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How does collaborative Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers of the 5-16 age range affect teaching and learning? Summary

This summary sets out the background and framework for the review, it then outlines the results in relation to the design, content methodology and context of the studies and concludes with implications for practitioners and policy-makers.


This review grew out of established National Union of Teachers (NUT) initiatives in teachers' professional development. It was funded principally by the NUT, and additional resources were provided by the General Teaching Council and the Department for Education and Skills via registration with the EPPI Centre. A systematic approach to research in CPD is timely because many national and international initiatives depend upon significant advances in teacher learning. For example, the UK government's CPD strategy is aimed at enabling teachers to take more control of their own professional development and it also plans to give schools much more direct control of the funding for CPD. Teachers and schools need and want to know more about how professional development might help them develop professional knowledge, skills and careers at the same time as enhancing pupil learning.

The review was initiated in the context of an earlier, interpretative review of teachers' acquisition and use of knowledge (Cordingley and Bell, 2002) which drew extensively on evidence about the importance of teacher experimentation, feedback and coaching (e.g. Joyce and Showers, 1988). The review also drew on the work of various authors about the stages of teacher development, such as Hargreaves' (1993) modelling of the way in which teachers are able cumulatively to extend aspects of practice, and the work of Rich (1993) on the learning of beginning and expert teachers.


Our aim was systematically to review the literature on CPD in order to discover evidence about sustained, collaborative CPD and its effect on teaching and learning. For this review, collaborative CPD included teachers working together, and teachers working with local education authority (LEA), Higher Education Institute (HEI) or other professional colleagues on a sustained basis.

Whilst the core purpose of CPD is enhancing student learning, it is crucially focused on teacher learning and teacher beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours as a means to that end. The review was therefore conducted with a strong focus on the expressed needs and interests of teachers in relation to their students' learning.

Review questions

The overarching question for the review is:

How does collaborative CPD for teachers of the 5-16 age range affect teaching and learning?

This was unpacked into two interrelated sub-questions about

Whether collaborative CPD for teachers of the 5-16 age range has an impact on teaching and learning?

and if so,

How is this impact realised and manifested?


The decision to pursue studies that attempted to relate teacher learning and pupil learning was a radical one given the number of intervening variables and the apparent paucity of studies in this area. However, this goal and the focus on sustained and collaborative CPD were driven initially by teacher interest. Early trial searches informed by the work on CPD outcomes of Harland and Kinder (1997), Joyce and Showers (1988) and Day (1999) gave us confidence that the question would generate studies likely to produce positive findings of interest to teachers. In particular, we wanted to be able to attend to teachers' interest in the nature of CPD and the different ways in which it affected teachers and students.


Initially, the review protocol set out in detail the aims and scope of the review, the review question and the methods by which the review would be undertaken.

Identification of studies

For practical reasons, the review has focused on studies carried out since 1988 across the 5-16 age range that were reported in English, although there were no geographical limits.

Collaborative CPD as defined in the review protocol included teachers working together on a sustained basis and/or teachers working with LEA, HEI or other professional colleagues. It did not include individual teachers working on their own and excluded one-off, one-day or short residential courses with no planned classroom activities as a follow-up and/or no plans for building systematically upon existing practice. Studies had to provide evidence about planned opportunities for teachers' learning prior to, during and/or after specific interventions to enable teachers to relate inputs to existing and future practice.

Methods of identifying studies for the systematic map and in-depth review comprised:

  • a systematic search of the literature, using electronic databases, handsearching key journals, word of mouth, citations and websites
  • the application of a set of initial inclusion criteria to the titles and abstracts thus uncovered
  • retrieval of full reports, to which the criteria were re-applied to see if they were suitable for inclusion in the mapping stage of the review
  • keywording all the included reports by EPPI Centre core keywords, such as type of study, type of setting, age and curriculum focus, as well as a number of review-specific keywords to distinguish finer detail between types of intervention, teachers and processes
  • the application of a second, narrower set of inclusion criteria to the keyworded reports, to ensure that only studies which contained data about the impact of the CPD on pupils were retained for in-depth review
  • using EPPI Centre data-extraction software to extract data from the studies and to assess the weight of evidence they provided for answering the review-specific question.


