Evaluation of the Impact of the Implementation of Teaching Scotland's Future

The evaluation offers an overview of the current landscape of teacher education, highlighting what progress has been made in key areas since TSF was published and where further progress and improvements are still needed.

8 CLPL activities

8.1 There were three key elements set out in the TSF report for the further development of CLPL activities.

8.2 Firstly, the balance of professional learning activities should:

  • shift from set-piece events to more local, team-based approaches
  • centre around self-evaluation and professional collaboration, and
  • achieve an appropriate blend of tailored individual development and school improvement.

8.3 Secondly, teachers should have access to high quality professional learning for their subject and other specialist responsibilities.

8.4 Finally, a greater range of professional learning should be formally accredITEd at SCQF level 11 (Masters level).

8.5 This chapter explores CLPL activities, including how the type and range of CLPL activities undertaken have changed, the development of SCQF level 11 opportunities and what the barriers are to accessing high quality professional learning opportunities.

Satisfaction with current provision of CLPL

8.6 Satisfaction with current provision of CLPL was mixed (32% were satisfied and 24% were dissatisfied). However, it was most common for respondents to give a neutral response (43% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied) (Figure 8.1).

8.7 This reflected the findings in the qualitative research in which views were again mixed - there were aspects of CLPL provision that were viewed positively, but also many that were less so.

8.8 The key elements of CLPL provision (explored in detail in the subsequent sections) that participants viewed positively and contributed to satisfaction were:

  • a broader definition of what CLPL encompasses
  • an increase in collaborative working
  • an increase in in-school activities
  • an increased focus on impact on pupils

Figure 8.1 How satisfied are you with the current provision of career-long professional learning (CLPL) for teachers?

Figure 8.1 How satisfied are you with the current provision of career-long professional learning (CLPL) for teachers?

Base: All except Head Teachers (4,691)

8.9 The main drivers behind dissatisfaction with CLPL provision were mostly related to access to CLPL, rather than content - again these are discussed in greater detail in 'what are the challenges' section. The key issues were:

  • the choice of available CLPL being driven by national and LA priorities and not individual development needs
  • gaps in specific topic coverage
  • a tendency among some teachers to still focus on courses
  • the need for more national networks
  • barriers to participation - a lack of supply cover; the cost of CLPL; increasing workloads
  • misconceptions about what SCQF level 11 learning involves
  • the difficulties faced by supply teachers when accessing professional learning

What's working well?

Understanding of CLPL activities

8.10 There was a high level of awareness among survey respondents of the professional learning opportunities that were available to them: 83% said they were 'aware'/'very aware' (Figure 8.2).

Figure 8.2 How aware are you of the professional learning opportunities available to you?

Figure 8.2 How aware are you of the professional learning opportunities available to you?

Base: All (6,116)

8.11 Participants in the qualitative research felt that there was a broader understanding of what CLPL might include than there had been in the past and, in particular, a move away from a narrow conception of CLPL as 'courses'. Professional reading, professional dialogue and self-reflection were all highlighted as activities that were now 'embedded' in day to day teaching practice and were of great value.

Increased collaborative working

8.12 The survey results suggest (Figure 8.3) that participation in nearly every CLPL activity has increased since 2010, with a particularly large increase in the proportion reporting that they had undertaken professional reading (55% in 2010, compared with 81% in 2015). It is important to note that this increase has happened alongside an increase in awareness of what constitutes CLPL so may be an increase in recording rather than undertaking different CLPL activities.

8.13 This increase in participation in CLPL activities included an increase in collaborative working. Between 2010 and 2015, there have been increases in the proportion who have undertaken group discussion (increased from 46% in 2010 to 68% in 2015), peer observation (increased from 50% to 61%), networking (increased from 32% to 46%) and good practice visits (increased from 24% to 35%).

I think generally there is a big emphasis on having professional dialogue that wasn't there before. About sharing good practice and it wasn't there before I don't think.


8.14 This was supported by a feeling among those in the qualitative research that there had been an increase in collaborative working, which was seen as beneficial by all participants. Examples included more opportunities for teachers to be seconded to local authorities or national bodies, increased use of peer networks (particularly among head teachers) and inter-school collaboration in developing professional learning activities.

