Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

CHAPTER 5: Continuing Professional Development

5.1.  Continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers can broadly be divided into two types—that which improves general pedagogical skills and that which enhances subject knowledge—although there is an important element of interaction between them. In this chapter, we focus on the role of subject-specific CPD for teachers of science and mathematics.

5.2.  It is widely accepted that CPD is a central component of effective education, but some witnesses were keen to emphasise that subject-specific CPD was of particular importance to science teaching. The Wellcome Trust felt that this "reflects the rapid pace of development in contemporary science; a greater awareness of the social and ethical context within which research is conducted; and advances in information and communications technology, which open up new opportunities for learning" (p 220). Research Councils UK added that "the nature of science means that there is an additional requirement, not relevant to other subjects, which is that science teachers' CPD also needs to keep them up-to-date on new developments in the field" (p 198).

Uptake of CPD

5.3.  Witnesses were gloomy about the level of subject-specific CPD being undertaken by science teachers. Phil Bunyan of CLEAPSS warned that the INSET days, designed to allow teachers to undergo CPD, were "rarely used for subject specific improvement" but were set aside for "general CPD" (Q 209). Moreover, a recent Wellcome Trust survey found that "half of all secondary school science teachers have had no subject-related CPD in the past five years" and that 73 per cent "wanted more subject-relating training" (p 220). Similarly, Ofsted reported that "teachers have told inspectors of the low levels of continuing professional development on science-specific topics" (p 39).

5.4.  The Wellcome Trust concluded that "there is still not a culture that encourages subject-specific CPD to be viewed as an entitlement" (p 220), whilst the Royal Society suggested that "continuing professional development ... must become a statutory entitlement acknowledged by a fully funded and integrated system of professional recognition". For example, this could be achieved by "earmarking to subject-specific professional development at least one day of the existing annual teacher INSET entitlement" (p 62). This echoes our recommendation in an earlier report that "regular time must be formally allocated to subject-specific development".[37]

5.5.  If there is to be a formal entitlement to subject-specific CPD, it should allow schools maximum flexibility since it is they who are responsible for providing the necessary funding. For example, it may be desirable to allow schools to meet the entitlement by providing in-house subject-specific CPD rather than insisting that all teachers go on an external CPD course every year. However, it would be necessary to provide guidelines to ensure that the entitlement was met with CPD of a sufficiently high quality genuinely to benefit teachers.

5.6.  Moreover, many schools struggle to find or pay for supply teachers to cover staff undergoing external CPD. As the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the United Kingdom (CaSE) noted, "funding does not exist to provide cover for staff who are away from the classroom, and there is in any case such a shortage of science teachers that even if funds were available, it is not clear that, at present, high-quality cover could be guaranteed" (p 142). Similarly, Dr John Oversby noted that "a major barrier is the lack of supply cover caused by the endemic shortage of science teachers" (p 190) and the Society for General Microbiology commented that "funding for supply cover is an important but often overlooked factor in ensuring that teachers benefit from the in-service training opportunities available" (p 217). One option is to encourage the use of higher level teaching assistants to cover teachers. Alternatively, the Institution of Engineering and Technology called for "regional/local teams of science specialists [to] provide cover across an LEA where required" (p 155). Both solutions carry funding implications.

5.7.  However, even if a formal entitlement to subject-specific CPD were to be put in place, there is no guarantee that all or even most teachers would make use of the opportunity. Indeed, the Institute of Physics noted that "the teachers most in need of help are the slowest coming forward". There needed to be "a culture change within the teaching profession, where all teachers feel obliged to engage in professional development" (p 53).

5.8.  This raises the question of whether it should be mandatory for science teachers to undertake a certain amount of CPD each year. The Biosciences Federation believed that it should be mandatory, since this would ensure that "teachers' knowledge and understanding of the curriculum stays up-to-date and that their teaching skills are regularly developed, including their ability to teach outside their specialist subject" (p 66). This is a persuasive argument, particularly given that other professionals such as solicitors are required to accrue a certain number of CPD hours each year.

5.9.  Other witnesses were more wary. Dr Colin Osborne of the Royal Society of Chemistry argued that "mandatory smacks of coercion" and suggested that INSET days had "failed" because of such an approach. Professor Margaret Brown of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) felt that linking CPD to "the different stages in teaching careers" was a far more "positive" approach than compulsion (Q 136).

