Teachers not getting enough support with professional development, argues new report

The report aims to summarise important lessons for teachers who want to improve their classroom skills

Teachers are not receiving enough feedback or help with their professional development, which is having a detrimental effect on student performance, new research suggests.

A report authored by Professor Rob Coe and colleagues from UK-based school consultancy Evidence Based Education (EBE), has reviewed hundreds of existing studies and highlighted the importance of teachers’ professional development and improvement on student outcomes.

The report has been sponsored by Cambridge International, a sub-division of the University of Cambridge.

It highlights the importance of teachers’ understanding of subject content and their knowledge of how to support students, curriculum sequencing and didactic techniques. Teachers are also advised to focus on creating a “climate of high expectation”, promoting learner motivation, maximising classroom productivity and structuring learning to encourage “hard thinking” among students.

“When great teachers want their students to learn complex tasks, they don’t only describe what those tasks look like,” said Coe.

“They break those tasks down into small chunks, support their learners and provide constant feedback. If we want teachers to learn how to do great teaching, we need to do more than just describe what that looks like – we need to give them constant feedback and a practical toolkit. This review is the foundation for providing teachers with feedback on their own development.

“If we get professional development right, the impact it can have on the culture of a school and the quality of learning is transformational.”

Feedback to teachers has not been as supportive and informative as it should be to give them control and ownership over their professional development and practice – Dr Tristian Stobie, Cambridge International

Although the report notes that teaching “cannot be defined by compliance to a particular set of practices”, the evidence available supports the assertion, the authors’ said, that “having these things is better than not having them”.

However, the report concedes that the research available to teachers gives only “partial insights, often contradictory or confusing, much of it based on weak correlations between ill-defined teacher behaviours and rather impoverished measures of student learning”.

The report argues teachers should therefore work on atomised techniques to allow practitioners to take ownership of implementing new skills and tailoring them.

The authors suggest teachers do not have the time or resources to pursue professional development properly.

Dr Tristian Stobie, director of curriculum and qualifications development at Cambridge International and one of the report’s contributors, said: “Teacher autonomy, creativity and trust have been eroded in some educational systems by a drive toward compliance. Feedback to teachers has not been as supportive and informative as it should be to give them control and ownership over their professional development and practice.

“Right now, the educational world is in turmoil caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Teachers have had to learn quickly to adapt, teach online and support learners in new ways.”

He added: “The review summarises a lot of existing evidence. We hope that a systematic, authoritative and accessible presentation can give teachers a clear overview of the things that make a difference to student learning. But it is also the foundation of a system of feedback that will support teachers in developing their practice, whatever the phases, subjects or types of school they teach in.”

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