It is an expectation on teachers around the world, that they maintain and develop their subject knowledge and understanding through professional development. This is often a matter of personal choice with management support for what is seen as a priority. In some countries, teachers are expected to document their commitment through a reflective portfolio. Access to CPD (continuing professional development) couldn’t be easier than it is now. In addition to the ubiquitous search engines that can lead to a fractal exploration of any subject or question, are a range of high-quality online courses proffered by reputable institutions. In the last couple of years, I’ve accessed several, myself. But how likely is it that teachers in English schools are even contemplating their own CPD, never mind systematically and seriously pursuing it?
Not very likely, I think, from my recent experience of trying to engage teachers in committing to improving their own subject knowledge in essential, key areas of the curriculum. These are otherwise dedicated professionals working in a school with an ‘outstanding’ reputation, but advancing one’s own knowledge and understanding, independently in one’s own time is a step too far. This is a problem. Much research points to the quality of teacher subject knowledge as a key factor in pupil attainment and yet it is known that this falls far short of what it should be in primary schools, particularly in subjects such as science and technology. I was party to a discussion recently about how this could be addressed, given the fragile state of science education in England and our desperate attempts to stabilise it before we lose it altogether. Teacher CPD was seen as a major issue. This led me to thinking about how CPD could be better embedded in real world practice.
So many unhelpful directives are forced upon the profession and the workload has genuinely become excessive (yes really!), that it’s not surprising that teachers are resistant to anything that hasn’t actually been demanded in black and white. We are all expected, however, to undergo a yearly process entitled ‘appraisal’ and I think it might be time that subject knowledge became a central feature of this process, with time being dedicated specifically to CPD. Would it be too much too expect for teachers to identify and demonstrate through certification, a level of knowledge appropriate to the teaching of the subject and for school leaders to commit to resourcing this in time and materials?