Middle Leadership Mastery Expansion Pack 3: Planning Subject Specific CPD

The way CPD has been structured has been going through a quiet revolution over the last few years. If you think back 5 years or so it would have been highly likely that your CPD was a series of days in the hall with external speakers. You may have twilight sessions every half term that involve staying late and working as a school on a particular T&L focus. It was all very centralised and formal.

The move towards a curriculum focus has helped schools recognise the value of subject specific CPD. The idea is that there is great value in departments meeting regularly to discuss what great teaching looks like in their subject. They can work together to improve each others subject knowledge (SK) and also how this knowledge is best taught, called pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). I was first introduced to this idea by Shaun Allison at Durrington in his blog

While this movement toward greater subject autonomy is generally a good thing it does have a number of potential pitfalls. Firstly, it adds another thing to the job description of the subject leaders. That job description is already vast and demanding. Secondly it works on the assumption that subject leads actually have the knowledge and skill to successfully plan and deliver weekly or fortnightly CPD that is impactful. 

I don’t mean to imply that subject leaders are not strong teachers, or that they are unaware of what god teaching in their subject looks like. More that, when they are hired, their ability to do these things is not a priority. 

Part of my role as Lead Practitioner is to support our Subject Leaders to deliver effective CPD as part of their weekly meetings. When I surveyed them in January it was clear that there was a significant proportion of subject leaders that were struggling to understand what an effective CPD session might look like. It was also clear that they were finding it hard to balance the CPD needs of the team with the operational items that inevitably become part of the meetings. So I set to work trying to build a model for CPD that busy subject leader can use to plan their sessions.

Building the model

I stole some ideas from Mark and Zoe Ensers work on the Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle from the book The CPD Curriculum and set to work trying to organise and prioritise the ideas around common themes. I then went through the EEF effective CPD mechanisms to ensure I had covered them all.

This is what I created. Essentially it aims to encourage subject leaders to plan a series of sessions at one time. This enables them to map out their priorities over time. Obviously I’d recommend an amount of flexibility as priorities change. 


First on the list is the operational agenda. Best to look at these important things first, not because they are more important. Sometimes they are more urgent but the main reason is because these are the things that leaders think of first. As you can see from the examples, sometimes the agenda is just operational, you need that time to work together to do something that is both urgent and important. Other times there are different priorities, and the examples try to show them.

CPD focus

Self explanatory.

Setting the stage

Just like the students, teacher need to retrieve knowledge multiple times to ensure they remember it. Some can worry this kind of idea can come across as patronising, but in my experience it can be a bit of fun. It is not relevant but getting staff to recall what they did in a prior session or the current policy that you plan on tweaking is valuable as a kind of Do Now at the start.

Secondly we need to communicate the ‘why’ to our teams. If we are going to keep our teachers for an hour they need to know what we will do and why. What problems does this session solve? How will it enhance the students’ experience or reduce workload? This section is all about preparing staff to be ready to change before you introduce the changes you want to make. Taking the time to do this prevents the rest of the session being a wasted opportunity.

Delivering new ideas

Then it’s all about delivering new information. Who will we get to deliver? Is the leader the best person? If we need an expert can we reach out to someone (check my website;)) or do we need to delay the session to allow time for a team member to do some studying ahead of delivering a session to the whole team? Hw is it best to explain this change, should we live model it, discuss and agree on a consensus? Troubleshoot a few suggestions? Watch a video from a webinar? What worked examples will we need to make staff aware of the applicability and utility conditions? 

Embedding into practice

The section that normally gets rushed. What is the best way to practice this idea? Does it need deliberate practice in pairs? Or will co-planning provide the necessary cue and support? What will successful implementation look like? We need to make it clear to our teams what this should look like when done right and what benefits they should look for. By allowing them to practice, action plan and visualise success, they can monitor their progress subconsciously and reflect back. This can become a shared focus over the week with informal discussion and evidence through learning walks.   

I think schools that are devoting protected time to department CPD are doing a great thing. I do worry that without support, subject leaders might be unable to deliver the most effective training possible. From my perspective I always aimed to hit two things at once. One SK and other PCK, for example discussing the teaching of moles and the use of mini-whiteboards. That way you are improving teachers’ SK and continuing to progress the department’s PCK as well.

Thanks to Katie Braham and Ruth Ashbee for some early feedback that helped bring the form together. 

I hope this helps you plan your CPD. I welcome any feedback you have.

Click on the link below to get a pdf of my proforma

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