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Enhancing Professional Practice and Standards  through Continuing Professional Development

R. H. Clarke, D. Robson

The General Teaching Council for Scotland
Clerwood House
96 Clermiston Road
Edinburgh EH12 6UT
(e-mail contact :

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14-17 September 2005


The General Teaching Council for Scotland is encouraging teachers in Scotland to undertake programmes of worthwhile Continuing Professional Development (CPD) which will enable them to maintain and enhance their professional standards and practice at all career stages.

To help facilitate this, the Council is currently developing practical guidance for teachers and other stakeholders on how the CPD process might be most effectively engaged with in the post-McCrone era.

The Council have initiated a research project to establish current teachers’ views of their recent experiences of the CPD process. The evidence gathered will be used to inform the development of the guidance. Effectively teachers are undertaking and engaging with research for the benefit of other teachers.

1 Introduction

A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century (SEED 2001), the McCrone agreement, placed a new emphasis on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for all Scottish teachers. For the first time, the Scottish education system acknowledged that teacher development, whether related to the development of pedagogy, the curriculum or leadership and management capabilities was a career-long process and not something that happened prior to entering the profession and at selected times throughout a teacher’s career.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) was set up under the Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965, the first such body for teachers in the United Kingdom. The Council is an advisory non-departmental public body (NDPB) funded from annual registration fees paid by registered teachers.

The principal aims of the GTCS are :

· To contribute to improving the quality of teaching and learning;

· To maintain and enhance professional standards;

· To be recognised as an advocate for the teaching profession;

· To contribute to the development of a world class educational system in Scotland.

Clearly, aligning with the first two aims outlined above, the GTCS would encourage teachers to undertake worthwhile CPD which will enable them to maintain and enhance their professional standards and practices. The Council also recognises that teachers require appropriate advice and guidance as to how they might most effectively engage with the CPD process.

The introduction in 2002 of the new Teacher Induction Scheme which includes a well-structured CPD programme to support new teachers has been an outstanding success. It highlights, probably more effectively than any other recent initiative introduced in Scotland, that the provision of a framework for the professional development of new teachers along with the resources and the commitment of all staff involved in the process, can result in our new teachers being confident professionals ready and able to embrace the challenges of the future.

The Teacher Induction Scheme is an important part of a teacher’s professional development, which in the process of preparing them to achieve the Standard for Full Registration (SFR), significantly develops their attitude towards personal reflection and career-long development (GTCS 2002a, GTCS 2002b). Hence it is vital that consideration is given to how these standards and attitudes can be maintained and enhanced for the rest of a teacher’s career.

In 2003, the Council made a significant commitment to enhancing its position as an evidence-based organisation with the development of a research programme. An important ingredient of the programme was a commitment to the involvement of (individual or groups of) practicing teachers in research projects (GTCS 2004) and, more specifically, as part of the evidence gathering processes.

With this in mind, the Council has initiated a research project involving teachers to gather information on their experiences of CPD, with the aim of developing practical guidance for Scottish teachers on how they can engage effectively with CPD to enable them to maintain and enhance their professional practice and standards. The initial stages of this project are detailed in this paper.

2 Research Methodology

A two pronged research methodology was initiated, centred on teacher focus groups and a survey of a controlled sample of the Scottish teaching profession.

2.1 Focus Groups

In the early project planning stages, the Council recognised the importance of the direct involvement of teachers in the research. Funding was made available to appoint a number of teachers (Research Scholars) to form the core research team. Twelve teachers from Primary and Secondary schools across Scotland were appointed and trained to lead focus group discussions and collate transcripts of the discussions for subsequent submission to the Council in a report form. The focus groups consisted of approximately six teachers of varying years of teaching experience. Most of the focus group members were sourced solely from the school that the Research Scholar taught in. Utilising teachers in this fashion not only ensured that teachers were having a direct input to the development of any guidelines, but it also provided an opportunity to engage teachers in educational research thereby providing many with a new CPD experience and encouraging expansion of the community of GTC Scotland teacher researchers. The focus group discussions initially served to inform the development of the survey research tools discussed below and secondly to provide initial feedback on the CPD issues affecting teachers.

2.2 Survey

A questionnaire was sent to a sample of 8000 teachers, equating to approximately 10% of teachers registered with the Council. Using the Council register of teachers the sample was firstly split 50/50 between Primary and Secondary teachers. Each of these two sections was then further subdivided to four groupings to enable differentiation between different lengths of teaching service (in years): 0-10, 11-20, 21-30 and 31-40+.