The culture is changing as well because of the newer teachers coming in who when they've done some courses or professional learning or whatever it is, are more keen to come back and actually share that.


Figure 8.3 Which professional learning activities have you participated in during the last full academic year?

Figure 8.3 Which professional learning activities have you participated in during the last full academic year?

Base: All (6,346)

Increased in-school activity

8.15 While there has only been a small increase between 2010 and 2015 in the survey results (Figure 8.3), there was a feeling among qualitative participants that the amount of in-house school level CLPL has increased. This was seen as beneficial as courses could be tailored to need and there was agreement that CLPL tended to be better when it was small scale and more relevant to the needs of staff and pupils.

8.16 Participants from independent schools thought that one of the differences between the independent and maintained sectors was that there were more opportunities in the former to go on external courses:

They have a lot more neighbourhood things, whereas we specifically go out for a day possibly, you know, a series of things where theirs is more…

…In the schools.

Teachers from independent schools

8.17 While these participants saw the ability to go on more courses as an advantage - and clearly it is in some instances - the other side of the coin is that the constraints have led to the more local, team-based activities recommended by TSF (see also section 8.2). Similar, staff in a special school talked about the fact that most of their activity was internal - driven by the fact that almost all external provision was mainstream focused.

Increased impact on pupils

8.18 National stakeholders and LA representative often commented that it was too soon to say what the impact of TSF as a whole had been on pupil learning and outcomes. However, LA representatives did agree that teachers were more concerned about how their professional learning impacted on pupils than they had in the past.

8.19 This was also supported by the views of teachers in the qualitative and the quantitative research - they felt that the impact on pupils has become much more of a focus for teachers undertaking professional learning. Furthermore, they were also more aware of the need to measure the impact of their professional learning.

8.20 As noted in section 4.5, the impact that professional learning has on pupil outcomes now underpins the way that teachers make decisions about what CLPL they undertake. Some teachers also used 'impact' as a way of measuring the quality of the CLPL they had undertaken.

Our CLPL programme now for staff is about, well it's got to be having an impact. If you're not having an impact you shouldn't be doing it. If [the CLPL] wasn't good enough for you to have an impact, guess what, we're not going back.

Head teacher

8.21 In addition to impact being a driver of what CLPL to undertake, teachers also felt that they could see, in practice, the impact the professional learning they participated in had on pupils. In the survey, the vast majority (82%) of teachers said that they thought that their participation in professional learning had a positive impact on the learning experiences of children and young people (Figure 8.4).

Figure 8.4 To what extent do you think that your own participation in professional learning has a positive impact on the learning experiences of children and young people?

Figure 8.4 To what extent do you think that your own participation in professional learning has a positive impact on the learning experiences of children and young people?

Base: All ()5,799

8.22 This was reflected in the qualitative research with teachers giving examples of the impact that their professional learning had on pupils.

Yes, because the professional learning I did in national 5 ESOL[20] meant that the girl I was working with got an A. I did professional learning on higher art the girl had been moved from national 5 to higher and was struggling with the written part, because I had professional dialogues and did a lot of research in that, she ended up getting a B, which her teachers were very pleased about. So, yes, I can see it in results.


8.23 In general, teachers in the qualitative research tended to feel that short one-off courses tended to have the least impact and sometimes found it difficult to apply what they had learnt in the classroom. However, as noted above, participation in other forms of CLPL had increased (e.g. professional reading, professional dialogue, collaborative learning and in-school activities) and were thought to be better as they could be tailored to the needs of pupils.

8.24 There was a concern from some teachers in the qualitative research that it takes more time for the impact of their CLPL activities to emerge making it difficult for them to evidence this. This suggests that teachers may need further support with measuring the impact of CLPL on a long-term basis.

That impact might not be measurable for two or three years, and there's no method for recognising that. It's 'you've done that CPD, what's the impact?' I don't know yet because that's going to take time to be embedded into the practice, until we can actually see what the impact is going to be.

Secondary teacher

8.25 Previous research[21] has shown that "professional learning experiences that focus on the links between particular teaching activities and valued student outcomes are associated with positive impacts on those outcomes" (Timperely, 2008). In this evaluation, there are several indicators that teachers in Scotland are moving in this direction, they are:

  • using the impact on pupils to decide what professional learning activities to undertake
  • using impact as a means of measuring the quality of CLPL
  • moving away from one-off short courses to more tailored professional learning activities that put the needs of learners at the forefront.

