Professional development: how much is enough?

In England the annual survey of teachers’ workload always prompts interesting discussions, particularly as the instrument used to collect data is a diary kept by teachers. The 2014 edition was recently published by the Department of Education.

While most reactions have been about the dedication to work (or demands of the job?) shown by teachers (59 hours a week for primary school teachers, more than secondary school teachers’ 55 hours) and the fact that only 1/3 of the time was spent teaching, it was the proportion of time spent on professional development that caught my eye.

One blogger, David Weston, noted:

For each hour of teaching time, primary teachers spend 2.5 minutes on Continuing Professional Development, while secondary teachers spend just over 1 minute. To put it another way, secondary teachers spend around 47 hours a year on CPD, while primary teachers spend 85.8 hours.

Considering that research suggests that it takes around 50 hours on a single CPD topic to make a sustainable change in practice but that teachers have to use this limited time for lots of CPD topics, there is really no surprise that research suggests that teachers barely improve their teaching after the first three years on the job – everything becomes habitual and automated and these habits are impossible to shift without concentrated time and effort.

Unfortunately there is no reference to the evidence for the ’50 hours to make sustainable change’ assertion but it raises the question: How much CPD is needed to bring about major change in classrooms? It also begs the quality question: not so much the amount of hours on CPD but the activities taking place in that time and where they take place (in-school is more effective than off-site for example). The Survey of Schools: ICT in Education found that 74% of students at grade 8 were in schools where teachers learnt about ICT in their own time (final report, p. 75), in what could be called self-directed spontaneous CPD, possibly because of inadequacies or non-existence of formal training opportunities.


The results from the diaries, if they can be compared, indicate that English teachers, with six (secondary) and more than ten days a year (primary), are relatively fortunate in the amount of CPD they undergo. According to the Survey of Schools, 61% of grade 8 students were in schools where teachers spent more than six days in the preceding two years on professional development activities (report, p. 98), with teachers in Spain, Portugal and Poland leading the way. Almost one in five students at grade 4 are in schools where teachers have had less than one day’s CPD or none at all in the past two years – by any measure this is insufficient to shift engrained practices.


The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said unequivocally last week that successful countries invest heavily in CPD for their staff, citing Singapore where each teacher has 100 hrs of CPD a year, that’s about 12 days! If education, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, really matter, then surely it’s time to invest more in teachers’ professional development. The cost of not doing so is high: David Blunkett was education minister in the 1990s; last night he reflected: “We spent £1bn on technology, what we did wrong was we didn’t teach the teachers. We thought they would share best practice.”

Technology can make it cost-effective and less disruptive, as seen in the popularity of social media, peer networking and the growth of free online CPD – including courses on science and the future classroom starting this month at the new European Schoolnet Academy.

Roger Blamire, Senior Adviser and Project Manager, European Schoolnet

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