The methodologies were specifically designed to elicit information relating to the following areas:

(i) planning and undertaking CPD;

(ii) evaluating, recording and sharing CPD;

(iii) CPD as a career-long process.

3 Research Progress

The project was essentially split into five stages. Progress in each stage is outlined below.

3.1 Stage 1 – Training Event

All research scholars took part in a training event comprising four main components :

· familiarisation with the Standard for Full Registration;

· detailed explanation of the project schedule;

· a critical discussion between the Research Scholars on the initial draft of the questionnaire which Council Professional Officers had produced;

· a detailed explanation of requirements for documenting the findings of the focus group discussions.

The training was very important for a number of reasons:

· the Research Scholars became familiar with and could engage in discussion about the requirements and the documentation of the CPD research project;

· through their group discussions the Research Scholars gained first hand experience of issues that were likely to be raised during their focus group discussions;

· the Research Scholars could engage with each other and became active partners in the progress of the project.

3.2 Stage 2 – Focus Group 1

This involved the focus group members in a critique of the initial draft of the questionnaire, specifically:

· the overall structure of questionnaire ;

· any important aspects of CPD for which responses had not be elicited;

· the presentation and clarity of individual questions.

The Council provided each Research Scholar with a focus group discussion guide. The main themes emerging can be summarised :

· the initial draft of the questionnaire would need to be amended;

· teachers value the opportunity to be involved in the development of guidelines by participation in this project;

· teachers in general are not familiar with the Standard for Full Registration;

· local CPD practices vary considerably;

· proposed models of CPD linked to career stage prompted much debate;

· teachers would welcome straightforward CPD guidelines.

3.3 Stage 3 – Focus Group 2

The initial draft of the questionnaire was amended, and multiple copies sent to the Research Scholars, the aim being that the focus group members would complete the questionnaire prior to attending the focus group 2 discussion. The rationale behind this procedure was :

· the questionnaires would be completed in a similar fashion to that of someone receiving one as part of the sample of the profession, and responses would provide a valuable source of initial data;

· the focus group discussions would be directed towards investigating any specific issues raised in more depth, hence providing more detailed feedback when compared to questionnaire responses alone.

Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data gathered (66 completed questionnaires and transcripts of group discussions) was carried out. The findings are outlined in Section 4.

3.4 Stage 4 – Survey

Minor amendments were made to the questionnaire following focus group 2 and discussions with the National CPD team before sending it to the sample of the Scottish teaching profession. Analysis of the responses, to be triangulated with the data gathered at Stage 3, is not yet complete.

3.5 Stage 5 – Focus Group 3

Focus group members will be presented with the research findings to review and discuss with specific regard to the development of advice / guidance on CPD by the Council for Scottish teachers, schools and local authorities. This stage of the project is expected to commence in late 2005.

4 Focus Group 2 Findings

Selected research findings are presented in the following subsections.

4.1 Planning and Undertaking CPD

(i) Type of CPD Activity Experienced

Table 1 shows the percentages of respondents who, during the previous two years, have experienced CPD activities of a particular type, and the effectiveness of each CPD activity in developing knowledge and skills. The effectiveness rating presented is calculated by averaging the respondent ratings for the CPD types undertaken, and are presented on the scale range where an effectiveness rating of 1.0 means very good and 5.0 means very poor.

As can be seen the three most commonly undertaken CPD activities are (in descending order) short courses, personal study and face-to-face collaborative work. However, the effectiveness ratings given did not suggest that they rate amongst the best, although some of the ratings were based on a particularly small sample of responses.

Type of CPD Activity

% Respondents Undertaking

Effectiveness Rating

Short Course



Collaborative Working – Face to face



Collaborative Working – Distance






Personal Study












Study Visits






Award Bearing Course/Module – face to face



Award Bearing Course/Module – distance



Table 1 : Type of CPD Activity Experienced and Effectiveness Rating

(ii) Theme of CPD Activity Experienced

Figure 1 shows the percentages of respondents who have experienced CPD activities focussed on a range of particular identified topics/themes which span the SFR.

As may have been expected, the topics/themes of Teaching and Learning Strategies, ICT and Curriculum are commonly covered by teachers, whilst the topics/themes of Core Skills and Equal Opportunities are least commonly covered. It was expected that the balance of activities of specific theme may vary across sectors. On average, only 9.9 of the 24 listed themes, essentially spanning the SFR, were covered by respondents.

Figure 1 : CPD Themes Experienced

(iii) Career-Long CPD

Respondents were asked to indicate the period of time appropriate to enable a teacher to undertake CPD to cover all of the topics/themes listed. Responses are shown in Table 2.

