The model that could make CPD greater than it is

An innovative approach to CPD showed great promise before funding was pulled - and should inform the sector's approach to development

An innovative approach to CPD showed great promise before funding was pulled - and should inform the sector's approach to development

30 May 2024, 5:00

In 2022, Milton Keynes College Group won a government contract to run a professional development programme for post-16 English and maths teachers and called it the Greater Than Network.

It was a new model of continuing professional development (CPD), so a few months were spent setting up and recruiting a network lead. They then built up a membership of colleges across four different regions, delivered some well-received CPD including a sold-out face-to-face conference, and hit their engagement targets.

Sadly, the network closed this February, but the model has great potential and should be considered as a way to run a professional development programme in future.

My colleague at Sheffield Hallam, Sarah Boodt and I were commissioned to conduct the evaluation of the Greater Than Network. We worked on it from March 2023 until the programme closed. (In fact, I was a governor at Milton Keynes College Group from 2016 to 2023, so I was involved in the evaluation from the bidding stage.)

The Greater Than Network was one of a series of programmes commissioned by the Department for Education and intended to provide CPD to teachers and leaders of post-16 GCSE English and maths resits.

The funding was due to run from autumn 2022 until March 2025, but DfE took the decision to end the contract in February 2024 and the network closed when funding ceased.

The Greater Than Network was a different kind of CPD. It was neither a content-heavy traditional programme nor a fully informal teacher-led network. It was designed to create a space where English and maths GCSE resit and functional skills teachers and managers felt they belonged.

The intention was that some of the CPD would be driven by Milton Keynes College Group, that the network lead would encourage staff across the network to share, and that an individual at each college responsible for the link to the network (typically a manager) would encourage their staff to engage, either by sharing their good practice or asking for support from others.

All the indicators we accessed showed that the programme was working effectively

The network would facilitate the development of communities of practice and would be sufficiently flexible to adapt to new information, while also having a structured programme of CPD. The intention was a regular learning and discussion forum with some in-person events.

All the indicators we were able to access (mostly feedback surveys and some interviews with college, but also some session observations), showed that the programme was working effectively.

There were some regular attendees, teachers and managers were beginning to plan their college contributions, and the only full-day conference was sold out. It achieved its first-year targets around numbers of participating colleges (32 against a target of 30) and engaged individuals (690 against a target of 500).

The intended model had to shift to accommodate changing priorities. More CPD than had originally been planned was directly delivered by staff at Milton Keynes College Group. The stipend that had been intended to be shared equally among members of the network to make participation as easy as possible had instead become claimable only against specific receipts and expenses.

In addition, a planned autumn conference was cancelled at short notice, and there was a perception that there was too great a focus on digital which is unsurprisingly integral to the Milton Keynes College Group way, given it is the home of the Microsoft-backed South Central Institute of Technology.

Although the programme took time to get going, it is our feeling as evaluators that it showed promise. It was an interesting contribution to the range of CPD currently available to FE staff, one which aimed to empower teachers and managers in member colleges to present their own good practice, experiments and challenges in a supportive environment.

It was certainly an innovative addition to the FE CPD landscape, and a successful one. Future CPD programme developers and commissioners should consider developing the model further.

More information can be found in the evaluation report here

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