Shifting the focus: Achievement information for professional learning

A summary of the sustainability of professional development in literacy

Publication Details

This publication is a summary of The Sustainability of Professional Development in Literacy, Parts 1 and 2, research commissioned by the Ministry of Education and led by Dr Helen Timperley, University of Auckland. The research was part of a much larger project, Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara (SEMO), which aimed to raise achievement significantly for students in these two communities.

Author(s): Dr Helen Timperley, Joy Wiseman and Irene Fung, University of Auckland and Gwenneth Phillips, Child Literacy Foundation.

Date Published: 2003



As professionals, teachers must continually update, deepen, and refine their knowledge and skills through professional development.

The goal of professional development should be to raise student achievement. To be judged effective, therefore, professional development must result in ongoing benefits as measured by improvements in student achievement. However, there is a growing body of research that shows that much professional development does not lead to long-term changes in teaching that improve student achievement.

Research by Dr Helen Timperley of the University of Auckland presents a new approach based on her evaluation of the long-term effectiveness of a professional development programme for teaching five- and six-year-olds to read.

She suggests that the focus for professional development should shift from using external courses and workshops to developing strong professional learning communities within schools, where professional learning is built into teachers' everyday working responsibilities. In particular, schools, as professional learning communities, need to analyse how particular teaching methods impact on student learning.

Dr Timperley's research raises issues about and identifies principles for professional learning that are relevant to all schools and teachers.

Key Messages

The research found that the following messages are important:

  • The schools that are most successful in sustaining high levels of achievement are those whose teachers base their teaching methods on student achievement information.
  • Professional development needs to focus on raising teachers' expectations of student achievement.
  • Student achievement must be the criterion or touchstone for measuring the effectiveness of teaching methods.
  • The concept of "being professional" changes when student achievement is the touchstone. For example, professional autonomy may hinder rather than support the goal of improving student achievement.
  • Professional development programmes need to be integrated into teachers' everyday working responsibilities rather than be isolated, one-off programmes held off-site.
  • Teachers must have ongoing support if professional development is to have a long-term, positive effect on student learning.
  • The schools that are most successful in raising student achievement are those that create strong professional learning communities.

Contact Us

Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email:      Requests EDK
Phone:    +64 4 463 8065