Mapping of all included studies

The Stage 1 inclusion criteria targeted studies that fell within review boundaries and contained sufficient contextual and methodological data to be a source of potential evidence for the review question. We sifted systematically 13,479 titles and abstracts, reviewed 266 full studies and identified 72 studies as relevant, and so keyworded their content to create a map of the literature.

Studies selected for in-depth review

At Stage 2, the review group narrowed the focus further by restricting the review to CPD activities that explicitly set out to investigate impact upon teaching and/or learning processes and outcomes. Seventeen studies met a second set of inclusion criteria which were explored independently by two separate reviewers, each using the EPPI Centre data-extraction guidelines. Any irreconcilable differences between reviewers were referred to a third reviewer. Both the application of inclusion criteria, keywording and data extraction were systematically cross-moderated by members of the review group and EPPI Centre staff.

The majority of studies reviewed in-depth came from the USA (nine), with one each from Scotland and England, two from Canada, two from New Zealand and one each from South Africa and Namibia. The settings in which the studies took place were almost evenly divided between the primary and secondary age phases. Mathematics and science featured strongly as the curriculum context (11 of the studies selected for in-depth review either focused on maths and/or science or used these subjects as the vehicle for trialling the CPD intervention).

Thirteen of the studies were designed by researchers to test a particular hypothesis about one or more forms of CPD and two involved naturalistic evaluations of CPD activities. Two studies combined elements of both approaches.

Of the 17 studies that met the inclusion criteria for the in-depth review, two were judged to have low weight of evidence for assessing whether or not CPD had an impact, and one of these was also judged to have low weight of evidence for assessing how this impact was realised. One study (Gersten et al., 1995 - study 359) was judged to have low to medium weight of evidence after data extraction was completed in relation to whether CPD had an impact. This complex study provided patchy evidence. In some areas evidence was of medium or even high quality in relation to our question: for example, it contained detailed evidence about impact upon teacher practice, although in some other areas it was of low quality. Although we excluded studies with uniformly weak evidence in relation to our question, we did not exclude Gersten because of this mixed pattern of evidence - but we have used this study to illustrate findings only in areas where the evidence was judged to be of medium quality. Therefore our syntheses and conclusions are based on 15 studies that provided low/medium or higher weight of evidence to investigate whether CPD had an impact, and 15 studies that provided medium or higher weight of evidence to investigate how CPD had an impact.

The findings deal separately with the question of whether the CPD had an impact [1] and then with how such impact manifested itself and was realised.

Did the collaborative CPD have an impact?

In all but one of the 15 studies on which we based our findings, the collaborative CPD was linked with improvements in both teaching and learning; many of these improvements were substantial.

These can be separated into outcomes related to the teachers, to their students, to the CPD processes involved and the research itself. There was contradictory evidence in one study and from some comparisons of different types of CPD or cohort groups.

How was impact realised and manifested?

In relation to teachers

The changes in teacher behaviours reported in the studies included:

  • greater confidence among the teachers
  • enhanced beliefs among teachers of their power to make a difference to their pupils' learning (self-efficacy)
  • the development of enthusiasm for collaborative working, notwithstanding initial anxieties about being observed and receiving feedback
  • a greater commitment to changing practice and willingness to try new things.

Positive outcomes of the impact of collaborative CPD sometimes emerged only after periods of relative discomfort in trying out new approaches; things often got worse before they got better. Collaboration was important in sustaining change.

Time for discussion, planning and feedback, and access to suitable resources were a common concern in many of the studies.

Collaborative CPD was embedded in many studies in the development of collaborative practice such as joint planning and team teaching.

