Reflecting on the Teacher Development Fund

Published: 10 June 2024 
Author: Catherine Sutton 
Group of teachers sitting in groups of 2 or 3 at small white round tables talking in an animated way. Large globe lamps hang from the ceiling and big pieces of flip chart paper are covered with notes on colourful post-its.
Cohort Learning Day for the Teacher Development Fund

Catherine Sutton, Head of Programme – Education for Paul Hamlyn Foundation, reflects on how the Teacher Development Fund has evolved over the last eight years — to shift and adapt to the concerns and needs of the sector.

In September 2016 I arrived as the new Head of Programme for Education at PHF just as the TDF Pilot Programme was beginning. At that point the Teacher Development Fund was not actually a Fund, but a series of seven partnerships between an arts/​cultural organisation and a group of schools, which were exploring how – and even whether – a year-long partnership project could support primary phase teachers to develop arts-based skills and pedagogy and become autonomous in delivering this in their classrooms.

What’s changed and stayed the same

Since that point a great many things have not changed. The principles underpinning TDF, rooted in Philippa Cordingley’s Developing Great Teaching and the DfE Standard for Teacher Professional Development, are still at the heart of our approachTDF’s focus on supporting pupils experiencing systemic inequity to overcome barriers to learning has sharpened with each Round. Framing projects as enquiries in which artists and teachers are positioned equally as learners remains crucial as does the emphasis on formative learning and reflection.

And at the same time everything has changed. Our one-year pilot quickly led to the realisation that a two-year partnership was needed for new practice to embed. A meet-up day for pilot projects led to the idea that we might gain a lot from working together – and the Cohort Learning Programme was the result. We questioned why arts/​cultural organisations were the lead partner and since Round 1 have been inundated with school applicants. During the pandemic we learned about the potential of blended CPDL models and Round 4 (2020–22) explored this in depth with accompanying research by Chartered College of Teaching. And, beginning with Round 4 we have developed a focus around anti-racist practice, encouraging artists and teachers to think deeply about the processes and approaches they employ through an anti-racist lens.

There’s been a gradual change too in the applications we receive to TDF. Every year the Fund seems to act as a mirror reflecting the concerns and needs of schools. The new Ofsted framework (Round 2), the emphasis on cultural capital (Round 3), recovery of learning post-pandemic (Round 4) and since Round 5 increasing concerns for pupils’ mental health and wellbeing have all been notable themes. And this year, in applications for Round 7, the concern of mainstream schools to support increasing numbers of SEND learners came through clearly.

But while the focus of applications might shift, what binds them together is schools’ belief that the arts can provide a way forward, building equity in classrooms and supporting all learners to thrive.

And for arts/​cultural organisations a desire to work in partnership with the education sector.

A cohort fund’

Over the last eight years, the PHF team has learned so much and we continue to iterate with each Round. TDF is the only cohort fund’ at PHF, in which a group of funded projects follow the same process in the same timeframe and there’s been huge interest internally and from peer funders in the approach and its benefits. In the Cohort Learning Programme we’ve explored our own in-person/online blended model, and we continue to look for the right balance between information-inputs and creating spaces for discussion and connection. We’re sharing new content on platforms such as Padlet and creating new modes of engagement such as partnered gap tasks. Understanding how to develop and support a community of practice is a key goal for the team in which elements such as the annual TeachMeet and the newsletter play a part. We’re lucky to have the support of a brilliant Advisory Group, chaired by Prof Teresa Cremin to support us in our own learning journey.

This month we welcome the new Round 7 cohort to their first event and seven more partnerships will begin the two-year journey joining an existing TDF community of 48 partnerships and almost 400 schools. We wish them all the best for the next exciting two years. And the PHF team’s advice based on our own TDF journey?

Time, honesty, courage are all crucial, plus creating the space to explore with curiosity, caring for each other and enjoying every moment.

Catherine Sutton
Head of Programme – Education