Quality assurance of teachers’ professional development: what have we learned?

We know that teacher quality matters to educational outcomes. Therefore, if we want to improve outcomes for pupils in our schools, we need to ensure they receive high-quality teaching. And this means teachers need access to high-quality professional development which helps them to keep learning about their practice and their roles. But can we agree what high-quality professional development looks like? And what might we be able to do to ensure teachers and school leaders are able to access professional development that will really have an impact?

These are the questions that have been on our minds for the last three years in a project, working in partnership with Chartered College of Teaching and Teacher Development Trust, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, in which we sought to develop, design and pilot a system for quality assuring teachers’ professional development. The intention of this work was to understand whether and how an effective quality assurance system could set a standard for quality which teachers and schools could use to inform their decision making around teacher professional development.

To understand what high-quality professional development looks like, we drew upon the evidence base around effective professional development and used this to develop a set of robust quality assurance criteria. Through consultation with stakeholders from across the education sector, we tested these criteria and continued to refine them throughout the project.

Our definition of ‘quality’ sits within the criteria. Professional development providers who took part in the pilot were asked to demonstrate that they met each of the nine criteria, which were grouped in three themes:

  1. Intent: the criteria in this theme focus on the aims and intended impact of the professional development, ensuring that professional development providers are clear about the aims for teachers undertaking the professional development as well as its long-term intended impact on pupils.
  2. Design: the criteria here ask professional development providers to show how their professional development is designed to meet its aims; providers are expected to draw upon evidence and expert input, and must demonstrate that they have designed the professional development to bring about sustained changes to practice.
  3. Delivery: within this final theme, the criteria look at how providers ensure their professional development is delivered to a high standard; they are expected to show how they engage in effective monitoring, evaluation and ongoing improvement and to demonstrate the steps they have taken to facilitate positive learning experiences for teachers who undertake the professional development they offer.

Evaluation from this pilot project suggests that the criteria we developed set a high bar for quality and enable valid judgements to be made about the quality of professional development. This indicates that there is potential for a quality assurance system to be introduced which might be able to make a difference to how teachers choose and experience professional development in the long term.

That is not to say that there wouldn’t be challenges: the professional development system in England is very diverse. The quality assurance criteria need to be broad enough to cover a range of types of professional development provider and provision, including schools who deliver an increasing amount of professional development in-house. Work also needs to be done to establish a shared understanding of the criteria and how these can be used by schools to inform their decision-making. As part of this pilot, we wanted to understand how the outcomes of the quality assurance process might be used by schools. We spoke to a number of school leaders to explore this further and used this feedback to develop a commissioning template which contains a number of prompts schools might use when thinking about commissioning professional development. These prompts encourage schools to ask questions about the intent and design of the professional development they are commissioning to ensure it will sufficiently meet the school’s – and individual teachers’ – needs.

Further information about the project can be found at Quality Assurance of Teacher Professional Development, and the final project reports are published on the Chartered College of Teaching website.

Emily Perry, Sheffield Institute of Education

Katy Chedzey, Chartered College of Teaching

Maria Cunningham, Teacher Development Trust






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