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Staff Development: The easiest budget to cut (but should it be?)

Edd Brown, Operations Director for Quality Improvement, FE Associates

In a climate where funding is tighter, external pressures are driving more efficiencies, cost savings are to be expected. In this environment, there are usually areas of budget that are immediately at risk, with continuous professional development and staff training being one. But should they be? If these are some of the first things to go, are we not just storing up trouble for down the line – or is it a fair cop in place of front line delivery?


Once the mandatory CPD hours disappeared from FE, staff development lost some of its profile – but not its importance. In the best providers, high quality professional development and support for staff is what sets them apart and senior leaders need to find ways to invest and create more time and opportunities for professional development.

After all, by investing in staff we allow them to put the learner first as they are increasingly able to directly improve student experiences and outcomes. Staff development should have its own strategy and framework for the year. It should outline the key focus and themes and how these will help achieve key performance indicators. This is essential in being able to measure impact.

The common inspection framework (CIF) is very clear about the importance of supporting and improving teaching, learning and assessment practice. My favourite judgement in the CIF is ‘staff reflect on and debate the way they teach’. How often do our staff development days/sessions create that culture? How often do those debates happen in staff rooms? My guess is not as often as we would like.

The CIF goes on to say ‘staff feel deeply involved in their professional development. Leaders have created a climate in which staff are motivated and trusted to take risks and innovate in ways that are right for their learners’. How often are staff involved in setting their own agenda for professional development? in most cases this process is ‘done to them’ or recommended because of something observed. If this is the case, will they ever feel fully involved or embrace staff development?

In Professor John Hattie’s latest research on visible learning, ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’ is now the new number one factor with an effect size of 1.57 (0.4 is average). This is a process in which teachers have high expectations for their learners and believe they can achieve.

Teachers collaborate within a structure but are given some autonomy to make decisions about how best to motivate or engage learners and ensure they progress. This sounds like a nice framework for CPD to my mind.

We need to also acknowledge that ‘mandatory’ sessions are going to form part of any staff development plan. If this doesn’t happen, how else can we ensure that staff receive key updates on areas such as safeguarding and Prevent, or leaders and managers are developing observation themes and college priorities?

Approaches to developing staff

Staff development should have its own strategy and framework for the year. It should outline the key focus and themes and how these will help achieve key performance indicators. This is essential in being able to measure impact.

But, overall, these development strategies should aim to balance the above types of activities with a personalised programme that meets the needs of the individual.

In practice, what we see with highly-effective staff development programmes and support, is that they are accessible for staff all the time. Consider the impact of suggesting an area for development for an individual, providing them with a target but them not being able to address that area because the next inset day is six weeks away. How many fractional or part time staff do you have who miss inset days because it is not a working day? This means that constant accessibility is a crucial factor.

Taking action – what are the options available?

  1. Advanced Practitioners / Learning Coaches: Common place in providers now and one of the most powerful resources you can have. My guess is your numbers over the last couple of years have decreased and their case load and expectations have increased? Their developmental observations, 1:1 coaching and delivery at INSET days can have a significant impact on developing staff. You need to consider the size of the team and investing in their development / training to maximise their impact.
  2. Varied INSET days: Each INSET day has a different approach, varied sessions and different topics. They also build in time for reflection, either individually or as a team.
  3. Online Training: This is crucial to making CPD accessible. Staff can access training / resources whenever, where ever they want. 5 minutes reading a piece of research at their desk could be significant. Providers are developing their own online resources to focus themes and topics, others are accessing the freely available resources already in existence. The key is to make it as simple as possible for staff to access. In the best examples, videos of other staff teaching are made available for staff to observe and use as a stimulus for reflective practice.
  4. Team Time: Provide teaching teams with the time to collaborate and develop resources, share good practice and discuss strategies to maximise learner progress. Some providers have achieved this with weekly or fortnightly CPD slots.
  5. Peer Observations: Common place in providers now but how many are completed and what is their impact? Structure them so that staff have a framework and focus to do it properly. This might include managers covering a lesson for 30 minutes. In one of the best examples seen, selected teachers as part of an inset day, taught a lesson to other staff acting as the learners. It was a highly effective way to increase peer observations and share good practice. Time was also built in for reflection so staff could review the approaches used and consider how it could be applied to their own practice.
  6. Supported Experiment: Many aspects of teaching, learning and assessment practice can’t be developed in one off sessions. Give staff the time to experiment, adapt and reflect on approaches over time. Supported experiments provide a safe framework for staff to be innovative and take risks.
  7. External Involvement / Training: There needs to be a budget to facilitate external training or the use of specialists. Externals can provide specialist skills / knowledge that you may not have internally or provide you with the capacity to undertake certain activities or training that you may not have within your teams. This might involve:
  • Awarding body training or updates
  • Attending teaching, learning and assessment conferences or workshops
  • Specialists delivering at your inset days
  • Specialists providing subject specific support to certain areas of provision to coach, support and develop staff

This is not an exhaustive list of approaches but they are proven. Each provider needs to consider which methods are best suited to them and their workforce. Other things to consider when developing an effective staff development approach are:

  • What are your expectations for individual’s staff’s engagement in CPD? For example, do you have a set of minimum expectations?
  • Do you run whole day inset programmes? How engaged are staff and how much impact do sessions late in the day have?
  • When do inset days take place? Are they are the end of busy terms when staff are tired?
  • What aspirational plans / training do you have for your outstanding staff?
  • How much tutorial and pastoral training is included in your staff development plan?
  • What training do you provide to managers?
  • Are staff given the opportunity to develop or update their subject knowledge?
  • How effective are your induction and mentoring programmes for new staff and are these impacting on staff retention?
  • What staff development and CPD do you have in place for non-curriculum staff?

In conclusion

There is not one method or one quick fix. Instead, see the different aspects of staff development as a building block focussed towards your strategic priorities.

Involve and engage staff, giving them some ownership over their own development. Ensure staff development approaches are varied and accessible and create a culture where staff share and talk openly about their good sessions and their bad days.

Most of all focus on impact, how is what staff are engaging in going to benefit them and ultimately their learners.

Edd Brown, Operations Director for Quality Improvement, FE Associates

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