5.10.  However, the Science Learning Centres argued that "incentives for teachers to take part in CPD are not yet embedded in the profession". Nonetheless, it was felt that "this may slowly change with the introduction by TDA of the new framework of professional standards for teachers" (p 175). Dr Stephen Baker of the TDA reinforced this impression, noting that the proposed new professional standards had "at [their] centre a requirement that teachers remain up-to-date ... with the new developments in ... pedagogy and subject knowledge" (Q 208). Similarly, Julie Bramman of the DfES said that they would "include standards about keeping your subject knowledge up-to-date and showing that you are taking CPD seriously" (Q 48). Indeed, the Government commented, "teachers will need to demonstrate increasing mastery of their subject teaching in order to progress" (p 7). It is thus to be hoped that the new standards will go some way to fulfilling our recommendation in an earlier report that CPD "should be linked to a clear development structure at all levels of the profession".[38]

5.11.  The Government also pointed to the 15th report of the School Teachers' Review Body which "recommended that the outcomes of engagement in professional development be taken into account as part of a range of evidence when schools assess performance for pay progression purposes", suggesting that "this focus will help to incentivise participation in CPD that makes a positive impact" (p 7). Whilst the wording of this proposal is unnecessarily hedged and vague, we endorse the principle contained therein.

5.12.  Reflecting this principle, the Government have introduced the Excellent Teacher Scheme, whereby candidates will have to demonstrate—among other things—that they "have developed themselves professionally" in order to qualify for the grade, which comes with a higher salary. Excellent Teachers will be expected to act as role models to other teachers within the school, to share best practice and to help their colleagues to develop their expertise.[39] These functions will in turn be a beneficial source of CPD for teachers.

5.13.  However, John Bangs of the NUT was wary of the new scheme, claiming that "it has been introduced as a way of capping teachers' movement up the main scale and capping the costs". He also felt that there would be confusion between the Excellent Teacher grade and the Advanced Skills Teacher (AST) grade, which differs from the former in that it requires ASTs to provide outreach support to teachers in other schools. In summary, said Mr Bangs, "there is real overlap and confusion" (Q 195).

5.14.  Another way to encourage teachers constantly to improve the quality of their teaching is to offer accreditation in return for excellence. The Science Learning Centres argued that "a systematic and well-understood framework of professional accreditation would incentivise teachers to engage in CPD, in the way that other professionals such as medics and chartered accountants do" (p 175). The ASE's Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach) scheme provides such a framework, recognising and accrediting excellence in teaching. The criteria for attaining CSciTeach status include having "engaged in, and reflected on, appropriate professional development" and having "work[ed] with colleagues and others in developing science education beyond the classroom".[40] Moreover, as Dr Derek Bell of the ASE pointed out, those who achieve the status "have to keep up-to-date" and be reassessed every five years (Q 208).

5.15.  Teachers can be further incentivised if CPD contributes towards a Master's degree. Dr Michael Day of the TDA told us that "a lot of universities have been looking at changing their PGCE courses, their initial teacher training courses, to give credits on those courses for Master's degrees", with teachers being able to add to them "through doing diplomas, certificates or other pieces of work over the first two or three years of their career, which builds up to a Master's degree". The TDA would also look at its funding procedures with a view to creating "a continuous programme" for teachers wishing to attain a Master's degree. However, Dr Derek Bell warned that "a significant number of universities still do not always accept credits from one to another" and argued that "if you have credits, they have to have universal currency" (Q 210).

5.16.  Whilst we welcome the Government's attempts to link continuing professional development (CPD) to career progression, we remain unconvinced that those teachers who could most benefit from subject-specific CPD will take advantage of such opportunities. We therefore recommend that the Government introduce a requirement for all teachers—whatever their subject—to undertake a certain number of hours of subject-specific CPD each year. We further recommend that the Government provide schools with ring-fenced funding for supply teachers to cover staff on external CPD courses, whilst simultaneously giving urgent consideration to how the availability of supply teachers or higher level teaching assistants can be maximised.

Provision of CPD

5.17.  We now consider the provision of subject-specific CPD, which can come in many forms. As the ASE commented, it should comprise "a balance of elements including attendance on courses and conferences, time working with colleagues in schools and personal reading and reflection" (p 99).

5.18.  An additional form of CPD is the sharing of best practice between schools. Indeed, the teachers at Little Heath School, Reading, told us that local cluster groups, enabling teachers to meet on regular occasions to swap best practice, were highly effective vehicles for CPD. Specialist schools in particular are encouraged to act as exemplars to local schools. However, there does not appear to be a formal mechanism for encouraging schools performing poorly in science—or any other subject—to liaise with nearby schools which may be able to offer assistance to teachers. Ian Richardson of Ofsted merely pointed out that "by the publication of our reports we do spread good practice" (Q 81).

5.19.  We have already recommended that Ofsted revisit the new subject-specific inspection regime with a view to devising a system which draws evidence from a substantially larger number of schools. Following on from this, we recommend that the Government, along with Ofsted, explore more formal mechanisms to promote contact between schools performing poorly in science or mathematics and better performing schools in the area. This would enable teachers, teaching assistants and technicians to share best practice and to find out how they might improve their performance.

