In this article, VP of ONVU Learning and former MAT senior leader and Ofsted inspector, Matt Tiplin explores ways schools can manage and deliver cost-effective school improvement.
Affordable school improvement ideas
These are tough times in education. A deepening recruitment and retention crisis, the recent downgrading of 80% of the outstanding schools by Ofsted and half of trusts forecasted to be at risk of financial deficit within the next two years, make for a challenging landscape.
As belts are tightened and teacher workloads remain heavy, difficult decisions are looming around the scale and pace of school improvement. But putting the brakes on plans will have a significant negative impact on pupil progress.
Against this testing backdrop then, what CPD strategies could schools look to put in place to keep the lid on costs, while at the same time continuing to improve pupil outcomes?
Context is key
To borrow the words of Sir Tim Brighouse, “School improvement is how schools create an ever-better climate for the individual and groups of teachers to do their job in the most favourable circumstances.”
But schools can exist in a bubble, which can make it hard to truly assess how ‘good’ the climate is in optimising pupil outcomes. Yes, there are metrics in place that can help measure pupil and teacher performance, but can they ever be an accurate measure of what is happening in the here and now when they are based on the evidence from a previous year? After all, context is key, and children change. Last year’s Year 3 might have grappled with algebra, whilst this year’s cohort need support with punctuation and grammar.
Sending the class teacher for CPD training based on the outcomes of pupils’ performance from a previous year won’t be the most effective use of a teacher’s time. And one thing everyone in education can agree on is that teachers don’t have much time. You could be looking for improvements in all the wrong places and that won’t add benefit to either teacher or pupil performance.
But it’s precisely because teachers are time poor that it can be tempting for schools to take a generic approach to CPD and use INSET days to introduce blanket initiatives designed to improve the school’s overall performance.
It’s time to rethink this approach as it can be costly. Not just in a financial sense by bringing an outside speaker in, but also because it can leave teachers feeling disengaged and demotivated, as they are unable to relate the suggested innovations to their own teaching practice. This can have a knock effect on school improvement, as for any initiative to succeed it must have teacher buy-in and commitment to make it work.
Rather than sending teachers for expensive off-site CPD or hiring a ‘sage on the stage’ for an INSET day, encouraging a culture where staff can collaborate and learn from one another can have a huge impact on performance, without eating into the budget.
Creating regular opportunities for staff to share their professional experiences and personal reflections is beneficial. Studies have shown that when this happens it can lead to ‘personal and professional growth and better teaching practices.’
Giving teachers the chance to self-reflect on their own professional development can be more empowering and less stressful. It removes the ‘judgement’ and instead promotes and environment where everyone learns from one another, helping teachers to feel more valued and trusted.
Teachers are more likely to engage in smaller and more frequent sessions that provide them with the targeted and practical support they need. For example, grouping teachers with similar training needs together in a session can encourage them to share issues and talk through practical solutions. This can help teachers feel less isolated and alone with any problems they might be experiencing in the classroom.
Keeping CPD relevant
Teachers are the single most important influencing factor in pupil attainment. Providing them with relevant, actionable, and insightful feedback will help both them and their pupils develop and grow.
Studies have shown closely aligning professional development training with the teacher’s specific needs is more successful than a tick box, one size fits all approach. This means shaping school improvement plans around what’s actually going on in the classroom and not what only happens during lesson observations.
This approach can save both time and money because lesson observations and learning walks can only ever reveal a snapshot of what is happening on one particular day and at one particular time. As such, they are unlikely to be a true reflection of the quality of daily teaching. This can go one of two ways. It could mean a teacher who normally struggles, but on that day didn’t, won’t get the support to develop they need until later down the track, affecting pupil outcomes. Or it could mean a teacher who normally excels, but whose lesson did not go according to plan can be left feeling demoralised, affecting their confidence, morale, and wellbeing.
An objective way to support and develop quality teaching practice is to use camera technology in the classroom. It gives teachers the opportunity to self-reflect on how the lesson went using the video footage of the class. They can then see for themselves what is working and if small adjustments could be made, giving them more ownership over their professional development.
Encouraging teachers to share their learning with colleagues or perhaps to step out of their comfort zone and ask a colleague to review the footage can be immensely rewarding, especially if the observer has first-hand experience of teaching this set of pupils. A peer-on-peer review can provide valuable insight into how the teacher approached the lesson and offer practical solutions and suggestions if anything does need addressing.
The benefit cuts two ways as the person observing could also pick up new ideas and approaches to develop their own teaching practice. This could help upskill more teachers in the school and keep learning and development relevant and relatable without eking into finances.
Improving support for teachers
Teaching is a high-pressure job and teacher wellbeing, and retention has followed a downward trajectory for some time now. This is translating into teacher burnout with sick days soaring as teachers battle with increasing workloads and many teachers considering leaving teaching altogether. A survey by the National Education Union found that 44% of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession in the next five years.
The drain and strain on the profession is having huge implications for budget and operating costs and can negatively impact on school improvement. The latest figures show that seven million teacher days have been lost due to stress and mental health issues.
Recruiting new teachers and training them up is expensive for schools and difficult to achieve given the current recruitment challenges. Whilst providing teaching cover for staff who are sick is both costly and a potential disrupter to pupils learning.
It is far more cost effective and efficient to retain teachers in the longer term. Teachers are the most valuable resource a school has, and improvements happen when they are given the opportunity for continuous and meaningful professional development.
Teachers learn best from other teachers. They want to know what works for me, my pupils, my school and in my circumstances and how suggested improvements can be effectively implemented. Ongoing, good quality and relevant CPD supports teachers in their role and drives school improvement. Smaller steps taken regularly in a collaborative environment to improve teaching practice is what makes teachers and pupils thrive.
Matt Tiplin has been a senior leader in a MAT and an Ofsted inspector. He is vice president of ONVU Learning.