8.26 This suggests that the changes implemented as part of TSF, may contribute to better outcomes for children and young people.

Priorities for CLPL

8.27 The most common LA level CLPL priorities were lITEracy and numeracy, and Raising Attainment. Also mentioned, but to a lesser extent, were SCQF level 11 CLPL and GIRFEC.

8.28 Among those working in schools, priorities tended to focus more on the day-to-day running of the school including new National qualifications, HGIOS 4 and Raising Attainment.

What are the challenges?

Range and quality of CLPL activities

8.29 In the survey, respondents were split on whether there was a greater variety of professional learning opportunities and whether there were more high quality opportunities than five years ago (Figures 8.5 and 8.6). Three findings from the qualitative research might explain this.

Figure 8.5 Comparing how things are now with the period before 2010 (5 years ago), what do you think about the range of professional learning opportunities that are available to you?

Figure 8.5 Comparing how things are now with the period before 2010 (5 years ago), what do you think about the range of professional learning opportunities that are available to you?

Base: All who completed ITE more than 5 years ago (5,086)

Figure 8.6 Do you think the number of high quality professional learning opportunities available to you has increased or decreased over the last 5 years?

Figure 8.6 Do you think the number of high quality professional learning opportunities available to you has increased or decreased over the last 5 years?

Base: All who completed ITE more than 5 years ago (5,081)

8.30 Firstly, there was a feeling among classroom teachers that the choice of CLPL activities available to them was driven too much by national and local authority priorities. This meant that their individual development goals were given less time and attention. Although, as noted in the Culture chapter (section 4.21), this feeling was driven to some extent by a discussion about courses rather than a broader definition of professional learning.

8.31 Secondly, a number of issues were raised in relation to specific topic coverage. The following gaps in CLPL opportunities were identified:

  • more input required on specialist areas in primary schools e.g. music, art, P.E.
  • subject specific learning in secondary schools - particularly in subjects that require frequent updates e.g. computing, design and technology
  • not enough CLPL input on expectations for new National qualifications
  • a lack of 'refresher' courses - for those who may want to move (e.g. from a special school to mainstream school) or those who have returned to teaching after a break.

8.32 Third, LA representatives and those in promoted posts felt that there was still a group of teachers that put too great an emphasis on courses when it came to professional learning. This meant that they had yet to embrace other professional learning opportunities and felt that there was less available to them.

National networks

8.33 While collaborative working has increased, there was a view that more national networks were required. This was because:

  • with so much development work and creativity happening at a school level networks could help share good practice more effectively
  • schools or individual teachers with relatively specialist expertise/interests/needs (e.g. those working in a special school with profoundly disabled pupils) may not have local counterparts meaning that a national network would be more appropriate.

8.34 On a related point, qualitative participants from the independent sector thought it would be beneficial to undertake more professional learning in conjunction with their peers in the maintained sector:

…the most beneficial thing you can do on any given year is go and observe your peers. It's just the same kind of idea, albeit it a national level or a sector level, you know, any kind of sharing of experience I think can be so valuable.

Secondary teacher in an independent school

Barriers to accessing CLPL

8.35 As outlined in chapter 4, it was felt that individual teachers could disengage from the culture change in professional learning if they face barriers to participating in CLPL activities - as the heightened profile of professional learning has raised expectations, it makes it demoralising if barriers cannot be overcome.

8.36 It is therefore crucial to note that dissatisfaction with CLPL provision among teachers in the qualitative research mostly stemmed from facing practical barriers to access.

8.37 The main barriers identified by participants in the qualitative research were:

  • the lack of supply cover - this was a key issue for all participants in the qualitative research; finding and paying for supply cover for short term absences was extremely difficult. (This was less of an issue in the independent sector).
  • the cost of CLPL - while head teachers and LA representatives saw professional learning as a priority, it was one of many priorities and there were restrictions on the budget available at both a school and a local authority level. This meant that teachers were not able to participate in some of the CLPL activities that they wished to, or had to consider self-funding. Even if a teacher did want to self-fund, they were not always able to due to the cost of the course to them personally.
  • a lack of time due to workloads - teachers at all levels felt the tensions of competing priorities - particularly a sense of guilt about their responsibility to other teachers and pupils if they took time out of the classroom for professional learning

For me the big change in the past five years, it almost feels like a teaching cliché, is that absolutely the workload has increased and that inevitably then has an impact on something like PRD and how willing people are to kind of embrace that.