Period of Time

% Respondents

1 year


3 years


5 years


10 years


Other *


No response


Table 2 : Period of Time for Coverage of Themes

Almost 46% of respondents indicated that 5 years would be an appropriate time period. For those specifying Other, a number of respondents indicated that a period of 3-5 years would be appropriate whilst others suggested 5-10 years. Some comments:

‘It was agreed that all CPD activities should be covered within 5 – 7 years and repeated in a cyclical manner. It was felt this was an appropriate timescale to cover everything adequately, but still frequent enough to keep refreshed.’

‘Are teachers going to be expected to have been involved in all the possible aspects of CPD? (concern).’

‘Teachers do not wish to be dictated to in terms of a "tick list " which will ask them to cover certain topics over a period of time. Perhaps the guidance should inform teachers of the types of CPD Activity available, to widen the notion of what constitutes a CPD Activity.’

‘There was limited agreement on whether the list would be a helpful means of planning CPD.’

‘A list of CPD topics could possibly help in planning CPD activities. It was suggested that there would have to be room for flexibility to take account of opportunities which arise or the needs of a particular class or child.’

4.2 Evaluating, Recording and Sharing CPD

  • In this section of the questionnaire respondents were asked about the recording of CPD, short-term and long-term evaluation of CPD and the sharing of CPD.

  • (i) Immediate Evaluation of CPD

    89.4% of respondents evaluate a CPD activity immediately. Mostly this was carried out through discussion with colleagues and completing a form. Respondents were also asked to identify the criteria that they would use to make an initial evaluation and these included:

    · practical for use in class;

    · relevance to age group;

    · extends existing knowledge and skills;

    · relevance to curricular area;

    · interesting and inspiring;

    · the quality and credibility of the presenter;

    · pupil needs are met;

    · can be implemented in a manageable way.

    (ii) Recording of CPD

    Respondents indicated many methods for recording their CPD experiences including personal CPD folders, local authority provided grids and proforma, and on-line methods . Some stated that they didn’t keep a record or that they kept a record in their head. Some comments:

    ‘I think it would be good if there was some sort of standardised format for recording CPD.’

    ‘Teachers begin to question form filling if it is just for the sake of it. There has to be some value to the process.’

    (iii) Evaluating the Impact of CPD on Professional Practice

    65.2% of respondents evaluate the impact of a CPD experience on their professional practice. When asked how they would carry out such an evaluation a number of approaches were stated including:

    · review or reflect on pupil work after a trial period;

    · gathering feedback from pupils and colleagues;

    · assess the impact on attainment;

    · through discussions with colleagues.

    Some comments:

    ‘I said "a choice of criteria (for evaluating) would be useful’’, eg. relevance, extends existing knowledge, enhances practice, inspiring’

    ‘I think you need a short-term evaluation soon after the CPD activity is over and then a more long-term view taken later when you try and assess the impact it has had on your class teaching.’

    (iv) Sharing CPD

    Tables 3 and 4 respectively indicate the percentages of respondents who share the content and impact of their CPD experiences using a specific method.

    Sharing Method

    % Using Method

    Written Report


    Verbal Report


    Other Formal Method


    Other Informal Method


    Table 3 : Content Sharing Methods

    Sharing Method

    % Using Method

    Written Report


    Verbal Report


    Other Formal Method


    Other Informal Method


    Table 4 : Impact on Practice Sharing Methods

    As can be seen, the percentage of respondents sharing the impact of CPD is generally lower than the percentage of respondents who share the content of CPD. Some comments summing up the qualitative data :

    ‘Key barrier to sharing is time.’

    ‘Most participants agreed that sharing the content and impact of CPD was the vital part which was missing at present.’

    ‘Teachers are keen to share the impact of a CPD Activity with colleagues. Many are happy to share informally on a one-to-one basis or with two or three others. A culture of sharing is dependent on the ethos of the school.’

    ‘Staff are reluctant to be put under the pressure of having to report formally to colleagues after a CPD Activity.’

    4.3 CPD as a Career-Long Process

    (i) Categories of CPD Activity

    A model was presented to respondents which proposed that CPD could be split into three (defined) specific categories. Respondents were asked to comment on whether CPD could fall into these categories and 78.8% agreed that it could. Respondents were then asked to estimate the proportions of their CPD experiences of the last two years falling into each of the categories. The data is presented in Table 5.









