By Liz Free


Posted 20 November 2019

This piece originally appeared in ECIS Global Insights November 2019 Issue

It is THE question that cuts to the core of what we believe as teachers and school leaders.  Just as Hamlet faced core moments of ethical quandary, so do we as educationalists.  And it is in these moments of adversity, of challenging financial times, that the decisions we make about appropriate funding (in all its forms) for professional learning and development exposes our core education beliefs.  Is professional learning and development a luxury we can ill afford or an anchor we can ill lose? 

I ask this question for several reasons.  As a UK teacher, I am concerned about the funding crisis, and the catastrophic situation regarding initial teacher training, recruitment into the profession and, most importantly, retention of our teachers.  Secondly, as a global leader in education professional learning and development, I am challenged by the predictions of exponential growth in the youth population, predominantly in Asia and Africa, alongside the meteoric rise of international education where we’ll need more than half a million teachers to service these schools within the next ten years (thank you ISC for the data in this field). What, if any, is the role of professional learning and development in schools? 

Are we investing in professional learning and development? 

Well, before we hit the global, let’s start with the UK.  The Teacher Development Trust announced in their annual data review produced by SchoolDash in 2019 a staggering 12% drop in secondary teacher training budgets and a 7% drop in primary; the first time there has been a decline since the data has been collectedi.  This confirmed what many teachers and school leaders were reporting and led to universal concern across the profession. 

James Bowen, Director of NAHT Edge, National Association of Head Teachers, in response to this data, said:

This report reflects exactly what we hear from our members – that they are being forced to reduce CPD as school budgets are cut. NAHT’s most recent funding survey showed that 70% of schools have had to reduce investment in CPD due to funding pressures. We also know that finding the time for CPD, especially out of school, is a challenge due to unmanageable workloads. Time for CPD is vital to school improvement and to ensuring children get the very best education. Lack of dedicated investment by the government in this area is a false economy. 

Leading the charge for the profession, and supporting concerns about this, Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive, Chartered College of Teaching, added: 

Every day we see excellent teaching delivered despite huge pressures. We need to give teachers the opportunities and tools to develop their skills and to be proud of what they are doing. However, due to the demands on their time, learning and development is all too often neglected, with the average teacher in England spending only four days on CPD per year.If our pupils are to receive the best possible education, we at the Chartered College believe teachers must have access to good quality CPD. With the profession struggling to recruit and retain teachers, we need to show that we are willing to invest in them from the second they enter the classroom.

As budgets are squeezed, expenditure on professional learning and development both in terms of time and funding are cut, we start to realise the actual value placed on this activity.  The research from #EduGreats like Viviane Robinson clearly demonstrates that leadership focussing on professional learning and development will lead to the highest outcomes for young people and yet, when it comes to the crunch, we still see this as a nice-to-have and not a critical activity to core business.  Last week I was told by a headteacher that it feels wrong to invest resource in professional learning and development when he has just had to let 4 staff go.  This reveals the very real challenges our leaders face and some of the underlying beliefs about the profession.  When the chips are down, the glue sticks and blu-tack are rationed (if you’re lucky to have any at all!) and so is the investment in the profession. 

Parallel to the financial situation, we can track the impact of the current climate on recruitment and retention.  The ‘Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England’ (2019) report by NFER and the Nuffield Foundation highlights the scale of the crisis as the number of trainees on initial teacher training have increased but still fall short of targets by around 2500 whilst also seeing a 25% decline in qualified teachers from Europe applying for QTSii; yes, the BREXIT-effect is rearing its head!  At the same time the school workforce census shows that a third of teachers left the system within five years of qualifying and predicts a 19% growth of student population in the next decade.  We are also now seeing that the number of teachers leaving the profession increased from 6% to 8% between 2011 and 2016.  In bite-sized clarity, there simply aren’t enough teachers entering the profession, staying in the profession or returning to the profession. 

Can we make a correlation between increased dissatisfaction of the profession and decreased investment in the individual teacher? 

The NFER report highlights teacher concern about workload as a primary reason for teacher attrition from the profession and goes on to assert that ‘To improve teacher retention, nurturing, supporting, and valuing teachers is vital to keep their engagement high’.  There is, rather unsurprisingly, a direct correlation between high engagement and higher retention. So, whilst also considering the weighty beast that is workload, what does nurturing, supporting and valuing teachers actually look like? 

This year a study was completed by Teach Away into the global international school workforce which explicitly looked at push and pull factors in more detail.  The 2019 International Education Recruitment Report: Insights and Trends collected data from 12,618 Teaching Candidates which highlighted the top three attractions for a teacher to a new roleiii (weighted responses, respondents were asked to rank their preferences): 

  • 66% Salary and bonus 
  • 65% PD Opportunities  
  • 49% Career Progression Opportunities 

We can see that investment in the individual within a workforce is an aspect that matters when it comes to recruitment but what about retention? The Council of British International Schools looked in more detail at this in July 2018 in the largest ever study of British international teachers, ‘Teacher Supply in British International Schools’, and concludediv:  

Schools reported that the most prevalent method of facilitating teacher retention and recruitment in the last two years was through ‘enhanced professional development’, with ‘improved marketing of our schools’ ranking second most prevalent.  Note that increases in salary and improved benefits are both ranked as significantly less important as retention and recruitment tools.   

Looking beyond education, there is much written about a changing landscape where employees have different expectations.  They want greater input from their employer and are looking for career growth within their organisations, very much as we can see within teaching through the TeachAway and COBIS reports. 

Dr Holbeche, a global giant in the field of HR and previously Director of Research and Policy for the CIPD , presented at Relocate’ s Festival of Global People in London’s King’s Cross in April 2019  and said, ‘Staff are saying: we are good, you as an organisation have got to bend towards us, and provide what we need.  This might be a career path, a four-day week or more of a work/life balance’v

“…you as an organisation have got to bend towards us, and provide what we need…more of a work/life balance.”

She goes on to assert that current research of trends is identifying that people tend to move on if they start to become disengaged, particularly in the UK where we have got full employment.  She advises HR and recruitment departments, ‘if you have got good people you have got to find ways to hang on to them and develop them, and they will be asking for more in return.’ 

We have the perfect storm.  Increased global demand for teachers and a period of decreased supply leading to significant competition alongside changing priorities for the profession as employees.  And yet, knowing all of this, the truth is that when faced with financial adversity, leadership decisions around allocation of extremely limited budgets are resulting in decreased spend in professional learning for school improvement. 

The challenge faced by school leaders is to ensure we have the highest return on investment through the outcomes of our young people. Difficult decisions have to be made and, whilst cutting expenditure and resource on professional learning and development is an easy cost-saving in the immediate term, the ongoing impact for schools to both your own staff, your recruitment/retention of staff and, most importantly, the impact on your students will be costly notwithstanding the longer term impact on the profession.   

The NFER report highlighted the importance of nurturing, valuing and supporting teachers as the only way to secure a sustainable and stable global profession.  We need to do this full stop.

And when it comes to professional learning and development, if I were to look to a football analogy, and for the record I’m not a great footballing expert, but what I do know is no team that had limited resources ever said, we will stop developing our team to save scarce funds.  If anything, they go even further and do everything they can to optimise the potential of what they have.  And so, this begs the question in education, knowing what we know, facing what we face; to PD or not to PD, that is the question! 

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