Looking with Fresh Eyes : Ways Forward for CPD in Physical Education

Looking with Fresh Eyes : Ways Forward for CPD in Physical Education

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002

Paper Presentation: 9.00am Thursday 12th September

Looking with ‘Fresh Eyes’: Ways Forward for CPD in Physical Education.


Kathleen Armour & Martin Yelling (Loughborough University, UK)

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers is at the forefront of the government's drive towards educational reform. Much is invested in the notion of high quality professional development that can enhance teacher knowledge and impact upon pupil learning. Current research identifies the characteristics of effective CPD as: involving collaborative participation, allowing some teacher autonomy, drawing upon relevant and up-to-date knowledge, involving active learning, focussing explicitly on pupil learning, and forming part of a coherent learning programme. Data from ongoing interview and survey research at Loughborough University makes it difficult to see how current CPD opportunities in physical education (PE) meet the criteria for effective CPD. What seems most likely is that PE teachers will encounter the type of provision that is deemed ineffective. Perhaps this explains why for many PE teachers, the predominant route for career progression is out of PE. We argue that there is a need for CPD provision in PE to be radically re-evaluated, and we suggest five steps towards that goal: consider the needs of experienced PE teachers who ought to be able to undertake challenging professional development within their subject; promote the use of ‘classroom ethnography’ enabling PE teachers to ‘look with fresh eyes’ at their pupils and curricula (Duckworth, 1997); focus on developing a ‘pedagogy for learning’ (Hargreaves, 2001) for PE; encourage collaborative professional learning within PE departments; and consider the professional development needs of PE-CPD providers to enable them to provide new forms of support for new forms of teacher learning.

The paper will be presented in five sections.

Section 1: CPD today: the excellence paradox

  • Measured standards in education are rising (relentlessly)
  • Crisis in education: unsustainable profession
  • CPD not a panacea but helpful?
  • Government strategy
  • Much depends on definitions of teaching & of CPD

Paradox: pupils' achievements as measured in public examination/test results are rising, whilst at the same time there is a ‘crisis in education’: poor teacher morale, low levels of teacher recruitment and retention, and the potentially damaging impact of these two factors upon effective pupil learning (Horne, 2000). The Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested that, in a period of increasing resources for schools, supply cannot meet demand because excessive teacher workloads, poor pupil behaviour, poor management, public criticism, a lack of autonomy and fewer opportunities for creativity are reducing teacher status and rendering the profession unattractive (Johnson, 2001a). This leads the authors to conclude that teaching is rapidly becoming an unsustainable profession.

CPD: Some suggest that professional development can be a partial solution to the problems facing teaching. Johnson (2001b) claims the importance of CPD cannot, and should not, be underestimated and suggests that access to high quality CPD should be ‘both a contractual right and duty’ for teachers. Day (1999) argues that successful school development is dependent upon successful teacher development, explaining the thinking behind the government's emphasis upon CPD in ‘school improvement’ and ‘school effectiveness’ (Reynolds and Teddlie, 2000).

Government Strategy: consultation document on professional development for teachers in England and Wales was issued in February 2000, and 'raising standards in the classroom' was identified as one of the principles upon which CPD should be designed and developed (DfEE) 2000, p.3). Then: ‘Learning and Teaching’ published as a key strategy for structuring teachers' CPD designed to ‘give teachers increased opportunities for relevant, focussed, effective professional development, and to place professional development at the heart of school improvement’ (DfEE, 2001a, p. 3). The strategy indicates how funding is to be made available for teacher development through sabbaticals, professional bursaries, research scholarships and (the now defunct) ‘Individual Learning Accounts’, all of which could be used to help teachers establish a Professional Development Record. The government's intention is that the construction of an individual record will help teachers to keep track of past and present development activities, and will encourage them to reflect upon these experiences to identify future learning priorities (DfES, 2001). Also provided (not statutory) a ‘code of practice’ for ‘good value CPD’ that identifies what can and should be expected from external providers of CPD (DfEE. 2001b). Assumption: CPD, properly structured and funded, will ensure that government targets for education will be met.

Definitions: DfEE (2001a, p.3) CPD is ‘any activity that increases the skills, knowledge or understanding of teachers, and their effectiveness in schools'.

Day (1999) argues for a more complex understanding, emphasising that although definitions of professional development tend to focus upon enabling teachers to acquire subject knowledge and teaching skills, teaching (and hence CPD) is essentially about more than this, encompassing the personal, moral and political dimensions of teaching as a professional activity:

Link to Hay McBer (2000): ‘there are three main factors within teachers' control that can significantly influence pupil progress: teaching skills, professional characteristics and classroom climate' (1.1.1). 'Professional characteristics' defined as 'deep-seated patterns of behaviour', and are linked to values and 'at the deepest level, the motivation that drives performance' (1.3.1). Certainly this was the factor that was found to be the most difficult to quantify. Above all, their report re-emphasises how important and influential the teacher is in raising standards in schools, whatever the existing situations' (1.5.5). The current policy context for CPD is, therefore, one of a strong focus on the role of the teacher in improving the standard of pupils' learning (Craft, 1996). Recent policy documents are characterised by a tone of optimism and possibility, and the belief that a formula (such as that provided by Hay McBer, 2000) can inform the design of effective CPD.