5.20.  Subject-specific CPD courses are offered by a range of providers, but the provision of such courses has been boosted significantly by the new network of ten Science Learning Centres (nine regional centres and one national centre in York) funded by the Government and the Wellcome Trust. The latter told us that the centres "provide a network for professional development in science teaching, supporting science teachers and technicians to develop new skills and experiment with innovative techniques". Over 9,000 training days had been delivered at the centres in 2005 and "the feedback from those who attend has been consistently positive" (p 220).

5.21.  During our visit to the National Science Learning Centre in York we were highly impressed by the excellent facilities—including well-equipped laboratories and comfortable accommodation for those taking the courses—and the enthusiasm of the staff. Sitting in on one of the classes for chemistry teachers, it was clear that the courses are an effective means of imparting new ideas and information about science teaching, as well as a valuable opportunity for teachers to meet colleagues from other schools and to discuss best practice techniques. Most courses are in three parts: an initial residential session, a period allowing teachers to put new ideas into practice back in school, and a final residential session. This ensures that teachers gain maximum benefit from the experience. Moreover, attendees are encouraged to stay in touch through the user-friendly web portal.

5.22.  The Science Learning Centres were generally welcomed by witnesses. The Royal Academy of Engineering felt that they had "laid the foundations for providing a more sustained and comprehensive framework of CPD provision for teachers" (p 200) whilst the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry hoped that "all science teachers will be encouraged and supported by the Government, and by their school or college, to attend courses at one of the centres" (p 129). However, Mike Wheale, Head Teacher of Little Heath School, Reading felt that sending staff to the local Science Learning Centre was not necessarily the best use of resources and suggested that the funding should "follow the teacher" as a consumer of training services, rather than going direct to the provider and risking duplication of provision.

5.23.  The British Ecological Society, whilst supporting the Science Learning Centres, noted that three of six science departments recently approached "did not know what the Science Learning Centres were or their role in the professional development of teachers". Although this was a small sample, it was felt that "much more effort needs to be placed on marketing this resource to teachers in schools" if the uptake of courses was to be increased (p 138). Greater uptake of courses is essential if the Centres are to be viable.

5.24.  A more serious issue is the payment of course fees and the cost of providing teacher cover for attendees. As the Wellcome Trust noted, "early indications from teachers attending courses ... are that they can only attend courses if there is external funding to assist with the cost of supply cover and course fees" (p 220). Currently, most attendees at the National Science Learning Centre in fact have their costs met by Wellcome Trust bursaries—provided they can show that their attendance will have a beneficial impact on their school—although teacher cover is not provided. Similarly, the Government provide subsidies to help reduce the fees for those attending the regional centres. However, these subsidies are time limited and it is not clear what will happen after they end.

5.25.  Dr Derek Bell of the ASE felt that the prospects for the centres were "fairly bleak" once the bursaries have come to an end but the Schools Minister, Jim Knight MP, hoped that "by teachers getting the experience and schools having the experience [whilst the bursaries are in operation] they will then continue to value it" (QQ 209, 49). However, even the core funding for the centres is not guaranteed: the Wellcome Trust has committed to a ten year investment (with reduced funding from year five) for the National Science Learning Centre, whilst the Government have committed funding to the regional centres for the current spending review period. When we pressed Lord Adonis about future funding, he stated that "we will be monitoring the situation very carefully, and ... we will see that will happen in the next spending review" and added that "there are large budgets in the Department ... and I am sure there will continue to be large budgets, so the key priorities will remain key priorities" (Q 53).

5.26.  We welcome the new Science Learning Centres, but have serious concerns that they will not be able to attract a sufficient number of attendees once the bursaries have come to an end. We urge the Government to work with the Wellcome Trust to determine how bursaries can continue to be provided in the longer-term, to ensure that the centres are able to flourish.

5.27.  The Government have also recently launched the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. A "virtual" centre, it is designed "to support, broker and quality assure CPD" and it will "have a role in stimulating demand among teachers" (p 8). The Mathematical Association welcomed the Centre as "an immensely valuable initiative" but warned that "its activities will make little impact unless teachers are given adequate time to engage with what it has to offer" (p 158). Similarly, Professor Margaret Brown of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) feared that "the time will not be found for teachers to interact with their fellow teachers in their own and local schools" (Q 138). This once again emphasises the importance of providing teachers with an entitlement to a certain amount of subject-specific CPD each year.

37   Science in Schools, p 8. Back

38   ibid, p 7. Back

39   See Back

40   See Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006