5.3.2 - Continuous Professional Development

Learning outcomes for this chapter:

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Define and explain what you mean by continuous professional development
  • Develop your own CPD file
  • Appreciate the relevance of a CPD-informed approach to your educational career
  • Investigate the evidence base for the positive relationship between learner outcomes and CPD-led teaching practice
  • Develop constructive models for considering your own CPD for ongoing development

What is CPD?

CPD stands for 'continuous professional development'. As we shall see in this chapter, each of the three words is relevant: continuous, professional, and development. By CPD, we mean an ongoing process of maintaining a document of your skills, experience, qualifications and knowledge which you gain that are relevant to you as an education professional.

As such, the term also implies a move away from training delivery by organisations to a model which privileges the individual's curation of their own career-long development, though with their employer as an interested party. CPD also indicates a move away from the delivery of training and of the specific learning outcomes of that training to individuals, and towards the perception that all encounters have the potential to be learning ones, and it is for the individual to not only recognise this, but to capture and evidence that learning, not least so that it can inform reflective processes. 

You might like to think of your CPD as a file - either physical or digital - that chronicles your journey as an educationalist. CPD in some contexts may relate only to future planning of training and development, such as might be the outcome from an appraisal. Though that is an aspect of what CPD entails, it is not the whole picture. It may also be useful to conceptualise CPD as not only the file referred to above, but to your feelings connected to it; CPD involves ongoing reflection on and active management of one's development and as such, to immerse oneself in CPD, one must be both active and proactive. There is much more to CPD than simply record-keeping and filing away certificates (Craft, 2000).

Settings will have policies in place regarding accessing CPD; sometimes this is articulated alongside appraisal systems, sometimes as part of more general staff development and training documentation. It is prudent to be aware of your setting's policies and how to access support and other opportunities (for example, there may be a clause defining rights to time off for staff development, and even for leave for developmental purposes).

The kinds of CPD which are most effective are those which are bespoke to your needs as defined by yourself, are relevant to career aims and to your development, as well as to the needs of the wider teaching profession, and which are sustained over time. Development, as this chapter notes throughout, is a process; there is no easy end unlike, say, for a particular course taken as part of staff development. Also important is support, both from within the setting and in your wider support networks, and collaboration wherever possible; education is a profession shared by thousands, and whatever stage of career you are at, and whatever your focus might be, there will be others with whom to share experiences and to learn from (ATL, 2015).     

Why is CPD important for a teacher?

Teaching union ATL notes the value of CPD in that is supports benefits at all levels of education; the regular updating of competencies, knowledge, and the full accounting of transferable skills supports innovation, freshness in post, and that it can develop both confidence and motivation (ATL, 2015). Furthermore, a proactive attitude towards CPD speaks to the self and to others of professionalism, as it evidences engagement with the changing needs of learners and the shifting priorities and contexts being faced in education.  

CPD is important also because not all educationalists embark on career-long development; a CPD-informed attitude to one's profession not only gives advantages over others in career terms, but makes the current role easier, as the educator is well-versed in changing contexts and is absorbing information throughout the school year, rather than being burdened with forced learning when updates are imposed.

The positive effects of CPD may be felt at four levels (Caena, 2011). First, there is the zone of teacher effectiveness; then, the effectiveness of that teaching, as experienced by learners and close colleagues; third, whole-school benefits of educators invested in their personal development; and fourth, wider social benefits beyond the school gates. Such benefits are particularly felt when the philosophy informing the organisational approach to CPD is less concerned with the mastery of new skills as dictated by management, and more connected to the support of communities of invested learning within settings, and to the development of individuals who are interested in the ways that developing themselves has positive impacts which are not restricted to the self, but which have wider ramifications.

Teacher motivation is thus key; motivated teachers not only teach better, but are more likely to be invested in others as well as themselves; CPD and a more developed learning environment for pupils are mutually reinforcing. Research suggests that there are twin processes at work in the supporting of such cultures: individual psychological factors such as teacher cognition and motivation, and organisational factors such as a leadership which embraces the positive benefits of CPD and can rationalise the costs of supporting such training development as might be appropriate, and open cultures where engaging in personal development is met positively, and experienced by others (Caena, 2011).

Much CPD will serve the needs of the organisation as well as those of the individual educator. What is useful for the teacher, though, is the maintenance of a regularly-reviewed inventory so that elements which are not being appropriately addressed by the training, staff development, or wider experience of school-related life can be taken on by the individual themselves.

How can CPD benefit your learners, both directly and indirectly?

For teaching union ATL, engagement with CPD is associated positively with improving learner outcomes. Teachers who are engaged with their own development are likely to be better at engaging pupils, and so motivate and inspire learners to better their own performance. Teaching is supported and reinvigorated with exposure to new ideas, to having old certainties challenged, and to the fresh engagement with curriculum subject matter from alternate standpoints (ATL, 2015).

That said, the positive impact on learners' cognitive processes may be indicated through comparison of test results from before and after the CPD has been undertaken, and with peer groups who have not had the experience of their teacher having undergone specific directed training (Goodall et al, 2006). The same commentators suggest using learner experience, and the anticipated direct and indirect benefits to learners as being an important driver for optimising CPD expenditure; work backwards in effect from the learners to determine what kinds of training and development might be best used to make those positive impacts.

