Research School Network: Subject Planning and Development Sessions

Subject Planning and Development Sessions

by Durrington Research School
on the

A wealth of research evidence exists around what makes effective CPD in Schools. The TDT and CUREE have both published reviews on this research. Their findings suggest that effective CPD in schools is:

  • Targeted
  • Evidence based
  • Collaborative
  • Sustained
  • Evaluated

In September 2016 we used this evidence at Durrington to develop our own approach to CPD, by implementing Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ (SPDS). These are fortnightly meetings where subjects teams meet and discuss What are we teaching over the next fortnight and how can we teach it well?’ The rationale for this was based on the above criteria for effective CPD:

  • The sessions are very much targeted, because they are based on what teachers will be teaching their students, in their subject, over the next fortnight.
  • They are evidence based, as teachers discuss how they will implement key findings from research e.g. retrieval practice, feedback, metacognition etc.
  • The sessions involve a great deal of discussion and sharing of ideas around how to effectively teach difficult ideas, address misconceptions, effectively model ideas, ensure effective challenge etc. So they are certainly collaborative.
  • They are calendared to happen every fortnight, so they are sustained.
  • As the sessions are targeted at effectively teaching specific topics, every fortnight over the course of a year, it can be evaluated by monitoring how effectively students have learnt that topic – through assessments and student work.

Whilst this is a school wide approach to CPD, a number of subjects have implemented the SPDS particularly effectively over the last two years. As we enter the third year of SPDS, there appears to be a developing correlation between how effectively the SPDS are implemented and student outcomes in those subjects. PE, science, maths, history and geography have all implemented SPDS very effectively and have all seen either sustained success or significant improvements in GCSE outcomes during this time.

With this in mind, it is worth exploring how these subject teams use their SPDS:

  • Planning is key. Curriculum Leaders think carefully about the sessions in advance and what will need to be covered, in discussion with their team, based on the teaching topics that are approaching. Furthermore, it shouldn’t always focus on Y11. It is just as important to spend time on KS3 teaching.
  • The whole team are actively involved in the sessions. It is not just the Curriculum Leader who delivers the sessions, but anyone with expertise in that particular topic. There is a clear expectation that everybody in the team will contribute to the sessions, in some way.
  • A key part of a successful SPDS is to make sure that everyone knows what to do and what is expected of them by the end of the session. You can have a great session, but if colleagues leave the session and there hasn’t been clarification about what action is expected (in terms of their teaching) as a result, then its is unlikely to have real impact.
  • A successful approach is for one teacher explicitly demonstrate to the rest of the team how they teach a particularly difficult topic. This will focus on specific aspects of pedagogy e.g. how to explain a tricky idea; how to model a written response; questions to ask to challenge thinking; opportunities for useful feedback. This is then discussed and critiqued by the rest of the team.
  • Alternatively, a session is not always led’ in this way by one member of staff. There can be a general discussion around a forthcoming topic, where everybody contributes to how they teach it. From that discussion, there is agreement on the teaching of certain aspects of the topic. That said, there should still be somebody leading and chairing the session (usually the Curriculum Leader). Their role is to keep the session focused and on time – and then agree actions as a result of the session. Where this is not the case, the sessions run the risk of just becoming a nice chat’ about teaching, without any clear focus or actions.
  • In PE, teachers will look at videos of exemplary student performance and discuss why it is so good and how teaching can be adjusted to achieve that level of performance.
  • In subjects where there are a number of disciplines e.g. science, a specialist e.g. a physicist will teach the non-specialists the challenging content and then how to teach it effectively, including what the common misconceptions are.
  • Prior to the SPDS, send the team a quiz (on Google forms) on the subject content to be taught (linked closely to the exam specification). This allows any gaps in teacher knowledge to be addressed during the SPDS.
  • Looking at data around student attainment and examples of student work for specific groups of students e.g. pupil premium, boys and high attaining students and using this to prompt discussion. Are they being challenged sufficiently? How could their responses be developed? Are teacher expectations high enough? Are there common mistakes occurring? Is the feedback given by the teacher useful? This can then be used to inform planning for future teaching.
  • Using it as an opportunity to bring ideas to the table. This might be a resource, a teaching idea, an idea from twitter or a blog etc.
  • Joint production of resources e.g. the history team have used some SPDS to collaboratively produce knowledge organisers and then come to an agreement about how they will be used in lessons.
  • Discussing how ideas from educational research e.g. the EEF metacognition guidance report can be implemented in that subject – and then reviewing the implementation of this over time.
  • In geography, teachers have been given reading from subject bodies e.g. The Geographical Association and other media to add depth to their subject knowledge. At their SPDS meeting, they then discuss how this new knowledge can be woven into their teaching.
  • Subject teams fully evaluate the impact of their SPDS. For example in PE, a number of teachers had never taught movement analysis’ (Levers/​Planes and Axes) before the new 2016 specifications. Teachers who had strong knowledge and experience in this field, led SPDS on this topic. As a result, the whole department delivered the topic in the same way and students understood the topic well. Analysing student performance in the summer 2018 PE paper 1, the DHS PE cohort were significantly above national average on the movement analysis’ questions.
  • In science, mini-SPDS’ are held in between the SPDS between smaller groups of teachers, to maintain the discussion, especially focused on those teaching biology, physics and chemistry.
  • As there are shared classes in science, some SPDS are used for pairs of teachers who share the same group, to discuss the progress of the students. Who are the students who are causing concern? What seems to work for them? What agreed actions are there e.g. changing their place in the seating plan.
  • In maths, an analysis of a GCSE paper was used to identify topics that students performed poorly in. When it came to teaching these topics the following year, questions on this topic were collated and then teachers answered them in their SPDS. This then led to a useful discussion about common mistakes that were made and how this could be addressed through their teaching. This approach has been developed in curriculum teams who have exam markers in them. They can give very specific feedback about the answers and implications for teaching.

It’s fairly obvious why this approach to CPD works – subject specialists talking regularly about how to teach their subject well, can only be a good thing. What is emerging though, is that in order for these SPDS to be successful, it takes a great deal of planning and thought from the Curriculum Leader. This is time well spent though, as it appears to be having a positive impact on the quality of teaching and student outcomes.

Further reading

Effective CPD:


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