This case study reports the findings of a research project that set out to investigate the experience of mathematics teachers in terms of their professional development. There was a focus on the first five years of teaching.
This project was undertaken by two senior lecturers in mathematics education: one from Birmingham City University and the other from St Mary’s University College, London. Both lecturers teach PGCE students and were interested to find out more about the professional development experiences of teachers in their first five years of teaching.
The research took place with teachers who had undertaken their PGCE at either Birmingham City University or St Mary’s. There were two strands to the research. The first strand was an on-line questionnaire. This was completed by 42 teachers in their first five years of teaching. This included 13 in each of their first and second years of teaching, eight in their third year, five in their fourth year and two in their fifth year. One respondent had left teaching. The second strand involved in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 15 teachers in their first five years of teaching. This included four teachers in their first and third years of teaching, two in their second and fourth years, and three in their fifth year.
Research Aims and Objectives
The research was designed to identify what was occurring in the first five years in terms of professional development for teachers of mathematics. This included investigating access to CPD, how it affects career progression and supports teachers professionally. The research also set out to identify what teachers considered as effective professional development.
The overall aims of the research were threefold:
- to establish the factors currently limiting the CPD journey
- to establish the factors acting as enablers to an effective CPD journey
- to establish which elements of professional development would contribute to an effective CPD journey.
Research Format/ Structure
Teachers in their first five years of teaching who had been former PGCE students at Birmingham City University or St Mary’s were invited to complete an on-line survey. The questionnaire asked questions to explore a range of approaches to professional development including:
- attendance at external courses
- in-school coaching
- working collaboratively (internally and externally)
- input from Local Authorities
- membership of professional associations.
The questionnaire also investigated teachers’ reactions to the effectiveness of these approaches in terms of their classroom practice and career progression. Other aspects covered by the questionnaire included the accessibility of professional development, the content of departmental meetings, exposure to current professional papers/ documents and teachers own views on their professional development journey.
The face-to-face interviews facilitated a more in-depth enquiry into the same questions to both clarify and amplify the responses to the questionnaire.
Findings from the research
The research uncovered a number of findings that limit the professional development opportunities of teachers.
- Many NQT observations do little to move mathematics teachers forward regarding their development as teachers of mathematics. Feedback seems to be generally summative rather than formative.
- There is little evidence of Heads of Department/Subject Leaders supporting colleagues to develop their pedagogy and/or to offer CPD opportunities.
- Meetings of teams of mathematics teachers within a school occur very infrequently. Where they do, the agendas are administration-driven with few opportunities for discussion of teaching and learning or opportunities for colleagues to share good practice.
- The vast majority of CPD that teachers engaged in within most schools was generic. There were very few examples of specific mathematics CPD. Some of the teachers (NQTs in particular) were not allowed to tailor the CPD to their particular needs but had to accept what the school offered.
- There are few opportunities for teachers of mathematics to observe other mathematics teachers in classrooms either within schools or between schools.
- There were limited opportunities for CPD arising from LA input.
- There are few examples of teachers of mathematics looking to keep up to date with latest research into mathematics education either through journals/books and/or attendance at subject association workshops.
However, the research identified a range of opportunities that enable professional development.
- There are positive examples of ‘rich’ mathematics CPD that took place in schools that encouraged and supported teachers to try out new ideas for teaching and learning mathematics with students (as opposed to all energies and practice being directed to ‘teaching to the test’). These encouraged them to share new knowledge and understanding within their department.
- There were examples of teachers taking ownership of their own CPD. This was most marked where teachers continued contact with their PGCE training establishment.
- The examples of teachers taking part in research/action research demonstrated the enjoyment, confidence, increased self-esteem and inspiration and increased awareness of their own understanding of their mathematics derived from such work.
- There was one ‘rich’ example of collaboration between the LA mathematics advisor, original PGCE tutor, school and NQT.
Planning future professional development PD from a provider’s perspective
The evidence collected suggests that a way to provide much needed professional development is for providers of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) to take the initiative to set up continuing links with former PGCE students. This could be done through online communities. In addition, a number of face-to-face whole day workshops, for each previous cohort, should be incorporated into a wider, planned approach to CPD. LA mathematics advisers should be included in this process as should partner schools.
Planning future professional development PD from a participant’s perspective
The research recommends that more emphasis should be given to teachers’ individual requirements with regard to CPD. A general NQT programme, with summative observations does not provide a developmental programme consistent with good teaching and learning. There is an identified need to accommodate teachers’ needs to innovate, risk take and develop skills in a supportive, collaborative environment.