Uptake of – and opportunities for – continuing professional development (CPD) in a key part of the education field are in bad shape, according to a new, government report.

Published on 8 February, Teaching, Leadership and Governance in Further Education points out that FE teachers are spending, on average, just 15 hours per year on CPD. In an even more concerning finding, it notes that 60% of FE teachers are not doing any CPD at all.

Based on data from 2015 and 2016, the report highlights leadership issues as a key factor behind the problem: “Senior leaders in FE often have an insufficient focus on teaching and learning,” it says, “and this can lead to a lack of CPD to enable FE teachers to improve.”

It adds: “CPD opportunities in FE are few, and access is made difficult by lack of funding, the sessional nature of the work, and there being less of a tradition of inter-institutional collaborative networks to share good practice than there is in schools.”

In institutions where CPD is available, the report notes, it is appreciated. Collaborative forms of CPD, it says, “are most valued by teachers”, with those types of learning including peer observations, formal and informal networks, coaching and mentoring and action research. The data also indicates that professional development that revolves around teachers’ subject specialisms – including through coaching and mentoring – is also important.

However, it adds, “some teachers operate in limited teacher/CPD networks without the opportunity to forge links with similar subject-specialist teachers and are therefore left to develop subject and occupational expertise in isolation. It has been argued that external mentors/coaches from within teachers’ subject specialisms may help address this gap.”

What are the risks that a profession will face if it loses sight of CPD – and how can it benefit by making CPD a fundamental part of its fabric?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's CEO Phil James says: “You have to engage in constant updating and learning – not just within your specialist subject area, as this report suggests, but in how you operate within your profession as one of its representatives. In other words, your CPD must encompass developments that lie outside your subject, but have a broader impact on the industry you’re in.

“So in the FE sector, where you’re looking at teachers who specialise in everything from catering to physics – yes, they must keep abreast of what is happening in those areas. But they must also examine and understand developments in learning technology, fresh insights into the ways that people are learning, and any other bold, new ideas that are helping to drive the profession as a whole forward.”

James notes: “undoubtedly, when you get a group of professionals together in the same room, they will delight in talking to each other about emerging trends – and, through that, they will naturally learn a great deal from each other. The clamour for peer-based activities that emerges from this report is something that I hear over and over again from other parts of the working world.

“I have lost count of the number of times when people have said at the professional courses I’ve attended that the coffee breaks are the best part. If the course has been well organised, and the material is thought provoking, then that will give the coffee-break conversation focus, and people will debate and brainstorm aloud about the new possibilities to which they’ve been introduced.

Where James takes issue with the report’s recommendations is that they fail to distinguish between coaching and mentoring. “Yes, a mentor within your subject area is brilliant,” he says, “because they will really understand the challenges that are part and parcel of delivering learning in your specific field – whether that happens to be catering or physics. But coaching is much more targeted towards the technical side of how you operate as a professional – drilling down into any techniques where you may have shortcomings or difficulties and helping you to polish those skills.

“But to amplify the report’s message, we at the Institute would really stress the huge advantages that a profession can gain from encouraging like-minded individuals to intermingle. Sharing insights into professional practices is something that I totally applaud, and through its various bodies and associations, any industry should provide as many opportunities as possible for that to happen. The same goes for the numbers and influence of mentors and coaches within the professional environment.”

James adds: “Not only will those steps combine to encourage high standards of delivery across the profession – they will also help the profession as a whole to feel more cohesive, with everyone in it feeling that they have a stake in upholding quality, and that they can rely upon each other for advice and guidance. So, going back to the headline question, a profession that fails to put proper emphasis on CPD and somehow lets it slip will miss out on a significant amount of that collective knowledge base and goodwill. It is important for professions to take this seriously. People need to be learning, and to be supported in that learning. If they have that support, they will flourish.”

For further thoughts on CPD and other aspects of talent development, check out these learning resources from the Institute