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Case study: Making CPD work in small schools

We spoke with Tom Snowdon, Executive Head of the Pilgrim Federation

The Pilgrim Federation is made up of four small primary schools: Blakeney CE VA Primary School, Hindringham CE VC Primary School, Kelling CE Primary School, and Walsingham CE VA Primary School; there are less than 150 pupils across all four sites. The federation is led by Executive Headteacher Tom Snowdon and Deputy Headteacher Helen Frier. Each school is unique, and supported to retain its own character through having a senior teacher on site who is responsible for the day to day running of the school, and acts as Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL).

The four schools share continuing professional development (CPD) which is centrally managed by Tom and Helen. They have found that a collaborative approach is the most effective and efficient way of delivering CPD and facilitating the recruitment and development of teachers. An example of this is shared membership of VNET: they have one advisor that works with all four schools and helps to create a bespoke CPD package, identifying need and finding the most appropriate training that will benefit all the schools and have the greatest impact on pupils. Staff from all four schools come together for twilights and moderation sessions, adding a variety of viewpoints to discussions.

The federation currently has early career teachers (ECTs) who benefit from the shared CPD: they recognise that working closely with teachers across the schools provides a wider network than would be available in a small, stand-alone school. Tom is optimistic about the federation's ability to support new staff and those new to the profession. He is willing to consider flexible approaches to hosting initial teacher training (ITT) students, including placements across schools in the federation or shared mentoring. He feels that working across several schools is highly beneficial, giving trainees a better understanding of how the education system works.

Centralised appraisals, undertaken by the executive leadership team, allow CPD to be carefully considered in a holistic way, looking for common themes and potential shared approaches to delivery. Strong practice is identified and signposted across the federation, so that high quality CPD can be created internally. This approach to appraisals also allows for succession planning and long term staff development to be considered, so that future promotion opportunities can be worked towards by existing staff. 

National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) are offered to staff looking for a new challenge, to help them with career progression and as part of their development pathway. The federation realises that they may be training staff who might ultimately leave:

We need to develop people: we are mapping for the future and that means developing staff.

If an opportunity becomes available in a different school in the federation, a move can be easily achieved due to the schools' shared curriculum, policies, and procedures - this allows for future proofing and makes the federation more secure. 

The schools have a variety of ways to release staff to allow for mentoring or staff development. Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) can cover classes; classes can be combined for certain subjects or sessions to release a teacher; or the floating executive team can step in to offer cover for either the senior teacher or other staff. This approach offers flexibility and allows for attendance at a greater range of events than if the schools operated in isolation. Tom is keen to point out that training and courses are always carefully considered - they need to be purposeful and of value to justify release time.

We can't offer everything all at once: there needs to be value for participants and the federation.

The Pilgrim Federation continues to prioritise the development of its CPD provision, as it realises the value it has for its staff and, ultimately, its pupils. It works with a range of CPD providers such as VNET and the Julian Teaching School Hub, who can be flexible in their delivery, and work to mould and shape their support around the federation.