Teacher (in an independent school)

… there is no staff to cover me. You feel a bit responsible to the kids, also to the parents and your staff team.

Teacher in promoted post

  • some professional learning was increasingly only available as twilight or weekend sessions - while this was welcomed by some (as it was the only opportunity they would have to participate in CLPL due primarily to the lack of supply cover), others were concerned about access for those with childcare or other commitments
  • issues of rurality - many of the barriers were greater in rural areas (such as difficulties in getting teachers together in one place, the time and cost of travel and, especially, the issue of supply cover).

8.38 Overall, 42% of survey respondents had experienced barriers to accessing appropriate professional learning opportunities in the last five years and, as shown in Figure 8.7, these reflected the feedback from the qualitative research.

Figure 8.7 What barriers have limited your access to professional learning?

Figure 8.7 What barriers have limited your access to professional learning?

Base: All who experienced barriers accessing professional learning in the last 5 years (2,665)

8.39 However, it is very important to note that the proportion of survey respondents reporting that they faced barriers in accessing professional learning has greatly decreased in the last five years, from 68% in 2010 to 42% in 2015. So, while there are undoubtedly still some significant barriers to accessing professional learning, the situation has improved. This may be due in part to the wider understanding of the range of activities that professional learning can encompass meaning - if there are more options available, fewer barriers will be faced.

SCQF level 11 learning

8.40 Although the extent to which this was happening varied across Scotland, local authorities and universities had done a good deal of work to develop SCQF level 11 courses, both in terms of leadership programmes and developing accredITEd CLPL modules. However, for some there has been concern about the low level of uptake of the courses created and the extent to which teachers' understand what SCQF level 11 learning involves.

8.41 In line with findings from the survey - just 22% knew 'a fair amount' or 'a lot' about opportunities to undertake professional learning at SCQF level 11 (Figure 8.8) - participants in the qualitative research had low levels of awareness of SCQF level 11 learning. Participants rarely distinguished between working towards a Masters degree and participating in CLPL that was accredITEd at SCQF level 11, suggesting they are not fully aware of the options available to them and they do not necessarily understand what SCQF level 11 accredITEd CLPL actually entails.

Figure 8.8 How much do you know about opportunities to undertake professional learning at SCQF level 11 (Masters level)?

Figure 8.8 How much do you know about opportunities to undertake professional learning at SCQF level 11 (Masters level)?

Base: All (6,064)

8.42 For the most part, non-promoted teachers in the qualitative research were not interested in undertaking SCQF level 11 learning, unless they were interested in moving into a promoted post. This was supported by the survey results: only a quarter had either undertaken, were currently undertaking or planned to undertake SCQF level 11 learning in the near future. This may be due to the lack of awareness, and misconceptions about what SCQF level 11 learning involves. There were a number of aspects to this:

  • For many teachers in the qualitative research, completing SCQF level 11 learning was associated with moving up a leadership pathway and they felt this would take them away from the classroom - the reason they originally joined the profession.
  • SCQF level 11 learning was thought to be time-consuming and unrealistic in the context of current workloads.
  • There were concerns over the financial implications of undertaking SCQF level 11 learning. As teachers commonly thought that this referred to undertaking a full Masters qualification they assumed that this would be something they would have to self-fund.

8.43 Furthermore, even among those that were aware of SCQF level 11 learning, accreditation was not seen to be a priority in relation to which CLPL to undertake - it was more important that the course was of high quality and that the content was relevant. In the survey only 23% of respondents said that it was important that the professional learning they undertake has an accredITEd award attached.

Figure 8.9 Which of the following statements best describes how you feel about undertaking professional learning at SCQF level 11 (Masters level)?

Figure 8.9 Which of the following statements best describes how you feel about undertaking professional learning at SCQF level 11 (Masters level)?

