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The Mirror: Effective Professional Development

The argument for continuing professional development

Education Policy Institute (EPI) undertook a detailed review of the evidence on the impact of teacher professional development. The report examined 52 randomised controlled trials evaluating teacher development programmes, in order to establish their impact on pupil and teacher outcomes.  Unsurprisingly, they found continuing professional development (CPD) can play a crucial role in improving teaching quality.

The report summarises the key findings of the impact on pupils as:

  • High-quality CPD for teachers has a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes. CPD programmes have the potential to close the gap between beginner and more experienced teachers: the impact of CPD on pupil outcomes (effect size 0.09) compares to the impact of having a teacher with ten years’ experience rather than a new graduate (0.11). CPD also has similar attainment effects to those generated by large, structural reforms to the school system (0.1).
  • Evidence suggests that quality CPD has a greater effect on pupil attainment than other interventions schools may consider, such as implementing performance-related pay for teachers or lengthening the school day.
  • Teacher CPD may be a cost-effective intervention for improving pupil outcomes: while there are other interventions with a larger impact on pupil attainment, such as one-to-one tutoring (0.28), these programmes are typically far more expensive.
  • CPD programmes generally produce positive responses from teachers, in contrast to other interventions. Large, structural changes to the school system, while as effective at improving pupil outcomes, incur substantial costs in terms of staff turnover and dissatisfaction.

They also reported positive impact on teacher retention as well as improving access to professional development for teachers.

Characteristics of effective professional development

There are a number of informative reports into effective professional development including:

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., Coe, R. Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust. 2015.

Cordingley, P. and Bell, M., 2012. Understanding what enables high quality professional learning: A report on the research evidence. CUREE

What emerges across the reports is a consensus on the key attributes of effective continual professional development which can be summarised as:

  • Collaborative involves staff working together, identifying starting points, sharing evidence about practice and trying out new approaches;
  • Supported by specialist expertise usually drawn from beyond the learning setting.
  • Focused on aspirations for students which provides the moral imperative and shared focus;
  • Sustained over time and rhythmic professional development sustained over weeks or months had substantially more impact on practice benefiting students than shorter engagement;
  • Uses models of effective practice provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like.
  • A shared sense of purpose
  • Pedagogy and subject knowledge are equally important

Professional Development insights from Cognitive acceleration

 The ‘Cognitive acceleration’ programmes (CA) were developed by Michael Shayer and Philip Adey at King’s College London.  Cognitive acceleration would evolve over time and become known as Let’s Think The aim of the CA programmes was the promotion of higher-level thinking in students. Research carried out over 25 years at King’s College London demonstrated students who experienced a (CA) programme scored higher than matched control groups:

  • on measures of cognitive development immediately at the end of the programme and subsequently;
  • in the subject matter of the programme (e.g. science, maths) up to three years after the end of the programme;
  • also in subjects remote from the subject context up to three years after the end of the programme. For example, students who followed Let’s Think over two years in a science context when they were 12-13 years old, went on to score significantly higher grades in an English examination taken when they were 16.

CASE has been proved to raise students’ attainment significantly in at least 20 international trials – see Let’s Think in Science (CASE) efficacy

Shayer and Adey both recognised the importance of professional development. As Adey commented in his paper: “A model for the professional development of teachers of thinking”[i] in July 2005:

“(CA)…has a theory base in cognitive psychology, well-described pedagogical features, and sets of materials, which we believe to be teacher friendly. Nevertheless, teaching for cognitive acceleration is not a straightforward process. As with any approach to the teaching of thinking, the teachers need to have an understanding of the underlying principles and almost always need to re-engineer their classroom methods. I suggest that any approach to the teaching of thinking which offers a ‘quick fix’, or a set of simple tactics that a teacher can follow from printed material alone is underestimating the subtlety of the pedagogy required to enhance students’ thinking. In common with other programmes for teaching thinking, cognitive acceleration requires teachers to inspect their own assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning, and gradually to come to terms with quite new approaches in the classroom.”

