Managing Professional Learning and Development in Secondary Schools

Teaching is a complex and demanding profession. Teachers require high quality support and training throughout their careers to ensure they have the strategies and skills to meet the needs of learners. Professional learning and development (PLD) is central to maintaining and improving teacher quality.

This is one of two national reports by the Education Review Office (ERO) on how well schools manage teachers’ PLD. This one is about PLD in secondary schools and the other is on primary schools.

PLD refers to all the formal and informal processes used to improve the knowledge and practice of teachers. It includes more formal and specifically structured courses and initiatives as well as less formal collaboration and discussion between colleagues. The central purposes of professional learning and development are to improve the quality of teaching and to improve student outcomes.

While many different forms of training and development are undertaken by teachers, (including training to update curriculum knowledge or to develop particular pedagogical and technical skills), improving what happens in the classroom is the dominant rationale for PLD.
This report discusses how well secondary schools:

  • plan for PLD;
  • build a culture in which teachers learn and develop; and
  • monitor the effectiveness of teachers’ learning and development.

The report discusses the impact that schools achieve through their PLD programmes and some of the challenges for managing these programmes effectively. It also has an analysis of the levels of spending on PLD by secondary schools of different decile, location and size.

Schools fall into three categories of effectiveness. Of the 44 secondary schools in the evaluation 27 percent were in the most effective group. These schools managed their PLD well. They had a strong focus on improving student achievement and they had implemented effective school-wide development initiatives. Their strategic frameworks for PLD were understood and there was useful collaboration among staff. PLD at these schools contributed to better teaching and improvements in student achievement.

The second group included 30 percent of the schools. Aspects of their PLD were managed effectively but at least one significant area of their performance needed strengthening. This could be in their planning, their culture, their monitoring and/or their evaluation practice. PLD at these schools was not consistently making a significant impact on student learning.

Forty-three percent of the schools made up the third group. These schools demonstrated the least effective management of their PLD. There were significant weaknesses in the way they managed their teachers’ PLD. In most of these schools ERO found only a few instances where PLD had improved the quality of teaching and student achievement outcomes.

An important feature of this third group was the emphasis placed on attendance at one-day courses and teacher conferences, usually at the expense of school-wide PLD. While almost all schools included short courses in their PLD mix, an over-reliance on such activities meant that these schools did not develop robust school-wide approaches to PLD and spent more on average per teacher than the other two groups of secondary schools, where PLD was managed more effectively.

The report includes case studies that describe how eight different schools have managed their PLD. Four of these had effective management strategies and the other four were less effective. The different approaches taken by these schools have been presented to help staff in other schools reflect on how professional learning and development can best be managed in their situation. The report also includes a series of self-review questions on PLD. These can be used for reflection by senior leaders and at departmental level.

If the purposes of professional learning and development are to improve the quality of teaching and to improve student outcomes, self review is a critical element in determining the effectiveness of school and teacher practice in PLD. Schools with good systems to manage PLD can demonstrate the impact their programmes are having on improved teacher practice and student outcomes. However, variability in the quality of PLD management signals a place for guidelines to support schools in managing their PLD programmes.

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Commissioning agencies
Date of last publication
May 2009

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