Research School Network: From What to How: Making Professional Development Make a Difference Phil Stock discusses how to use the EEF’s Report on Professional Development to shape your own school’s CPD offer

From What to How: Making Professional Development Make a Difference

Phil Stock discusses how to use the EEF’s Report on Professional Development to shape your own school’s CPD offer

The recent EEF Guidance Report on Effective Professional Development provides a useful framework for understanding what makes purposeful PD. Distinguishing between forms’ (instructional coaching, lesson study), programmes (packages like Embedded Formative Assessment) and mechanisms (14 in total including goal setting, peer support, modelling) gives leaders a structure for thinking about how to shape their own school CPD offer.

Of particular importance, is the emphasis on mechanisms, defined as empirically-evidenced general principles about how people learn and change their practice’. These principles drawn from fields outside of just education enable those responsible for training in schools to understand it’s not so much about what the training consists of, but more how that training is put together and what needs to be included to translate theory into practice.

There is often a tendency with professional development to focus too much on content, when the evidence seems to suggest that, providing it is not quackery, this is far less important than implementation. Indeed, the finding that three popular forms of PD – Lesson Study, Instructional Coaching and Teacher Learning Communities – have a broadly similar impact on student outcomes might surprise some.

It seems that when we obsess about form and content, we are drawn away from attending to the vital link in the chain that connects training (the input) from student learning (the output). This vital link is the teacher. If we don’t properly consider what it means to develop a teacher’s understanding and put in place all the factors necessary to help them apply what they learn to their practice, then we are unlikely to make a difference to student learning.

In the systematic review that underpins the EEF Guidance Report there is a logic model that helps illustrate this point (see below). It lays out the path from professional development to pupil achievement: moving from initial input through to changes in the teacher which then lead to changes in the student. If any link in this chain fails, perhaps because it has not been properly considered at the design phase, then it is unlikely that changes to student behaviour and/​or learning will occur. The PD will have therefore failed.

The logic model also makes it clear how school context interacts at each point in the process. This is important to understand and (as much as possible) take into account when designing PD. What are the likely constraints that might get in the way of teachers understanding the content, such as lack of prior knowledge or existing values and beliefs? What might hamper attempts to improve teacher practice, such as a lack of time or suitable mentoring expertise? These are just some of the questions to ask at the planning stage.

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Thinking about professional development as a logical process with a series of steps from initial input to final output can also help leaders to understand the importance of evaluation. If at each step, or link in the chain of reasoning, there is an attempt to evaluate, then it will be much easier to identify problems and make changes before it is too late. Rather than waiting until the end, such an approach responds to changing circumstances.

For example, within the Changes within teacher’ step, if evaluation using a staff survey picks up that a number of teachers have not fully grasped or accepted the new ideas from the training, it’s reasonable to assume there will be problems further down the line i.e. how it translates to student understanding and habits. Evaluation therefore enables problems to be identified and suitable action to be taken, such as additional input sessions or further expert support, to increase the chances of future success.

In many respects, the features of effective adult Professional Development are the features of effective teaching in the classroom with children. First, we must build new knowledge, whilst looking for ways to increase motivation and affirm progress made, before providing opportunities for practice and acting on feedback so that new learning is embedded.

It’s reassuring to realise that much of what we know about learning applies as much to adults as it does to children. This report makes that connection more explicit.

Phil Stock


EEF (2021) Professional Development Guidance Report

Sims, S et al (2021) What are the Characteristics of Teacher Professional Development that Increase Pupil Achievement? A systematic review and meta-analysis.

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