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School spending on CPD plummets – What does the future hold?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

New research has found that the amount of money that schools are spending on CPD (Continuing Professional Development) has fallen considerably as the pressures of funding cuts really begin to bite.

In fact, the research shows that spending on CPD has plummeted by a massive £23.2million in just a single year. An analysis of the financial returns for the Teacher Development Trust, conducted by SchoolDash – education data specialists - found that school spending on CPD for teachers fell by close to 9% when comparing the figures for 2016-17 to 2015-16.

The fall in spending on CPD is most pronounced in the secondary sector (12%).

In primary schools spending on CPD fell by 7.5%.

This marks a reversal of an upward trend in CPD spending that had existed from 2011. Why is spending on CPD falling in schools? To put things simply, reality bites.

The real-terms funding cuts that school leaders have had to contend with over the last few years were always going to cause a long line of knock-on effects.

At first, it just meant that schools needed to tighten their belts, buy less equipment, or shop around for better deals – on everything from the cost of gluesticks to the cost of new computer hardware. The ‘do more with less’ philosophy has been imposed on schools since 2010, but now its effects are being felt in a more dramatic and detrimental way.

Heads of Department having to manage with a reduced capitation was difficult enough.

However, the impact of funding cuts in schools has now gone far beyond that stage.

Now, headteachers are having to make extremely hard decisions.

For example, deciding not to replace members of staff who leave the school, or not turning a temporary appointment into a permanent one – even though they really want to do those things. It means that Heads of Departments are now being challenged to improve results in their subject with less staff and bigger class sizes.

Furthermore, the funding shortfall is now cutting deeper still.

Now schools are being forced to cut investment in their staff as well – hence the fall in spending on CPD. Why is the fall in spending on CPD so worrying? The fall in spending on CPD is particularly disturbing as any business or organisation that fails to invest in its staff will undoubtedly find recruitment and retention difficult.

Of course, education already has considerable issues both in recruiting and retaining staff.

Anything that makes recruitment and retention harder still is far from ideal. In teaching, high quality CPD is absolutely essential.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has warned that newly qualified teachers are in particular need of specifically tailored CPD to combat what has been described as ‘practice shock’ as they acclimatize to a career in the classroom. It should also be remembered that teachers need to be able to continually upskill and take on new pedagogy throughout their careers.

Regardless of the number of years spent in the classroom, a teacher who stands still is a teacher who begins to move backwards.

If teachers are denied the opportunity to take up a range of CPD opportunities because of funding cuts, the impact will be highly significant. What does the future hold: a new way of thinking? Figures show that more schools and trusts are now turning to in-house training (which is free, of course).

Alternatively, they are sharing expertise across clusters of schools.

The cost implications of this approach are far less than ‘the old days’ when teachers might have been sent out on a course run by an external provider – often at the cost of up to £500 - plus the expense of a supply teacher. So, is this new approach such a bad thing? It has to be said that the criticism ‘snake oil salesman’ has been levelled at some CPD providers.

School improvement and continuing professional development have become extremely lucrative industries in the last couple of decades – but there is no absolute guarantee of quality.

If schools have found themselves disappointed with the quality of the external CPD that their staff have received, it makes sense to try to be cleverer with their money. Yes, they might not really have much of a choice at all these days because of the funding cuts but moving to an in-house CPD model might not be such a bad thing for schools. The people that know a school, its staff and its context and needs are the school itself.

An in-house approach is perhaps the only way of tailoring training that is precisely matched to the needs of a school. However, it should also be noted that the success of in-house CPD is reliant on the quality and calibre of those who deliver the training.


1- Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers

2- How to top up your work experience in the education sector