Base: All (6,048)

8.44 A third of survey respondents said they had faced barriers in accessing SCQF level 11 learning. The main barriers experienced were not having enough time to study and the financial cost (Figure 8.10).

Figure 8.10 What are the main barriers which prevent you from studying at SCQF level 11?

Figure 8.10 What are the main barriers which prevent you from studying at SCQF level 11?

Base: All who face barriers accessing learning at SCQF level 11 (1,955)

CLPL in digital techniques for supporting learning

8.45 A recent lITErature review for the Scottish Government suggested that effective use of digital technologies could help to raise attainment in lITEracy and numeracy in the classroom[22] and states that "more effective use of digital teaching to raise attainment happens when teachers are able to identify how digital tools and resources can be used to achieve improved learning outcomes, as well as having knowledge and understanding of the technology." Therefore, it is important that professional learning in this area is available and working well.

8.46 In the qualitative research, using digital technologies to support learning was not spontaneously raised as a professional learning priority by any of the teachers who participated. This could suggest that more should be done to convince teachers of the benefits of participating in professional learning on this topic, particularly in the context of other competing priorities for CLPL e.g. GIRFEC, the new National Qualifications etc.

8.47 Most of the LA representatives reported that they did have professional learning available to support the use of digital technology in the classroom - often in connection with the use of handheld devices in the classroom.

8.48 However, many thought that this was an area that needed to be further developed. Further development was constrained to some extent by reduced LA resources and staffing but LA representatives also raised the issue that the IT infrastructure in schools was often not sufficient to allow effective use of digital technologies (e.g. Wi-Fi provision) and until that was improved it would be difficult to provide adequate training.

8.49 In the survey, two-thirds (64%) of respondents were aware of the opportunities available to them to access professional learning in using digital technologies to support learning and teaching - although this left a substantial minority who were not (34%). A similar proportion (67%) had actually accessed professional learning about the use of digital technologies (Figure 8.11).

Figure 8.11 In the past year, have you accessed professional learning in using digital technologies to support learning and teaching?

Figure 8.11 In the past year, have you accessed professional learning in using digital technologies to support learning and teaching? 

Base: All (5,729)

8.50 Among those who had accessed professional learning, it was most commonly undertaken through staff meetings (46%), reading (46%), face-to-face courses (40%), and eLearning (38%) (Figure 8.12) and provided by the school/establishment (54%) or the local authority (47%).

Figure 8.12 How was the professional learning delivered?

Figure 8.12 How was the professional learning delivered?

Base: All who have accessed professional learning using digital technologies in past year (3,849)

8.51 While 80% of those who had undertaken CLPL on this topic had put it into practice, only 66% felt confident doing so. The majority of those who had implemented their professional learning thought it had been successful (79%).

8.52 In terms of using digital technology to deliver professional learning more generally, 29% of respondents had participated in eLearning in the last year (see Figure 8.3 for more details).

8.53 This might suggest that use of digital technology is limITEd, but this may be obscured by the question wording and teachers interpretation of digital learning - for example, 81% of respondents said that they participated in professional reading, the vast majority of these people will be accessing that reading material online. In the qualitative research, LA representative mentioned that teachers were using Google Scholar to access articles and one teacher mentioned that in her school they had created a CLPL reading area within a common drive in the system.

8.54 This could also apply to many of the different types of professional learning activities listed in Figure 8.3 - LA CPD course, networking, national CPD course, private provider course, collaborative spaces etc.

8.55 Participants in the qualitative research who mentioned online courses were fairly indifferent. One felt that the online courses provided by their local authority were adequate (if a little basic); while another mentioned that their personal preference was to participate in face-to-face training.

I haven't had any face-to-face discussion or dialogue [as part of the course] and that I found quITE unsettling, you haven't had something that is grounded to say it's that person that's assessing this and here's the thinking behind it.

Primary teacher

There is quite a lot of online training, which well I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of it, but at times it works reasonably well.

Secondary teacher

8.56 However, there was some evidence of teachers using digital methodologies in less traditional ways which were viewed much more positively. These included:

  • using massive open online courses (MOOCs) through Coursera
  • sharing research and practice through networks on Facebook
  • accessing reading materials on Twitter and Facebook
  • watching Ted Talks.