From his work introducing science curriculum and in-service education programme for science and maths teachers internationally, Adey identified three main implications from the experiences:

  • Changing teaching practice takes a long time. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes, real change in schools takes effort and lasts months if not years.
  • There is no substitute for human interaction in helping teachers to shift their attitudes and beliefs. Discussion along paths which are not pre-set by a “programmed PD” is essential.
  • You must get into schools, if you want to change what happens in schools. A course will have no deep effect if it is limited to sessions run in a university or professional development centre. Demonstrations and coaching in teachers’ classrooms play a critical role.

Adey identified the principles of duration, collaboration, expert support, linked to classroom practice, etc, that subsequent research would confirm. Based on this the professional development programme for CA offered from 1991 was:

  • Sequenced over 2 school years, in parallel with the schools introducing the CASE methods.
  • INSET days were scheduled to introduce the theory and activities, teachers would then try them out lessons in their schools and return to further training days to reflect on the successes and difficulties encountered.
  • The style of the INSET days mirrored the pedagogy of CASE itself. Teachers were provided with challenges which led to social construction as they talked and listened to each other before triggering metacognition as they reflected on how (and why) their own perspectives were changing.
  • Furthermore, most teachers in a department received personal coaching in their own classes, to see how the methods worked with their students.

Let’s Think in English professional development programme


 Let’s Think in English (LTE) was closely modelled on Shayer and Adey’s Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education (CASE).  King’s College London, where CA had originated, decided to develop a programme for English like those in Science and Maths. This began in 2009 and Laurie Smith and I, supervised by Philip Adey, led the development initially focussed on Years 7 and 8.  Following successful trialling of the LTE Key Stage 3 English lessons, further lessons were developed specifically for GCSE and for Key Stages 1 and 2.


Many of the key features of successful professional development underpinned the evolution of the LTE programme. From the early trials, collaboration between colleagues was central to its development. We never created lessons and merely published them. Instead we would draft, critique, teach and revise LTE lessons before sharing them with the pilot group of teachers. This cycle would resume as the pilot group of teachers undertook the same process providing initial feedback after sampling the lesson, returning to school to teach the lesson in their setting and sharing their thoughts at the next LTE meeting.

Sequenced training

It became clear from the pilot group’s feedback that, as Adey suggested, there were “no quick fixes” and professional development would need to be sequenced over time. We opted for an introductory programme of four training sessions in an academic year. The typical structure of introductory Let’s Think in English training remains:

Session 1: Introductory day reviewing the pedagogy and research behind the programme and a lesson taught by the LTE tutor.

Session 2: Another modelled lesson taught by the LTE tutor or observation of LTE lesson depending on the schools’ preference and a twilight on effective group work and social construction

Session 3: Observation of LTE in classes with the LTE lead and a twilight reviewing the development of higher order thinking and metacognition.
Session 4: Twilight on embedding LTE and planning your own LTE lessons.

The training was designed so the “specialist expertise” (LTE Tutor) would provide regular support but the practitioners have time to develop their own understanding and are empowered to consider how best to apply the research in their setting between sessions.

Modelled Lessons and authenticity

Laurie Smith and I agreed we would always be willing to model the LTE lessons as part of training. Teachers relished the luxury and time to observe their class being taught by someone else and discussing key moments with their colleagues. We were providing teachers with a “model of effective practice” for them to critique. The lessons were never labelled model lessons but rather example lessons designed to provoke discussion and reflection.

Another important component of professional development is authenticity. Time and again teachers would comment how refreshing it was to experience training where the trainer was willing to model the approach in the classroom. Linking with the required “sense of shared purpose” and focus on “student attainment” teachers have to believe in the individual or organisation leading the training. When teachers know you’re willing to teach their classes, that you’ve experienced the process they are embarking on and in all likelihood faced similar challenges, it develops a sense of trust and strengthens the collaboration.

