher autonomy over CPD goals have seen a rise in staff morale and a greater level of buy-in for overall school agendas. In such schools, governors and senior leadership teams have explored how teachers can be meaningfully involved and engaged in the way the school defines its organisational development priorities and makes its decisions. A key result is teachers having a greater sense of ownership in setting their own developmental goals. As a result, staff absence has significantly reduced and teachers have an enhanced belief in their power to make a difference.

Successful approaches include:

  • providing structured development opportunities for all teachers

  • linking opportunities to key school improvement goals

  • creating a culture of robust teacher self-evaluation, supported by line managers

  • switching from a “top-down” approach to a more cooperative “performance development” system

  • regular assessment against the Teaching Standards through 360-degree reviews

  • dedicated training for appraisers and line managers in supervision, appraisal and coaching conversations

  • constructing a common agenda for performance development meetings.

Providing an opportunity for staff to “check-in” with their assessors after discussions is also an effective means of increasing engagement and encouraging those being evaluated to reflect upon their CPD needs.

Striving for Maximum Impact

Inevitably, the development of a more bespoke CPD system in schools presents a significant challenge to leaders, especially in the face of pressures for improved pupil outcomes and whole-school improvement. However, in the long term the benefits of encouraging teachers to have a greater voice in their own development goals can go a long way towards creating a more dynamic and motivated team.

Schools consulting teachers on organisational development priorities, offering options or pathways to new staff, providing regular opportunities for feedback and coaching, as well as protected learning and reflection time, ultimately make it explicitly clear that they value staff development and are willing to invest in it.


  • CPD is important for staff retention as well as development and should be reviewed and monitored routinely.

  • Staff feedback on CPD is important for analysing training needs and identifying improvements.

  • Performance management helps classroom teachers practice goal-setting.

  • Teachers’ sense of autonomy in CPD has a major impact on morale and staff retention.