There was evidence in some of the studies that teachers changed their practice to make use of specific tools or interventions which introduced greater collaboration. Such collaboration related to generic learning processes such as activities to generate more effective and targeted dialogue between students, and to specific teacher activities, including, for example:

  • a conscious effort by teachers to use computers more for both instruction and collaborative planning; or
  • a conscious effort to increase the range of teaching and learning strategies targeted at specific student needs.

The focus of the interventions was broadly related to:

  • developing teachers' knowledge, understanding or skills (often in relation to a specific curriculum area); or
  • developing teachers' beliefs, behaviours and/or attitudes, targeted usually at increasing dynamic learning and teaching exchanges with students.

Fifteen programmes set out explicitly to introduce highly specific programmes, curricula or activities or to test specific forms of CPD that could be tailored to any aspect of teaching. Such programmes, however, inevitably also embraced more generic changes and led to (positive) unforeseen outcomes, so our reporting concentrates upon outcomes.

In relation to students

The positive outcomes for students concentrated on measured improvements in student performance or specifically assessed learning approaches, including:

  • demonstrable enhancement of student motivation
  • improvements in performance such as improved test results, greater ability in decoding, enhanced reading fluency
  • more positive responses to specific subjects
  • better organisation of work
  • increased sophistication in response to questions
  • the development of a wider range of learning activities in class and strategies for students.

There were some unanticipated pupil outcomes reported in relation to changes in attitudes and beliefs, including increased satisfaction with their work, enhanced motivation, increased confidence and increasingly active participation.

There was some evidence that where CPD aimed to increase collaborative working among pupils, the collaboration between teacher participants acted as a model.

In relation to the CPD processes

Disappointingly, if understandably, given the complexity of the variables involved, studies tended to report in detail on either the outcomes or the CPD processes, rarely both. Nonetheless there were sufficient data from the synthesis across the studies to enable us to identify a number of core features of the CPD which were linked, in combination, to positive outcomes, including:

  • the use of external expertise linked to school-based activity
  • observation
  • feedback (usually based on observation)
  • an emphasis on peer support rather than leadership by supervisors
  • scope for teacher participants to identify their own CPD focus
  • processes to encourage, extend and structure professional dialogue
  • processes for sustaining the CPD over time to enable teachers to embed the practices in their own classroom settings.

Eleven studies reported specific arrangements for enabling teacher time to be dedicated to sustained development, for example by providing negotiated non-contact time, including collaborative lesson planning within workshops and team teaching.

There was also evidence in many studies on how the interventions were designed to take account of what teachers knew and could do already.

Interesting but less widespread findings regarding processes included the following:

  • Action research was used as the vehicle for CPD in five of the studies.
  • Research literature was used as a springboard for dialogue/ experimentation in six of the studies.
  • Providing paid or negotiated non-contract time for participating teachers was a feature in five studies.
  • Explicit and self-conscious modelling within CPD of the learning support/facilitation practices that the programme aimed to enable among students featured in three studies.

Contradictory or negative outcomes

There was one study in which the collaborative and sustained CPD did not lead to the targeted improvements. This CPD simultaneously targeted changing the learning environment and increases in teachers' use of ICT. Student views that their learning environment had not changed led the teachers in this study to commit themselves to an additional, more specifically focused year of action research. Sustained and collaborative CPD was also less effective where:

  • a group in one study was not involved in direct classroom observation (compared with groups that were)
  • one of two groups focusing on the most challenging pupils were novices and much less able to benefit from the programme than experienced colleagues
  • there was no subject input into an intervention intended to achieve subject-specific changes.

In relation to the research

Information about context and process in relation to the CPD intervention tended to be under-reported, as were:

  • characteristics of teachers in the samples and how they were recruited; and
  • methodological detail.

This makes it difficult for practitioners and policy-makers who are making decisions about evidence-based change to respond to individual studies.

CPD processes and research processes were also sometimes confused; for example, it was sometimes difficult to ascertain whether observation was being used simply for data-collection purposes or as an integral part of the CPD process.


Implications for practitioners

Any implications are inevitably an interpretation of data by the review team. To identify implications for practitioners and policy-makers, we have worked in consultation with key individuals from each group.