Section 2: Research on the nature of effective CPD

  • NPEAT (1998): principles for effective CPD
  • NFER (2001): difficult to link CPD to impact on pupil learning
  • Garet et al (2001): structural and core features; traditional and reform type activities
  • Garet et al: range of possible targets for CPD
  • Loughran & Gunstone (1997): CPD not delivered to teachers
  • Stein et al (1999): professional developers must change (transform)
  • General agreement about what constitutes ineffective CPD

There is ‘relatively little systematic research on the effects of professional development on improvement in teaching or on student outcomes’ (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001, p.917). For Darling Hammond & McLaughlin (1995, p.1) effective professional development ‘involves teachers both as learners and as teachers and allows them to struggle with the uncertainties that accompany each role’. …in seeking to provide CPD that represents ‘good value’, the UK government recommends that quality CPD should meet individual, school or national development priorities; be based on good practice; help raise standards of pupil achievement; respect cultural diversity; be provided by skilled experts; be systematically planned; be based on relevant standards, current research and inspection evidence; make effective use of resources, be provided in sound accommodation and have effective monitoring and evaluation systems (DfEE, 2001a, p.1).

NPEAT: in America identifies ‘principles’ for effective CPD (National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching). The most effective professional development;

  • Focuses on analyses of student learning, especially the examination of differences between actual student learning outcomes and goals and standards for student learning
  • Involves teachers identifying their own training needs and developing learning experiences to meet those needs
  • Is school based and embedded in teachers’ daily work
  • Is organised around collaborative problem solving
  • Is continuous and ongoing with follow up and support for further learning
  • Incorporates evaluation of multiple sources of data detailing student learning and teacher instructional practices
  • Provides opportunities for teachers to link the theory that underlines knowledge and skills they are learning
  • Is connected to a comprehensive change process focused upon improved student learning (NPEAT, cited in Bredeson, 2001)

NFER: in England - CPD was most effective when teachers had some autonomy over the choice and direction of their personal development, and when CPD activities were delivered with appropriate expertise containing challenging and up-to-date content that was relevant to classroom practice. It was still found to be difficult, however, to make clear links between CPD and ‘impact’ upon teachers' practices and, most importantly, pupil learning.

Garet et al: teachers need to engage in professional development that extends their own learning while also focusing on how their pupils learn. In order to achieve this, Garet et al identify three key 'structural' features of CPD that can affect teacher learning: the form of the activity, the opportunity for collective participation, and the duration of the activity. They also highlight three ‘core’ features of CPD that can lead to an impact upon practice: a focus on content knowledge, opportunities for active learning and coherence with other learning activities. Analysis of these features leads Garet et al to distinguish between ‘traditional’ and ‘reform’ types of CPD. Traditional forms of CPD tend to take place at specific times, and are usually undertaken off-site with minimal follow-up. They offer little opportunity or support to enable teachers to integrate new learning with practice, and so are often ineffective. 'Reform' types of CPD, on the other hand, typically take place within the school day, involve collective participation of teachers from the same school or group of schools, and are integrated into practice in the form of study groups, mentoring and coaching. Garet et al argue that these activities are easier to sustain over time and are likely to result in better connections between new learning and existing practice

Garet et al: a key issue to consider in analysing the features of effective professional development is the wide range of areas in which teachers might need to enhance their professional learning. Ie, CPD activities can be designed to improve knowledge of content, general pedagogy or teaching practices and/or ‘pedagogical subject knowledge’ (Shulman, 1987). Also, they can vary in the intensity of their content focus (from specific curriculum materials to general principles for the teacher to apply in context); in the goals for pupil learning that are emphasised (from basic skills to deep levels of conceptual understanding); and in their relative emphasis upon the ways in which pupils learn (from improving teachers’ understandings of how pupils learn to a focus on new curricula or teaching methods). Added to this complex matrix is the relative emphasis to be placed on the way in which teachers can learn. Garet et al (p.925) point to the importance of engaging teachers in active learning, providing the opportunity 'for teachers to become actively engaged in meaningful discussion, planning and practice’. This could take the form, for example, of observing and being observed, planning and implementing new material and methods, reviewing pupil work, presenting and leading discussions, and writing. In addition, learning coherence is a key feature of effective CPD, and one that impinges upon all other features highlighted thus far. So… it seems clear that if professional development is to be effective, new visions for, and new versions of what, when and how teachers learn will be needed.

Loughran & Gunstone (1997, p.161) remind us that professional development is not something that can be ‘delivered’, rather it should be about ‘working with, not doing to, teachers so that appropriate time, support, understanding and personal development are seen as investments in personal growth’. The implications of all this, however, are that those responsible for providing or supporting CPD for teachers will also need to change.