    More than half




    Less than half








    Table 5 : % Respondents Estimating Category Proportions

    Data in this table can be interpreted in different ways, but figures indicate that the typical balance of CPD activity across types would have as a main component Extension CPD, with smaller components of Consolidation and Exploratory (in that order).

    (ii) Career Stage Variations

    Respondents were then asked if they considered that the mix of CPD experiences from each category would vary dependent on career stage. The results are shown in Table 6 below.


    % Respondents





    Don’t know


    No response


    Table 6 : % Respondents Agreeing CPD Mix at Different Career Stages

    Various views on this all focused on the idea that it is very difficult to define a particular combination of CPD activity by career stage. It is about the individual rather than years in teaching. Some comments:

    ‘The three categories of CPD Activity may be used to clarify the type of CPD Activity but they are not completely separate from each other. It may need to be stated that Exploratory CPD, for example may extend current skills and knowledge.’

    ‘There is an understanding that the type of CPD Activity undertaken will vary depending on the stage a teacher is at in their career. Examples of the balance at different stages may be given to Teachers but could not be dictated because CPD should always be suited to the needs of the teacher within their context.’

    ‘It was felt that the mix of CPD activities should be flexible at any part of a teacher’s career. This would allow specific needs to be met at specific times.’

    4.4 Summary

    This phase of the research identified a number of key areas for potential inclusion in any CPD guidelines developed. It is envisaged that the more extensive data gathered from the survey (Stage 4) will reinforce the importance of particular areas.

    5 Developing CPD Guidance

    Focus group 2 activities have provided a rich source of data which can be used to assist the development of CPD guidance for teachers. A number of specific guidance areas have emerged which are summarised below :

    What CPD is, which can be subdivided as follows:

    (i) Detailed explanations of CPD types, and how each may be used to enable CPD focussed on particular themes to be undertaken. For example, providing a definition of practice-led research and how it might be carried out in practical terms as a part of a teacher’s working life.

    (ii) A list of themes that would enable teachers to plan their CPD so as to ensure coverage of the different areas of their professional practice. However, it would need to still enable flexibility in terms of how the themes were covered.

    (iii) There were also concerns raised about how teachers’ personal (35 hours) CPD is used. This was mainly focused on receiving clear definitions as to what constitutes personal CPD and how to protect their personal CPD from being engulfed by National Priorities etc.

    How best to manage the CPD process, which can be subdivided as follows:

    (iv) Detailed advice on how to compile and maintain a CPD portfolio. Concern was expressed that any paperwork associated with CPD was not excessive, but was necessary, meaningful and had a direct purpose.

    (v) In terms of developing teachers’ career-long perspective of CPD, provide exemplification of how the themes that make up the different areas of professional practice could be covered and maintained in a cyclical manner. Also provide exemplars for the three categories (consolidation etc) of CPD.

    How to ensure that CPD has an impact, which can be subdivided as follows:

    (vi) Teachers recognised that there was a CPD process, which not only involves participating in a CPD experience but also includes evaluating, sharing and considering next steps within a career plan, but realised that they were not consistently engaging in the whole process. They stated that time constraints and an unsupportive ethos were factors affecting their engagement in the whole process. However, requests were also made for advice on how to evaluate (including a list of evaluation criteria), and on ways to share, CPD experiences.

    (vii) Many responses also highlighted that the provision of CPD was not suitably varied or of consistent quality.

    It was recognised, however, that the findings from Stage 3 of the research were gathered from a relatively small sample of teachers and should only be used as an addition to the evidence gathered from the large scale survey carried out

    6 Conclusions

    The project developed has enabled detailed information regarding the CPD activities undertaken and CPD processes experienced by Scottish teachers in the post-McCrone era, to be gathered in a logical, structured and detailed manner.

    The teachers involved in the project have valued their involvement both in terms of their own CPD, and the contribution that they have been able to make to this important project, whilst at the same time enhancing their understanding of the work of the Council.

    Clearly, it is to be welcomed that the CPD guidelines to be developed will be based on current evidence gathered by, and from, teachers. The project is an excellent example of teachers undertaking and supporting research to the benefit of other teachers.

    7 References

    GTCS (2002a). The Standard for Full Registration. Edinburgh,GTCS.

    GTCS (2002b). Achieving the Standard for Full Registration. Guidance for New Teachers. Edinburgh, GTCS.

    GTCS (2004). Teacher Researcher Programme. 2004 Project Summaries. Occasional Publication 1, October 2004. Edinburgh: GTCS.

    SEED (2001). A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century. Edinburgh, The Scottish Executive

    This document was added to the Education-Line database on 06 October 2005