Becoming Professional Learners in a Learning Profession

Liz Free

I have been mulling over the Government whitepaper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, all 128 pages (!), and have been struck by the clear recognition of the role and importance of CPD in achieving the Government’s aim.  In this paper, presented by Nicky Morgan, it clearly states that the:

“… quality of teaching is more important to pupil outcomes than anything else a school can control” (1.32)

This fills me with joy and optimism as I consider how the world could change if we apportioned resource according to its impact. It got me thinking about what difference it would make if resource was bountiful. What would and should be the priorities for raising the quality of CPD?

Simply put, in my world, it would be that we systematically became professional learners in a learning profession.  There would be a universal and required engagement with professional learning and reflection, tied inextricably to impact and outcomes.  In the whitepaper there is this aspiration:

“fostering a world-leading, evidence-informed teaching profession”

However, does it go far enough?

Detailed in the whitepaper is the creation of the independent expert group of teachers, leaders and academics to create a ‘new standard for teachers’ professional development’.  The consultation for this standard took place last autumn and we expect the standard to be published any day now; I’m waiting with baited breath!  However, these are not statutory, as I was kindly reminded by a lovely head teacher colleague who, feeling slightly despondent in the current climate, informed me that he would probably ‘ignore them’ as he has enough on!

Here lies the rub.  The intention is right; we should have professional standards and the expectation of engagement with professional learning linked to practice, as in other professions, but in order for this to become high priority, there needs to be some requirement or expectation of participation.  In turning to our medical colleagues, their licence to practice has to be legally revalidated every five years so they are up-to-date in the field of medicine that they practice.  In medicine, it all seems reasonable; who would want a heart surgeon or GP who hadn’t engaged in professional learning since qualifying, possibly 30 years plus previously?  What would happen if we structured our teaching profession on this model?

My expectation would be that CPD would then become of high importance and value. It would attract the time and resource from all echelons of school-led leadership through to every corner of every staff room and every classroom.  Would this not raise the quality of teaching, the single most determiner of pupil outcomes and the Holy Grail alluded to in the whitepaper? We need to place the value of CPD at the very heart of our practice and school leaders need to be fully supported in this endeavour.

I look forward to reading the new standard when it is released and I am hopeful that the world-class teaching profession that we have in the UK is facilitated to embrace and support each other in the continued endeavour of ensuring education excellence wherever you may be.


Liz Free leads Professional Development at Oxford University Press, one of the UK’s leading providers of Continued Professional Development and Learning (CPDL).  She is an outstanding child-centred practitioner and leader with headship background and expertise in school growth, improvement and development. Liz spoke on becoming professional learners in a learning profession at the Westminster Education Forum’s event on the Future of the teaching profession in England – recruitment, workload, standards and professional development on 10th May 2016.

Follow Liz on Twitter @LizAMFree