There is evidence in this review that collaborative CPD is capable of supporting successful outcomes for teachers and pupils although further reviews will be needed to establish whether other forms of CPD are capable of similar impact.

In exploring potential CPD options, teachers may wish to identify whether CPD opportunities involve collaboration on a sustained basis.

If there are no programmes on offer which are relevant, teachers may wish to explore with colleagues whether non-collaborative CPD activities could be followed up collaboratively in a school programme. This may be of particular interest to teachers who, while open to new approaches, are concerned about short-term fads.

The CPD programmes in this review involved quite a range of activities for ensuring that the CPD identified and built on what the teachers knew, believed or could do already.

Exploring how CPD programmes approach this or, if they don't do so explicitly, asking whether there are choices in the programme to enable individuals to find an appropriate focus and level, may enable individuals both to identify their own needs and to ensure that they are taken into account.

Collaboration and coaching highlighted in this review as being linked with positive effects for teachers and students are grounded in classroom observation and sustained support related to it. This is clearly an expensive process and such opportunities will need to be negotiated.

It may be better to seek fewer opportunities of this sort than several cheaper, more episodic opportunities.

All the CPD being studied involved a complex combination of activities; no one element worked on its own. Some CPD providers may find it difficult to offer such complex combinations.

Pairs and groups of practitioners may be able to combine several separate opportunities. It may therefore be important to consider how each individual opportunity can be connected to other activities and to let CPD providers know about established in-school coaching or peer coaching programmes so that they can help individuals plan to integrate course inputs with the coaching process.

In this review, alongside offering teachers a straightforward choice, observation and feedback or peer coaching and action research were used to enable teachers to work on their own needs and interests, albeit within a framework set by others.

Seeking professional development programmes that involve these activities may help to make sure that CPD that addresses school priorities is also able to respond to individual needs.

There is widespread use in these studies of a combination of external expertise and peer support mechanisms.

Practitioners may wish to consider carefully how to secure the benefits of external support highlighted in this review. They may also wish to consider how far peer support can be used as a means of supplementing external expertise cost effectively as well as the training in coaching/ consultancy that they may need in order to develop this.

There is evidence here that things get worse before they get better but that it is worth getting over initial discomfort or reluctance and shyness about being observed and sharing problems with colleagues. Indeed the benefits spread well beyond the areas targeted by the CPD, for example resulting in enthusiasm about professional learning and to increases in confidence.

Implications for policy-makers

The Review Group consulted widely among the different policy stakeholders in the UK to help identify the main issues highlighted by the review which had implications for policy-makers involved in:

  • school leadership
  • local and national government
  • supporting teachers' professional development
  • professional and subject representation.


This review offers detailed evidence that sustained and collaborative CPD was linked with a positive impact upon teachers' repertoire of teaching and learning strategies, their ability to match these to their students' needs, their self-esteem and confidence, and their commitment to continuing learning and development. There is also evidence that such CPD was linked with a positive impact upon students' learning processes, motivation and outcomes.

This means that funding collaborative CPD that is sustained could be a powerful component of international, national, regional, local and school efforts to improve teaching, enhance learning and raise standards. Policy-makers at all levels may wish to consider reviewing their policies and resource strategies for CPD to explore whether sustained and collaborative CPD of the type illustrated by this review might increase their effectiveness.

The positive findings about the links between collaborative and sustained CPD and increased teacher confidence, self-esteem, enthusiasm and commitment to continuing to learn about teaching, all address important issues related to teacher retention and recruitment.

Policy-makers at international, national, regional, local and school level should consider whether current CPD programmes and activities could make a greater contribution to recruitment and retention if they were organised on a collaborative and sustained basis.

Teacher-focused CPD

All the CPD in the data-extracted studies was focused on the particular needs of the teachers and the impact of the CPD on their work and their students. The CPD was also located firmly in the school and classroom context. Most of the research reported here started with teachers' expressed learning needs, took account of different starting points for individual teachers at every level and involved activities to develop and sustain teacher ownership of CPD.

