Providing our children with a good education is crucial — both for their future, and for the future of the country. So it’s important that teachers are supported to do their job, especially in the first few years of their career.
Every year, tens of thousands of new teachers qualify in England. But recent data shows that one in six of these quits the profession after just one year.
At Sheffield Institute of Education, we have been improving professional development for teachers, changing policy and practice in England, and helping to create new frameworks for career-long training.
So far, our work has helped over 10,000 teachers improve their knowledge, skills — and their motivation to keep teaching.
We’ve achieved this by highlighting the importance of professional development (PD) in teaching, understanding the factors which support good PD, and working to make sure that more teachers can benefit from it.
The role of professional development
So what do we mean by professional development? In short, it’s ongoing training and support that nurtures teachers, from when they start in the profession and through the rest of their career.
High-quality PD has been shown to help teachers stay in the profession. But in the past, PD has been sporadic and of mixed quality. Some schools offered a lot of support; other schools didn’t offer any. Through our research we developed evidence that shows you need consistent PD to make a difference.
Our research has influenced the government to set national standards of support for all, both in their first years of teaching and in the years that follow.
The Early Career Framework sets out the support teachers should have access to when they start their careers. It means all teachers in England are now entitled to two years of professional development that develops their practice, knowledge and working habits.
These policies are a move towards an entitlement for all teachers to engage with PD throughout their careers.
Training the trainers
As well as increasing the amount of professional development teachers are entitled to, we have played a significant role in improving its quality.
We concentrated on PD leaders — the people who design and deliver professional development. Often PD leaders in schools find themselves in this role because they’re good teachers who instinctively want to help their colleagues. But we found they often didn’t have the specific training they needed to allow them to most effectively train their colleagues.
You can't expect high-quality PD without well-trained people to lead that development. So we set about helping train the trainers.
After researching exactly what skills and knowledge PD leaders need to do their job, we then developed a way of making sure they have access to ways of gaining those skills. Our findings influenced the government to offer a new professional qualification for PD leaders — the National Professional Qualification for Leading Teacher Development.
The new NPQ became available in autumn 2021, and will help teachers become more effective at leading and delivering professional development for their colleagues.