There are multiple factors which might support the effectiveness for learners of the impact of any CPD. Those factors include (Education Scotland, 2009): 

  • Being clear about the purposes of CPD beforehand, with the aims and outcomes of the training and development being matched to learner needs in meaningful ways
  • Ensuring that CPD is mindful of the local contexts of teaching
  • Collaborative working with teaching peers
  • Clarity about what changes will result from the CPD investment
  • Basing the selection of CPD on a sound evidence base
  • Using feedback from the CPD as well as feedback from the impact of the CPD on learners to influence further training-based decisions

Simply put, there is an evidence base which suggests that CPD supports learners in respect of their development in subject-specific areas as well as in more holistic terms; in the direct sense of classroom experience and increased test performance, and in the more indirect qualities of attitude and propensity for learning. This is only as it should be, as CPD which does not have a positive impact on learners can be neither professional nor developmental. 

Whitehouse (2011) suggests six key characteristics which should inform CPD:

1. CPD should be driven by identified learning needs. Needs identification helps support the setting of objectives by which the usefulness of the CPD opportunity can be judged; conversely, training for its own sake is a waste of resources and helps no-one. Some settings will audit developmental needs, often derived from appraisal data; in pro-active organisations, this will be matched with identified learner needs, so that the most appropriate fit for training against learner support can be made.  

2. CPD needs to be sustained. Research indicates that short-term interventions or otherwise telescoped training events have comparatively little impact, as they do not support the embedding of change in the practitioner. CPD can be sustained in many ways; this does not mean simply that courses need to be lengthy in duration, but it does mean that there needs to be ongoing engagement with the outcomes of such training.

3. Where possible, CPD needs to be subject-specific. For Whitehouse (2011), training and development is better-placed to inform meaningful classroom development when it is related to subject-based learning. Contextualisation of the training to its use in practice is central for its adoption. Different subjects privilege different pedagogies, and have their own emphases, so it is only right that any CPD undertaken models the practical usefulness - for the teacher and for the learners - of the training.

4. Taking a classroom focus. Contextualising CPD back to what may or may not occur in the teaching environment offers the potential for teachers to make their own decisions about how the new learning supports, replaces, complements, or otherwise sits with existing classroom practice. 

5. CPD and collaboration reinforce each other. Research reinforces the links between successful CPD, learner outcomes consequential to the CPD, and the collaborative nature of training and development (Whitehouse, 2011). Teaching involves ongoing reflection, and such reflective practice is enhanced by the sharing of experience, the mutual reinforcement of positives and of negatives alike, and the chance to collaborate meaningfully with peers working in similar subjects and/or educational contexts.

6. The use of external expertise. An external perspective can be useful, particularly in offering alternatives - and perhaps even challenges - to established practice and to the cultures of teaching and learning dominant in an educational setting. Whether an outside trainer is introduced into the setting, or if a consultancy is used to offer an independent perspective, or whether teachers go outside their setting for course attendance, the value of engaging with others from outside the everyday setting can be a useful corrective.


Effective CPD is not easy; it is an ongoing process that requires periodic re-evaluation, as well as balancing formal and informal modes of learning, as well as evidencing that learning so that learners may be better supported. CPD is cyclic; each round of training and development supports a series of changes, which in turn provoke fresh challenges and so on. In the midst of this, the educational landscape will change and there will be constant updating required to remain relevant in respect of curriculum and legislative changes, to the challenges of new posts, and to fresh administrative and oversight arrangements.

However, CPD is an investment; by being proactive, engaged, and motivated, and maintaining agency over career focus and trajectory, we are better placed than our less-organised peers when it comes to navigating the sometimes-choppy waters of education. Throughout all of this, there is the imperative that the development serves end purposes beyond career enhancement or intellectual curiosity; that the learning opportunities afforded to others is improved. In that way, not only is the educator developed, but so is the education that they can offer to their students.  


ATL (2015) Why is CPD important? Available at: https://www.atl.org.uk/Images/worklife_campaign_cpd_factsheet.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Caena, F. (2011) Professional development of teachers: literature review quality in teachers' continuing professional development. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/policy/strategic-framework/doc/teacher-development_en.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Rundell, B. and Evans, D. (2005) The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Available at: http://wsassets.s3.amazonaws.com/ws/nso/pdf/09598003e49523abff794962e2752c81.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Cordingley, P., Rundell, B. and Bell, M. (2003) How does CPD affect teaching and learning? Issues in systematic reviewing from a practitioner perspective. Available at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003231.htm (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Craft, A. (2000) Continuing professional development. 2nd edn. London: Routledge Falmer.

Education Scotland (2009) Learning together: Improving teaching, improving learning - the roles of continuing professional development, collegiality and chartered teachers in implementing curriculum for excellence. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/images/ltcfe_tcm4-712914.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Goodall, J., Day, C., Lindsay, G., Muijs, D. and Harris, A. (2006) Evaluating the impact of CPD. Available at: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/cedar/projects/completed05/contprofdev/cpdfinalreport05.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Gray, S. (2008) An enquiry into continuing professional development for teachers. Available at: http://esmeefairbairn.org.uk/uploads/documents/Publications/cpd_Education-Rep.pdf (Accessed: 7 December 2016).

Jobs.ac.uk (2009) What is continuing professional development (CPD)? Available at: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/managing-your-career/1318/what-is-continuing-professional-development-cpd (Accessed: 7 December 2016).

Whitehouse, C. (2011) Effective continuing professional development for teachers. Available at: https://cerp.aqa.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/CERP-RP-CW-19052011.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

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