Nobody stays at the level of expert teacher or trainer without continuing appropriate and focused professional development throughout their working lives. Teachers and trainers in further education (FE) and skills need to keep a record of their continuing professional development (CPD) and declare the number of hours spent every year and the type of development undertaken to their employer and to their professional body, the Institute for Learning (IfL).

Every year, IfL carries out a random in-depth sample to identify effective practice in CPD and shares the findings with the sector. Our latest review, which covered the year to October 31, adopted a collaborative, discursive strategy to facilitate discussions on the reviewing, sharing and impact of CPD. IfL members representing all parts of the sector took part in 33 regional and local focus group meetings around the country.

It is interesting to see how closely IfL members’ preferred teaching and learning strategies mirror the findings of research into effective education for adults and young learners. John Hattie, who has conducted extensive research over the past 15 years, stresses the need for professional communities: “space for teachers to interpret the evidence about their effect on each student …”

This was borne out by the findings of our review: that directed CPD is not necessarily effective and more space is needed for self-directed and collaborative development opportunities.

IfL members were very clear about the type of CPD that does not work: top-down, prescriptive and generic training sessions and events.

The culture and management practices in a college or provider can promote or hamper professional learning that leads to excellent teaching and training practice.

This was the subject of a seminar we hosted with the 157 Group and the Institute of Education (IoE) for FE leaders and practitioners to discuss the leadership and creation of “expansive learning environments” to maximise professional learning and excellence in the FE sector.

We talked about self-directed and collaborative professional development that is integrated into normal working routines leading to the most meaningful impact on teaching practice, and agreed that provider organisations need to create more expansive learning environments for their teachers and trainers.

Lorna Unwin, professor of vocational education at the IoE, spoke of the central importance of leading learning in workplaces. She argued that expansive learning is creative and dynamic and constantly evolving, not confined by artificial workplace boundaries. Workplace learning cannot be expansive or restrictive on its own; it sits within the wider organisational context and is the product of the organisational structures and cultures of which it is part.

A key characteristic of an expansive learning environment is the belief that people at all levels across the organisation possess valuable skills and knowledge and have the capacity to learn, and that learning leads to more effective performance.

We heard how Birmingham Metropolitan College is establishing professional development centres on each campus, where teachers can reflect on and share their professional practice.

It has also set aside every Wednesday afternoon for collaborative professional development, and teachers drive the priorities for using this free space to create powerful team and cross team professional development.

IfL is working with other sector agencies, including the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), JISC and others, to ensure that teachers and trainers in FE and skills have access to CPD that helps them stay up to date in teaching methods and technological innovations, for the benefit of their learners.

While many employers over manage and structure CPD for teachers and trainers, others are showing how expansive learning environments enable highly effective development, which leads to brilliant teaching practice and better outcomes for learners.

 Dr Jean Kelly, Director of Professional Development at Institute for Learning