Technology has made us more aware of what's going on in other schools, in other areas and authorities. We can look on Twitter and see amazing practice going on somewhere else and want to know about it.

Primary teacher

Ted Talks and things are always good, you will use them at staff CPDs and things just to hone in on an area and then put them on the common drive so they're there for staff to dip into.

Depute head teacher

8.57 Overall, there is evidence that professional learning is available for teachers who want to develop their skills in using digital technology to support learning and teaching. However, this is still an area that requires further development and local authorities require more support to do so.

8.58 It is also believed that in order for further development to be successful, further investment is required in schools' IT infrastructure.

8.59 As with CLPL as a whole, there needs to be a greater emphasis on the range of digital CLPL activities beyond narrow definition of 'online courses'. It seems that, while there is a place for online courses, one of the most effective uses of digital technology in delivering professional learning, is to encourage collaborative working - whether that is through a national network for teachers with specialist skills or by using Twitter as a forum to share best practice.

Supply teachers

8.60 Findings about supply teachers from the survey are highlighted where relevant in the report but are in general are more negative than other types of teachers. To supplement this we also undertook six depth interviews to explore the issues around supply teachers in more detail - one working in special schools, two working in primary schools and three working in secondary schools.

8.61 All felt that it was difficult for them to access professional learning opportunities - a feeling that was exacerbated if they were working short term contracts across a number of schools rather than longer-term contracts.

There's quITE honestly very little opportunity as a supply teacher, you really do feel incredibly isolated.

Secondary, supply teacher

8.62 It is also important to acknowledge that there were some supply teachers working in circumstances that meant they were not fully motivated to engage in professional learning.

8.63 Supply teachers faced a number of barriers when it came to accessing professional learning:

  • Low awareness of what is available - unless they were working in the school at the time, they had no way of knowing when a school was running CLPL activities or what professional learning would be available on in-service days.
  • Low involvement with in-school CLPL- even when they were aware of in-school CLPL activities, it did not necessarily mean that they would be invITEd to participate. This was often raised in relation to in-service days and courses but other forms of CLPL were also mentioned. Supply teachers felt there was little chance for them to shadow other teachers or observe good practice, or even to participate in professional dialogue because they were often not invITEd to department meetings.
  • Harder to access LA opportunities - if they were between contracts, or only doing the odd day here or there, and did not have a school email address, it was harder for them to access the Glow system and they could not find out what was available at an LA level. Furthermore, there was a feeling that their LAs were not doing enough to provide CLPL tailored to the needs and working patterns of supply teachers[23].
  • Financial barriers - supply teachers felt that, since they are paid only for their time in school (including a little time for preparation and marking), any CLPL they do is essentially unpaid. In addition, as there is no budget provided for supply teachers' professional learning, if they wanted to complete a course they would have to pay for it themselves.

8.64 These barriers meant that supply teachers felt they had to be very pro-active in seeking out any CLPL opportunities - one even referred to feeling she had to "force her way in" to professional learning. A strong sense of ownership of their professional learning was essential; otherwise their personal development would be limITEd.

I have had to hunt around and find ways of doing it. I have had to approach schools and say, 'look, can I come to you on in-service days or can I come to some of your departmental meetings?' to ensure that I'm keeping up with things.

Special schools, supply teacher

8.65 Another consequence of the difficulties that supply teachers faced was that they tended to feel like they were at risk of falling behind their permanently employed colleagues, particularly in terms of changes to the curriculum and associated terminology. It was felt that, as the pace of change had been challenging, it was getting hard for them to keep up. For example, one supply teacher said she was concerned about ensuring she had the appropriate teaching skills to adapt to the greater focus on lITEracy and numeracy.

8.66 A similar picture emerged in terms of accessing a PRD. It was common for supply teachers to report that they had to push to get a PRD meeting set up. For those who had had a PRD meeting, there were mixed experiences of it. While some found it a very useful, productive conversation, others felt that the reviewer saw it as an obligation to fulfil rather than making a real attempt to help them assess their professional learning needs and plan their personal development.

Key areas for consideration

  • Look at options to deal with the shortage of supply cover
  • Supporting the development of more professional networks across Scotland
  • Raising awareness of different options for SCQF level 11 and why teaching staff should undertake learning at this level


Email: James Niven

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