Policy-makers at every level who are responsible for developing CPD will wish to consider whether activities take full account of the specific needs and concerns of teachers in their implementation strategies and put in place arrangements to develop and foster teacher ownership and avoid an over-managerial approach.

They may also wish to consider how far a focus on the needs of schools as a whole enables teachers and providers to connect school and individual needs and to explore how far a focus on the needs of the school inhibits or facilitates differentiation and responsiveness to the professional judgements of teachers.

Structured collaboration

The CPD reported in the review was not about naive discovery or 'curriculum tourism'. It was a structured way of working, involving considerable co-ordination, built on clarity about the nature of adult and pupil learning processes.

A current interest in collaboration among policy-makers could be enhanced by a focus on the forms of collaboration. In particular, funding and provision mechanisms may need to take account of:

  • the need for specialist, expert input in relation to:
    • the aspect of pedagogy being explored
    • working with teachers
    • coaching, including, where appropriate, the development of peer-coaching skills
  • arrangements for developing internal peer support complemented by specialist external inputs
  • arrangements for sustaining learning over time so that new approaches can be adapted, experimented with and integrated incrementally into existing practice
  • differentiation strategies that take account of individual teachers' needs
  • arrangements for creating a distinctive space where it is safe to admit need
  • the potential for collaboration between teachers to lead to collaborative ways of pupil working.

Providers at every level may wish to start conceiving and describing CPD opportunities in terms of the messages from the research so that teachers and schools know exactly what they are buying into. For example, CPD providers could describe in more detail how they will:

  • respond specifically to the needs of teachers at different stages of development
  • encourage and support the development of in-school coaching
  • provide specialist input
  • sustain effort over time.

Similarly, when policy intervenes in relation to pedagogy, the evidence from this review about the key issues outlined above should inform implementation strategies so that classroom teachers are helped to enhance their practice effectively and move beyond superficial adoption of strategies to embedding new approaches reflectively into their practice.

The evidence from this review relating to effective support for teacher learning could also offer some texture to the 'dissemination' of best practice strategies.

Policy-makers at every level may wish to consider how far dissemination of best practice is conceived as a learning process that includes detailed and expert specification of excellence but embeds this in combinations of CPD activities specifically structured to meet the needs of the learners.

Accountability and accreditation

The CPD reported in this review consisted of a combination of complex activities in a context where it was safe to admit need and which was responsive to individual needs. At the same time, all the CPD programmes in our high- or medium-rated studies had a clear focus and purpose. They incorporated measures for assessing effectiveness, including pupil impact. The CPD in these studies involved a strong sense of accountability to colleagues and to pupils.

Policy-makers at every level should consider whether accountability to fellow participants in CPD programmes and to pupils can or should be developed to create fit-for-purpose evaluation instruments where evidence collected contributes directly to the CPD.

Forms of support

Most of the studies in this review involved some form of coaching, including observation and feedback, and a combination of external and internal specialist and peer input.

Coaching as carried out in the programmes in this review is expensive, especially when initially building coaching skills, but there is evidence that the initial investment is effective and self-sustaining.

Policy-makers at all levels may wish to consider whether it is possible to encourage schools to buy into CPD programmes involving sustained collaborative working and coaching by:

  • encouraging schools to cluster together for different CPD inputs
  • achieving a critical mass of teachers with peer coaching skills so that all CPD can be sustained between external inputs
  • making links with existing ITT programmes to build on and embed coaching and mentoring skills.

Implications for research

Our early priority has been to work on implications for practitioners and policy-makers. The 'implications for research' shown below will be considered more fully at a forthcoming conference of the British Education Research Association, hence the following implications are provisional.