Stein et al (1999) argue that what professional developers need is ‘more akin to a transformation than to tinkering around the edges of their practice' (p.19 e-journal) and they cite examples of new practices such as the ability to develop 'self-sustaining learning communities' (p.21 e-journal) in schools rather than developing individual teachers; the need to base development on theories of teacher learning; the importance and relevance of individual school contexts, and the need for professional developers to take greater responsibility for the outcomes of their development activities.

Ineffective CPD: There is broad agreement on one key issue about CPD. What seems to be almost undisputed in the literature is the belief that 'one-shot' professional development activities, undertaken away from the classroom without specific follow-up, are unlikely to have lasting impact upon teachers' practice (Connelly & James, 1998). Interestingly, that is precisely the kind of activity that has characterised much of the professional development available within physical education to-date.

Section 3: What do we know about CPD for PE teachers?

  • Surprisingly little!
  • From in-depth interviews…
  • From open-ended questionnaires…
  • Key feature: lack of any coherence or progression
  • Wide range of CPD providers
  • Confusion about knowledge to be developed
  • PDB-PE

In-depth interviewswith experienced physical education teachers: in order to explore some of these issues, a small-scale study was funded by Loughborough University in preparation for a larger study of PE-CPD[i]. In-depth interviews (between one and two hours) were conducted with twenty physical education teachers, each with more than five years teaching experience. Teachers were asked to outline various CPD experiences that they could recall and to comment on ‘effectiveness’ from their point of view. Looking across the interviews, and acknowledging that the data from ‘one-shot’ interviews should be used with some caution (Armour, 2002), six interesting issues can be identified relating to the provision of CPD in physical education:

  • PE-CPD found to be limited. Indeed, most of the teachers seemed unable to conceive of CPD in physical education that went beyond sport-specific update courses.
  • Attendance at information briefings on the national curriculum or public examination board procedures was mentioned - but viewed as ‘routine’.
  • ‘Good' one-day, sport-specific courses, off-site and without any follow-up in schools, were remembered vividly. Few of the teachers had attended follow-up courses in the same activity.
  • Echoing previous research (Schempp, 1993; Ward & O’Sullivan, 1998), these teachers rarely (if ever) read research in the field of physical education.
  • The twenty teachers were characterised by difference: different reasons for becoming a teacher, different routes into teaching, different motivations and different career paths within the profession.
  • Individuals' patterns of CPD were very haphazard; there was no discernible pattern, coherence or progression.

(Armour, 2001[ii])

Open-ended questionnaires: this latter finding has been strongly reinforced in some new data from open-ended questionnaires completed by 100 experienced physical education teachers in England. Teachers were asked to map their CPD histories and it is already clear from the preliminary analysis that a lack of coherence and progression are key features of these teachers’ CPD histories. Other interesting issues:

  • Most teachers identified health/fitness/active lifestyles as the most important outcome of their PE programmes.
  • Personal, social and emotional development also featured strongly
  • Little evidence of CPD undertaken in either of the above two areas
  • Effective CPD is active, practical, taught by realistic instructors who provide material for immediate transfer to practice (and finishes early!)
  • These teachers advised the government to look again at resources for CPD (cover, costly courses) and also to be more realistic about the time available for CPD. Intrusion into personal time was resented.

The nature, range and quality of CPD providers in PE is an issue to consider. In the UK, PE-CPD providers range through, for example, Local Education Authorities, governing bodies of sport, Sportscoach UK, the Youth Sports Trust, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, higher education institutions and public examination boards. Within most schools, specific 'training days' are designated each year, individual teachers undergo probation, appraisal and performance management procedures and the Advanced Skills route provides further opportunities for CPD. Pissanos & Allison (1996) found that links with higher education institutions can be a valuable for teachers but it is usually structured to focus upon a trainee teacher as learner rather than on mentors or pupils. Higher degrees (as traditionally conceived and taught) could be viewed as another example of ineffective CPD given that the learning often takes place away from the school in a structure for individual teachers that mitigates against collaborative learning among teachers within a school department. More recently (2000) the UK government (through its Teacher Training Agency) has made small research grants available to teachers to conduct research on their own practice (Best Practice Research Scholarships: see ( This represents an attempt to link universities and teachers in practice-related endeavors.

Knowledge to be developed in PE-CPD: The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has recently been engaged in an investigation that seeks to identify what constitutes ‘effectiveness’ in physical education and school sport ( Drawing upon survey research and a series of ‘cameos’ taken from selected schools, the QCA (2001) suggests that regular and frequent participation in purposeful physical activity enables young people to improve significantly their;

  • Physical competence, confidence and levels of attainment
  • Health, fitness and well-being
  • Self-esteem and motivation
  • Attitudes to and engagement in learning
  • Personal and social development
  • Effectiveness as citizens within their school and wider community
  • Attendance and behaviour.

Given the depth, range and complexity of pupil learning implied in this list, it would seem logical to ensure that teachers’ professional learning in physical education is similarly broad and challenging. However, there is no evidence of this from the data.