We spend more on toilet paper and hand wash than CPD

Recently I delivered some workshops at conferences for senior education leaders looking at CPD as a core lever for school improvement and the international research evidence in this field (impressively dynamic & exciting despite the rather apparently dry content).

    I enthusiastically talked about research and impact, raising a rallying call to school leaders across the world to open our classrooms and to invest in our most valuable teachers and school staff.  This call has been met with universal nods and smiles as leaders unwaveringly and universally agree.  There are murmurings of ‘yes’ as I reference the McKinsey report (Barber & Mourshed, 2007) that concluded, mckinsey

  1. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers
  2. The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction
  3. High performance requires every child to succeed

From this research report to Viviane Robinson’s research which identifies ‘leading teacher learning and development’ as the most impactful leadership dimension in terms of the impact on student outcomes, with an effect size of 0.84 (Robinson, Lloyd & Rowe 2008), to the CUREE evaluation report from 2011 and its more recent review of the international research evidence for TDT in 2014 alongside the new teaching standards for CPD (DfE, 2016), it is abundantly clear that professional learning and development for school-based staff can have a significant effect on pupil outcomes.  

Not only can this correlation be made but CPD is also considered to be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve outcomes and one that school leaders have direct control over. This does not mean that all CPD is created equal of course and there are certain conditions and types of CPDL that are more impactful than others, but the overriding principle is that CPDL is an important and a core lever that school leaders can utilise to build strong professional learning communities and raise outcomes for their pupils.

And here comes the toilet paper. Last week the Teacher Development Trust published data showing that the average CPD spend in England averages £33 per pupil; average of 0.07% of each school’s income (TDT, 2017).

In true toilet-paperResearchEd style, I investigated the average amount of toilet paper used and, according to Charmin, the average user uses 57 sheets a day (this equates to over 10,000 sheets annually for each pupil during the school year). Add to this antibacterial hand wash and dryers/hand towels and I think you’ll find that most schools spend more on this than the CPD of their staff; the most impactful leadership dimension at their disposal in terms of impact on pupil outcomes! 

Not only this, but 21,000 teachers in England are employed in schools that are reporting zero or near zero CPD spend.  Rather unsurprisingly, the data also shows that schools rated by OFSTED as inadequate spend 20% less on CPD as a proportion of their total budget than other schools.  The situation in secondary schools is worse than primaries, I could go on and on but I’ll leave the rest for you to read at your leisure… (http://tdtrust.org/benchmarking)

So… why is it that as school leaders we know and understand the importance of investing in our staff as this has a direct impact on pupil outcomes and yet the allocation of budgets flies in the face of what we know and believe?

Inevitably challenging budgets are part of the picture, and this does need to be addressed, but this isn’t the whole story. The multitude of initiatives, policy changes, curriculum changes, exam specification changes and school governance changes are all impacting in this area and potentially deflecting attention from our core purpose.  It is short-sighted and counter-intuitive to reduce the focus and spend in the area that will most likely achieve the core vision and aims of our schools.  I agree with David Weston, CEO of the TDT;

‘Whilst we recognise that school budgets are increasingly squeezed, it is vital that senior leaders and governors in schools realise the consequences of not investing in their staff’ (TDT, 2017)

This situation identified by the TDT is in such stark contrast to the one in which I fortunately find myself.  In establishing the International Leadership Academy at the British School in the Netherlands for our own staff as well as the wider school community through this year, I have met with energy and commitment from education leaders in our own school and the international community in finding dynamic and creative ways of investing in our international school workforce.  This certainly doesn’t come without its challenges but there is an unwavering ambition here; just as I have seen in the workshops through the last few months where I have worked with senior leaders.

We are taking this ambition and what we know to be important and impactful into action. The International Leadership Academy will launch this summer with a mission of creating a dynamic and innovative centre of professional learning.   

Our school is investing in our staff, we recognise the importance of professional learning and development and the impact that this will have on our pupils as well as for our own professional wellbeing. We want to create inspirational and impactful learning environments for everyone in our schools, it is quite simply our core purpose and core business.

So, to my colleagues who find themselves in schools with low or zero CPD funding, ask the questions of your leaders and ask the questions of your colleagues about what really matters most. Whilst toilet paper and antibacterial hand wash are fairly critical, surely the outcomes of our pupils and, therefore, the investment in our staff needs to be prioritised and protected way beyond immediate needs.  After all, our young people and our staff will be here long after the paper and hand wash have washed away!

If all else fails, reach out to our incredible online community as we support each other and strive for education excellence and opportunities for all our young people!


Barber, M & Mourshed, M. (2007) How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top. McKinsey & Co, 4.

Robinson, V.M.J, Lloyd, C., & Rowe, K.J. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: an analysis of the different effects of leadership type. Education Administrative Quarterly, 44(5), 635-674.



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