  • Researchers need to report information about the context and process of the CPD intervention, including the characteristics of the samples, recruitment strategies and details of the methodology.
  • Researchers need to ensure clear differentiation between elements of the CPD process and those of the research process, so as to enable accurate interpretation of the results and processes.
  • Practitioners have indicated that they value research studies which include information considering both the impact on students and on the teachers completing the CPD process.
  • Research needs to encompass a variety of curriculum areas. The present research found that the majority of studies focused on maths, ICT and science. It is important to know whether the effects of CPD are found across all curriculum areas.
  • Reviews are needed that look at other forms of CPD.
  • Study reports need to concentrate on both CPD processes and outcomes to ensure that practitioners know both whether an intervention is effective and how it was implemented.
  • There is a need for much greater clarity in providing clear titles and abstracts for studies that will enable search enquiries to identify relaxant material.

Strengths and limitations of the review


  • A strength of this review is the close involvement of a number of user groups in setting and refining the questions and interpreting and disseminating the findings.
  • The authors of the review went to great lengths to work with users and to work from their perspectives at every stage, and to explain the link between professional development, teacher practice and pupil learning (three important fields of activity that the system needs to be able to connect but that involve multiple, complex and dynamic interactions).
  • The CPD review group believes that it can build on both the findings and experiences of this first review. In particular:
    • The review provides the basis from which to continue to unpack the specific processes involved in the CPD intervention and to establish those which appear to influence change in teacher practice.
    • The review details a range of approaches to the problematic issues of the measurement of student and teacher outcomes. These have the potential to inform approaches to CPD evaluation in policy and practice.

Our question focused on impact. Since our teacher reviewers and advisers were resolute about the importance of impact information, we have described in Chapter 2 of this review how we used the availability of such data as a filter for inclusion. For practitioners, knowledge about the positive impact of collaborative approaches to CPD simply generates a thirst for more information about how those approaches worked on the ground.


We were conscious throughout of the limitations of the data. None of the studies was designed to answer our review question directly. In particular, we found:

  • A tendency for the study reports to concentrate on either inputs and CPD processes or outputs/outcomes (effects on teachers and students) but rarely on both these types of data.
  • Very few of the study designs were appropriate for assessing the effects of collaborative CPD. Hence conclusions about whether collaborative CPD 'works' are more tentative than those about how it works.
  • A surprising lack of detail about important elements of the CPD processes, even where these were the main focus of the report.
  • A lack of explicit definitions of core terms.
  • A disappointing lack of detail about the teacher participants in some of the studies and the different aims and foci of the studies.
  • Many of the studies focused on maths, ICT and science and so it not known whether the findings also apply in other curriculum areas.
  • Many of the studies were conducted in the USA and so it not known whether the findings also apply in other geographical areas.
  • There may well have been additional fruitful data in a number of PhD studies. However, we were unable to retrieve these within our timescale and note that these data remain unexplored.


Cordingley P, Bell M (2002) Literature and evidence search: teachers’ use of research and evidence as they learn to teach and improve their teaching. London: TTA. (Unpublished)

Day C (1999) Developing Teachers: The challenges of lifelong learning. London: Falmer Press.

Gersten R, Morvant M, Brengelman S (1995) Close to the classroom is close to the bone: coaching as a means to translate research into classroom practice. Exceptional Children 62: 52-66

Harland J, Kinder K (1997) Teachers’ continuing professional development: framing a model of outcomes. British Journal of In-Service Education 23: 71-84.

Hargreaves DH (1993) A common-sense model of the professional development of teachers. In: Elliott J (ed) Reconstructing Teacher Education: Teacher development. London: Falmer.

Joyce B, Showers B (1988) Student Achievement through Staff Development. London: Longman.

Rich I (1993) Stability and change in teacher expertise. Teachers and Learning 9: 137-141.

[1] Most of the research evidence identified by this review was from studies reporting correlations between collaborative CPD and a range of outcomes. Throughout the report we use the term 'linked' to refer to such evidence.

This report should be cited as: Cordingley P, Bell M, Rundell B, Evans D (2003) The impact of collaborative CPD on classroom teaching and learning. In: Research Evidence in Education Library.  London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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