Duration and accountability

 Duration we know is important and the cycle of LTE training is designed so teachers have an opportunity to engage with research, apply it in their classroom and review with peers before reflecting and deciding upon next steps. However, training over time also introduces further important characteristic of continual professional development perhaps implied but not listed in the key features: accountability. I would suggest training over time makes trainers more accountable. When a trainer returns on a cycle to provide professional development, they are accepting a responsibility; a promise to return and work with the school, department or individual to overcome the challenges to successfully embed a programme. We know from Michael Fullan’s work in Leading in a Culture of Change [ii](2007):

“All successful schools experience “implementation dips” as they move forward (Fullan, 2001). The implementation dip is literally a dip in performance and confidence as one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and new understandings.”

 Let’s Think in English is usually very well received by teachers with the vast majority of evaluations ranking the training as excellent. However, there is a rhythm to the training in terms of the responses it provokes in teachers. We expect an implementation dip as theory is applied in the classroom. Indeed, we purposefully make the training challenging so teachers experience the desirable difficulty they will create for their pupils. By returning and supporting colleagues with the implementation dip we are accountable but also engaging in and reinforcing “shared sense of purpose”. Modelling and observing lessons on training connects us to the pupils our work serves to help; they are no longer a mental construct or an unknown group but the very ones you taught or observed. I believe this is what Philip Adey implied when he remarked: “If you want to change what happens in schools, you must get into schools.”. It was not merely the school building he was referring to but rather the classrooms and connecting with the learning community of pupils, teachers and leaders.

Internal accountability and support

Accountability is a two-way process and the schools that embed and sustain professional development best are the ones with clarity on why they introduce training and how internally they will monitor, evaluate and build upon it. Richmond Hill Primary School in Doncaster started LTE training in September 2019. As Kelly Cousins, the Deputy Head at Richmond Hill, explains, the school saw the training as a two-way process where they would also provide internal accountability too. We can see this in Kelly’s account of the process they undertook before adopting the training:

“Upon analysing our most recent reading SATs data, it became clear that the children were struggling with the inference questions posed to them within the test.  After some research and following a recommendation from a colleague, I discovered the Let’s Think in English website.  The fact that the programme was steeped in 50 years’ worth of research really inspired me to look deeper into the principles of the programme.  After arranging to travel down to London to see an LTE lesson in a year 6 classroom, I gained an insight into how the programme helped pupils to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, reinforcing their inference making ability.”

Richmond Hill identified a need, undertook research into possible solutions, observed the programme in action in a classroom and discussed the impact with other schools before undertaking training. Once the training was introduced, they developed their own internal monitoring, support and evaluation process to complement the formal LTE training:

“We have been teaching LTE lessons for half a year now (prior to lockdown) and have seen the true value of the programme.  In order to ensure that we have a consistent approach to the delivery of the lessons, I created a two weekly timetable whereby I perform regular drop-ins/walk throughs and ask questions to check the children’s understanding.  Team teaching is a strategy that I utilise for any staff member needing a little extra support, in addition to delivering the programme to a year 6 class myself for a term, to allow other staff members to observe the sessions being taught first-hand.  Following the drop in/walk throughs I usually follow up with a whole staff email in order to celebrate and share good practise, as well as any areas to focus on for next time. Additionally, having conversations with the staff and pupils provides a valuable insight into the progress that the children have made with their critical and analytical thinking skills.”

The need for accountability, coherence and collaboration both internally and externally at all levels for a successful training programme is required.

Duration: cycles not time.

Duration of professional development is often considered in terms of time but it might be more fitting to view it as a series of cycles. In LTE the first cycle of introductory training consists of four training sessions. However, it would be odd for training to reach a definitive conclusion at the same point for each individual and school. A further cycle should be planned so initiatives are sustained and successfully embedded. This can be challenging as a new initiative or priority might appear, the support of the tutor and focus of scheduled sessions fades and there can be high staff turnover.

