19th February 2020

Evidence review: The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students

A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), commissioned by Wellcome, undertakes a detailed review of the evidence on the impact of teacher professional development. 

The study, which includes analysis from Ambition Institute, examines 52 randomised controlled trials evaluating teacher development programmes, in order to establish their impact on pupil and teacher outcomes.  

Continuing professional development (CPD), which can include training courses, mentoring, seminars and peer review, can play a crucial role in improving teaching quality.

You can download the report here.

Key findings

The impact of professional development on pupils

  • High-quality CPD for teachers has a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes. CPD programmes have the potential to close the gap between beginner and more experienced teachers: the impact of CPD on pupil outcomes (effect size 0.09) compares to the impact of having a teacher with ten years’ experience rather than a new graduate (0.11). CPD also has similar attainment effects to those generated by large, structural reforms to the school system (0.1).   
  • Evidence suggests that quality CPD has a greater effect on pupil attainment than other interventions schools may consider, such as implementing performance-related pay for teachers or lengthening the school day.
  • Teacher CPD may be a cost-effective intervention for improving pupil outcomes: while there are other interventions with a larger impact on pupil attainment, such as one-to-one tutoring (0.28), these programmes are typically far more expensive.
  • CPD programmes generally produce positive responses from teachers, in contrast to other interventions. Large, structural changes to the school system, while as effective at improving pupil outcomes, incur substantial costs in terms of staff turnover and dissatisfaction.

The impact of professional development on teacher retention

  • Increasing the availability of high-quality CPD has been shown to improve retention problems, particularly for early-career teachers. While factors other than access to CPD tend to be behind teachers’ decisions to quit the profession, there is evidence supporting targeted CPD programmes for teachers in the early stages of their careers.
  • Induction training and mentoring programmes are particularly effective for improving retention rates early on. Quality CPD has the potential to alleviate acute retention problems for early-career teachers.

Improving access to professional development for teachers

  • Teacher turnover is a major impediment to the effectiveness of a CPD programme: those programmes that can offer flexibility to account for volatility in the teacher labour market are more likely to be successful. Additional support for new teachers joining the CPD programme half-way through the year, could be offered to mitigate this.
  • Professional development is more accessible for teachers and has a greater impact when it receives sustained support from school leaders. Those designing CPD programmes can also ensure continuity by adapting to any changes in school leadership.
  • CPD programmes that make allowances for workload and limited teacher time are also likely to be more effective. High teacher workload represents one of the greatest obstacles to accessing CPD; interventions are likely to see success if they are both attractive and strive to minimise the demands placed on teachers. 

Recommendations for future research

  • While research on high-quality professional development demonstrates a positive impact on pupil attainment, further studies are needed to establish the effect of CPD interventions on pupils’ long-term learning outcomes. Longer-term evaluations on CPD could be achieved in a light-touch way, for example by obtaining follow-up data for studies through the National Pupil Database.