Lessons from the London Challenge?


Research from the London School of Economics for the  Sutton Trust has shown that English schools could move  into the world’s top five education performers within a  decade if the performance of the least effective 10% of  teachers were brought up to the average. So, how do we improve the quality of teaching in our schools?  The Teacher Development Trust cites research from New Zealand on the impact of high-quality CPD on the education outcomes of children, where children taught by teachers on high-quality CPD programmes were improving twice as fast as those in other classes. The  improvement is more pronounced for those deemed in  the 20% ‘least able,’ who made improvements four to six  times as fast as their peers. The important point here is that CPD has to be high quality. Sadly,historically, much CPD hasn’t been high quality. Simply sending teachers to an occasional external course will have little or no effect on them, or  on student outcomes, for that matter.  Thomas Guskey has identified, in his research on evaluating CPD,  that impacts of CPD must be measured  through children’s outcomes. Schools have to be led by the evidence on what works to improve their pupils’ education.

Currently, there is a growing body of resources for schools to draw on. The Sutton Trust’s Pupil Premium Toolkit, the York Informed Practice Initiative (YIPI) and the Teacher Development Trust’s Good CPD Guide web site are all very  useful in this respect.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, believes that we can learn much from the London Challenge about effective CPD. So, what can we learn? He writes: (Teaching Leaders Quarterly-March 2013):  ‘There are three policy lessons.  We need a system of challenge and support. Stick without the carrot might make popular headlines but it will  do little to change the outcomes of the children served by  underperforming teachers. London Challenge advisors set clear and ambitious new standards. But they did so by working in collaboration with teachers to get buy in. Second, working across schools underpinned the programme. Teachers would receive training from high performing colleagues in other schools. It is clear that being in a different setting was an important aspect for  learning new and improved ways to teach. Third, the evidence from Ofsted’s evaluation of London Challenge found that where teachers were trained on improved teaching and learning strategies, this led to lasting legacies in their schools. Crucially, the impact was not only felt by schools in receipt of the support from  partner schools, it was also felt by host schools.

Note 1

The Logical Chain (Ofsted, 2006) noted that: ‘Few schools evaluated the impact of CPD on teaching and learning successfully’ a situation that appears not to have changed much.

Note 2

Thomas Guskey (2000) introduced a significant focus on evaluating CPD through the impact it had on learning outcomes for young people.  Guskey sees impact as being achieved at five potential levels:

participants’ reactions

participants’ learning

organisation support and change

participants’ use of new knowledge and skills

student learning outcomes

Crucially, he argues that we need to pay attention to all five levels of impact if the goal of improving classroom learning is to be achieved, especially levels 2 – 5.

Following Guskey, Goodall et al investigated the range of evaluative practices for CPD.  Using Guskey’s levels as a framework, they found that schools lacked experience, skills and tools to evaluate the impact of CPD.

(Acknowledgments to the  Teacher Development Trust)



  1. If the performance of the least effective 10% of teachers were brought up to ‘average’ then the ‘average’ would be higher than it is now and they would still be in the bottom 10%. I know we are all really bad at Maths in England (politicians who want everyone to be better than average included) but I do think that good CPD needs to be informed by and include accurate use of statistics and a full understanding of what average (mean, median and mode) means, and how it works – particularly if we want to be able to evaluate it quantitatively as well as qualitatively.

    There is also the more complex issue of what we think the role of education, schools and teachers are in our society. Should education be a market commodity or a pubic good? Can it be both? The role of schools, what counts as a good or effective teacher and so on will be different depending upon your view here. For example, if you think that it is the role of schools to offer a minority an education appropriate for political leadership and to initiate the majority into the values, attitudes and behaviour appropriate to their role as producers, workers and consumers, then the approach to curriculum development through outcomes, the view of community as territory and marketised networks, and effective teaching as a reproduction of centrally directed pedagogies are what count as good and effective. If you think that the role of the school is to initiate individuals into the values, attitudes and behaviour appropriate for active participation in democratic (in the widest sense) institutions and processes, then the approach to curriculum through process and praxis, a meaning of community that emphasises personal networks and relationships and teachers as professional and autonomous agents are what count as effective. I present this polarised view to make a point – situations are more complex, but we can’t have both transformation, creativity, critical thinking AND high compliance and accountability against non-negotiated standards that are not professionally owned. In terms of measuring pupil leaning, the same arguments apply – are we only measuring the anticipated and measurable or are we accounting for the unanticipated and unmeasurable? Democracy requires citizens who can think critically, whilst the market needs consumers who can be easily influenced by media and advertising – including parents, pupils, teachers and head teachers in our increasingly marketised education system. What is deemed important enough to measure, and which instruments are deemed to be the best ones for measuring are also to a large extent determined by your view of what an educated citizen looks like and what schools are for.

    So – what counts as good CPD, what counts as a measure of effective teaching and learning depends upon your ideological position and what you think schools, teachers and pupils are for and what the point of any of them is……

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