The EEF’s guidance report: PUTTING EVIDENCE TO WORK: A SCHOOL’S GUIDE TO IMPLEMENTATION provides this helpful overview.

As the report suggests:

“There are no fixed timelines for a good implementation process; its duration will depend on the intervention itself – its complexity, adaptability, and readiness for use – and the local context into which it will be embedded. Nevertheless, it is not unusual to spend between two and four years on an implementation process for complex, whole-school initiatives.”

Upon completion of introductory LTE training, schools are invited to join our regional networks. A lead teacher for each school attends the termly network meetings. The meetings are led by LTE tutors and provide an opportunity for the attendees to receive updates and collaborate. A “sense of shared purpose” is maintained with teachers recharging and reconnecting with the LTE community. The network meetings support the lead LTE teachers to adopt the role of a coach in their setting as they provide updates and guide their colleagues. However, the lead teacher attending the network meetings are not just recipients of training but contribute and shape the direction of the programme. Teachers lead presentations on aspects of LTE, suggest ideas for lessons, provide a critical lens to the direction of the lessons and share and discuss English teaching more widely.

Why might an individual attend the same training programme for a number of years? Alex Morton, Head of English at Greycoat Hospital School and a LTE network member for 8 years explains:

“I attended my first LTE meeting, or CA in English as it was then called, in early 2012 when I was in my second year of teaching and have attended termly meetings ever since.

I didn’t know anything about it when I first turned up, but it instantly struck me as the kind of teaching and CPD I wanted to be a part of, with a really concentrated focus on theoretical pedagogy, high-quality texts, and student engagement and enjoyment.

I feel that I was very fortunate to have turned up that day as LTE has been fundamental to my development as a classroom practitioner, not really so much as the delivery of the actual suite of lessons – although I would like to think that I am quite proficient at them after so many years! – but more profoundly in terms of how my questioning and probing of students has been sharpened. I have become aware of the importance of how questions are framed as well as the value of modulating my responses to students’ ideas in order to enable the students to evaluate their ideas’ validity rather than praising the ‘right’ answer and shutting down further exploration. I tend to plan my lessons as a series of questions to ask at different points, often inadvertently following the structure of LTE lessons.

I am sure that the long-term nature of the CPD is a key reason why it has had such an impact; one-day CPD courses often tend to give you good ideas and some resources and lesson ideas to try, but tend to be more discrete and limited to the topic in question.

The sessions are interesting and it is a great way of finding out about the wider landscape in education, both in terms of new research but also the development of government and Ofsted policy. As well as this, it is nice to see friendly and familiar faces at the meetings and everyone shares ideas in a spirit of collegiality.”

Lesson Simulation: Content and Pedagogical knowledge

As reports into effective professional development suggest, ideally, we’d seek to develop pedagogical and subject knowledge together. The need for pedagogical content knowledge has been recognised in Ofsted’s frameworks, recognising effective teaching arises in a subject by matching the how to the what.  One of the most effective ways to support teachers’ subject knowledge is to provide lesson simulations for teachers. An LTE lesson simulation features in every training session as the teachers adopt the role of learners and work through the lesson they will teach to their classes. By exploring the texts together teachers strengthen their understanding of the schemata underpinning texts. As they discuss the writer’s choice of text type, use of symbolism, consider how different readers might interpret the text, re-read texts considering how the writer attains their goals and explore the structural devices used, teachers are developing their subject knowledge by exchanging ideas and insights. They also become aware of the complexity of what they will teach and start to consider how will they support pupils to appreciate the text when they return to the classroom.

After working through the lesson simulations, teachers reflect upon pedagogical knowledge considering research such as effective group work, prior knowledge, metacognition, desirable difficulties etc. The lessons simulation provides an insight into what they wish to teach. However, the reflections afterwards develops pedagogical content knowledge as teachers consider how best to support pupils’ understanding when teaching the text.

