Professional development: John Hattie helps focus on key concerns

In the second part of our interview report, Professor John Hattie and SSAT education director Anne-Marie Duguid explore key issues in CPD and how to make full use of teachers’ talents and aspirations…

It is not often you get a chance to enjoy a professional dialogue with someone as knowledgeable and personable as Professor John Hattie. He doesn’t deal with opinions or fads but passionately believes in looking at what the evidence says; he is renowned for his meta-analysis involving hundreds of schools.

In our review of the first part of this discussion, we looked at school structures and remembering what is really important – what goes on inside them. We have to avoid the politics of distraction (the colouring-in of education) and instead focus on those elements that have the most impact. Here we offer John Hattie’s views, along with some of ours, on how we grow and nurture our teachers and schools, always remembering that everything we do should have an impact on students.

Plan for effective professional development and learning

When a teacher is trained and eager to learn, their professional development should not stop when they start teaching: but what can we offer them? How do we provide equity of access?

A commitment to an evidence informed profession requires us to plan for professional development. We need to avoid being too busy to prioritise this, because it is how we improve teacher quality, PD needs to become an entitlement and expectation, not a lottery ticket or luxury item. It must be integral to the school’s culture. Sometimes this will require a shift in investment to ensure it is high quality, built from the evidence base and has high impact.

Professional development standards (DfE, 2016)
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

SSAT has welcomed the DfE professional development standards (see box above), but we wondered what John Hattie thinks of them. He sees a lot of merit in this debate internationally, noting that the effect size of professional development is a healthy 0.4 (ie it does improve teacher quality). The problem is the variability. Too often PD standards are about the nature of the programme, not its outcomes on students.

We say to students you’ve got to come to school because that is where you learn – surely the same applies to teachers
John Hattie

How you assess the impact on students is not an easy question to answer, but it is the right question to ask (see box below).

Assessing impact
SSAT’s Lead Practitioner (LP) programme uses evaluation of student impact mechanisms that are externally assessed against the LP standards. These questions that we ask of LPs may help you when planning professional development:

  • Why? What is the identified need? Is there a good diagnosis that your PD is related to school issues?
  • What? What are you planning to do?
  • How? What is your means for enacting this in your school?
  • What was the impact? And how do you know? What does success look like?

At the earliest stages of planning professional development, you need to be thinking about evaluation. What are you trying to achieve, and how does this match to your school priorities as well as your teachers? Who will be influenced, and how? How will it be measured? How do you know the impact on kids? Is the headteacher or a member of SLT in the room when it happens, and contributing to its success?

Selling our best asset in schools: teachers

In our discussion John Hattie described how he asks schools and leaders around the world, ‘What’s the picture on your school web page?’ Disappointingly, he commented, “hardly ever do we advertise: ‘Come to the school because we have the best teachers.’ We advertise the peripherals. Every other profession sells its key resource.

The one thing that will impact massively on every learner is the teacher in front of them –let’s not forget this. Schools need brilliant teachers; and we need them to support scaling up by leading others – from the classroom. This has become even more important with the burgeoning development of multi-academy trusts and the like. He praised the work SSAT have been doing with lead practitioners, and stressed how important it is for schools to “find out how to use them.” He described working with some teachers who craved recognition from their principals of their strengths and how to use them: ”We are in a profession that so often denies its own expertise.”

Scaling up

We agree with John Hattie about the crucial importance of exploiting the power of lead practitioners to be part of the solution and support scaling up. Indicative of neglect in this area is the mere handful of research papers that address scaling up in education. As Hattie put it, “if you were setting up a coffee shop, from day one you would worry about scaling up. But we don’t in education. We have the best experts in our schools right now, not thinking about scaling up. We should not always take our best and kick them out of the classroom – but make staying in the classroom more meaningful, give it esteem and privilege!”


Teaching has to be a profession that is shared. Hattie noted that every six minutes, 600 new resources go on the web: “how do we make sure our teachers do not feel alone, but connected, within their school and beyond? Technology can support this, but our teachers must get that sense of community.” Collaboration and connectedness are at the heart of SSAT and our membership. Using technology for collaboration and social interaction is vital.

We will never get a hungrier and more passionate group of people in first few years of teaching. How do we keep that spark; reinvigorate it? SSAT’s Leadership Legacy Project is aiming to contribute to that essential aim by giving high-potential future leaders the opportunity to take part in an exclusive year-long initiative to develop their skills through events, school visits, shadowing opportunities, resources and networking.

We need to support all teachers and leaders, at whatever level. To keep that spark alive.

SSAT members can watch our interview with John Hattie here.


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