How collaborative, research-based training can revitalise Teaching and Learning

by Jim Funnell
10 Feb 2017

How collaborative, research-based training can revitalise Teaching and Learning

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Jim Funnell is Assistant Head at Ellacombe C of E Academy, part of the Learning Academy Partnership and All Saints Teaching School Alliance, and teaches in the EYFS unit.  4 years ago he joined the Learning Academy Partnership (LAP), a Multi-Academy Trust in Devon, committed to providing high quality CPD that impacts on outcomes for children – recently they were awarded the Gold CPD Mark from the Teacher Development Trust.

Jim asks … Is the traditional ‘stand and deliver’ style of professional development past its sell-by-date?  How often do you hear teachers talk of CPD experiences with a sense of dread and a rolling of the eyes?  For many, the acronym awakens images of interminable sessions that had limited impact, taking place after a long and tiring day in the classroom.


The Learning Academy Partnership programme aims to deliver CPD via a new and remarkably effective route – collaboration – utilising several delivery methods: weekly professional development meetings, peer observation and coaching, and collaborative research and development (R&D).

It’s a far cry from ‘top down’ and ‘stand and deliver’ approaches; it’s a supportive, challenging development that has put teachers in the driving seat of their own professional growth. I’ve found it hugely empowering, often challenging, but above all it’s had an enormous impact on my practice, and crucially on the progress and attainment of the children.

This model isn’t without its challenges; after all, how do you collaborate across a fast-growing MAT? There’s a huge logistical challenge in bringing busy staff from different sites together to share practice and ideas.

Plus, there’s the need to develop strong distributed leadership to support this collaboration; ensuring the vital golden thread is the same for everyone, that the same aims are shared. There also has to be equally high shared expectations. And, of course, none of this can happen without 100 per cent staff buy-in

Big Ideas

Our model has two ‘big ideas’ at its heart. Firstly, all CPD must be rooted firmly in research and evidence. No matter how many people like an idea, if it’s not proven to have impact in evidence, then what’s the point?

Secondly, all CPD is firmly focused on its impact for children. Again, without impact (real, measurable and lasting), what’s the point?

The LAP places a huge emphasis on collaborative R&D. There is an expectation that every teacher in the MAT should be engaged on a piece of action research (self-directed or led) with a clear focus on their particular school’s improvement priorities.

I remember vividly how daunting it felt to sit down at a computer as part of an improbably named ‘research triad’, and explore some heavyweight studies and findings on ‘Challenging the fixed idea of ability in high-attaining Pupil Premium children’.  Add to that I was working with two Year 5 teachers from another school in the MAT, while I was dealing with Early Years pupils. How on earth were we going to find any commonality of approaches and practice?

Our research findings showed that engaging in critique, reflection and redrafting would all have a positive impact on higher-attaining Pupil Premium children, and in actual fact, when we put these findings into practice, we discovered that critique and redrafting was something that both Early Years and Year 5 children felt at home with.

As a leader, my CPD has now taken a new turn. The LAP is embedding coaching as a development tool to help empower leaders at all levels, collaboratively.

Again, this is a new departure for me, and once more I’ve had to challenge my own preconceptions and embrace a different reality. Previously, the mere mention of ‘coaching’ would conjure thoughts of Jedi mind-tricks and weird conversations with horrible, open-ended questions and no answers. Now, I’m three weeks in and coaching is turning out to be some of the best CPD I’ve experienced.

The LAP approach to CPD has helped me feel empowered to take risks, trial new practice and reflect on my impact. I have the opportunity to work with more than 65 teachers, but ultimately it enables me to do the thing that gets me out of bed each morning – change children’s lives.

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