Mirroring training and the pedagogy

The collaboration and guidance evoked by the lesson simulations and LTE training in general, mirrors the process teachers will replicate for their pupils in the future. Teachers work together in groups to socially construct their understanding of LTE, they work through difficulties together with the support of the tutor and there are cycles of reflection to support them. As Philip Adey suggested there must be a synergy between the style of the training and the pedagogy itself.

Lucy Timmons, Deputy Headteacher at Linton Mead School explains the significance of this mirroring between the training and pedagogy:

“Six years ago, I read ‘Learning Intelligence: Cognitive Acceleration Across the Curriculum from 5 to 15 years’ by Michael Shayer and Phillip Adey. It chimed with my educational philosophy, one of social constructivist principles with a keen desire to see dialogic teaching at the heart of every child’s learning journey, and my leadership philosophy, where teachers are agents of change and use that agency to develop and embed effective teaching and learning practice.

Once I started the LTE training, I became acutely aware of how we as teachers were being guided and developed by the very principles the training aims to embed. We were co meaning makers and treated as such. The impact was vast and rapid both on my practice and leadership and on the classes, teachers and support staff who observed my development through the training.”.

Interestingly once teachers have experienced the training, they appreciate the need to offer a similarly structured programme for their colleagues. They become aware of the limitations of quick fixes and the need to establish a community of enquiry together. As Lucy explains:

“We made a strategic decision to embed the principles of ‘Let’s Think’ across the school as part of our School Development Plan. Raising the standards of teaching and learning in English was, as ever, a priority but, more importantly, so was embedding a consistent, effective and visceral pedagogy offer across the entire school with ‘buy in’ from all staff and a sense of accountability and reflection.

Fast forward six years and the principles of Let’s Think are now an integral, published part of the school’s teaching and learning ethos. All teachers are trained in the principles and it is part of new staff induction. We are honoured to host training at the school which is key to keeping the practice focussed and in tune with the original principles. It forces us to consistently keep anchored in the absolute foundations of the principles as there is always a danger of schools transforming an idea to suit their own or government agendas at the expense of the quality and foundations of the idea in the first place. Our commitment has always been to stay true to the ‘Let’s Think’ teaching principles and to reflect constantly on our practice. This is ongoing. Our team teaches LTE lessons fortnightly and our teachers constantly observe each other and act as critical friends. Key to this is professional open dialogue, healthy challenge and an unrelenting commitment on the part of the leadership team.”


In 2013 – 2015, 35 secondary schools and 8 primary schools, all new to Let’s Think in English, were recruited in London and their staff trained and supervised in delivering LTE lessons fortnightly as part of London Schools Excellence Fund Trial. At the start and completion of the training, teachers undertook a self-efficacy test, reviewing their confidence in different aspects of teaching. Teachers felt they had improved in every aspect of their teaching. See:

The 5 most marked increases in individual aspects of efficacy were in teachers’ ability:

  • to provide appropriate challenges for the more capable students (+24.9%)
  • to implement alternative strategies in their classrooms (+23.7%)
  • to help their students think critically (+22.9%)
  • to provide an alternative explanation or example when students are

confused (+20.4%)

  • to adjust their lessons to the proper level for individual students


Undoubtedly the tutors, course materials and research into subject and pedagogical knowledge all played a part in the successful outcome. LTE and all effective training programmes provide a vehicle to monitor and evaluate teaching through professional dialogue. The PD methods must mirror the pedagogy. In the LTE classroom we seek to develop a community of enquiry through discussion that is respectful but open to critical evaluation. We encourage pupils to reflect and adapt. These are the same values the professional development seeks to nurture and provides a long-lasting legacy.


[i] Adey, Philip. (2006). A model for the professional development of teachers of thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity. 1. 49-56. 10.1016/j.tsc.2005.07.002.

[ii] FullanMichaelLeading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. Print.


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