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Subjects Matter

Published in December 2020, Subjects Matter looks at subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers. Drawing on a wide range of evidence from England, Scotland and Wales, it is the result of collaboration with over 50 educational organisations, subject-specific societies and individual specialists who were brought together by the IOP. 

The report highlights the centrality of subjects to students’ learning in a knowledge-rich curriculum. For students to have the best experience of subjects – to excel while at school and to aspire to further success in the future – teachers themselves need to have excellent knowledge and understanding of their subject and how to teach it.

The development and retention of excellent teachers is a career-long process requiring high-quality, subject-specific professional learning which starts in initial teacher education, is built upon early in their careers and continues throughout their professional lives.

A common feature of the world’s best education systems is substantial investment in teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), but levels of investment and participation in CPD are relatively low across the UK.

In addition, while some excellent subject-specific CPD programmes exist across the nations of the UK, these are often limited to a few targeted subjects, forming a patchwork with little linkage between them, and rely on short-term funding cycles.

In its recommendations, this report calls on the governments of the UK to invest in creating a more confident, engaged teaching profession, through a sustained world-class system of subject-specific professional development for all teachers.

Such a system will help to increase the quality of teaching in our primary and secondary schools and contribute to improved outcomes for all students. The report sets out the case for such a system and offers advice and recommendations about how existing provision can be built upon and strengthened.

The UK government is seeking to boost economic growth and ‘level up’ opportunity in all parts of the UK. In the context of a critical skills deficit, serious teacher recruitment and retention challenges, and ingrained inequality, investment in the teaching workforce is needed now if the UK is to achieve the aim of being a knowledge-based economy driven by research and innovation during the coming decade. 

By investing in the teaching workforce of today, we can better equip more students with the knowledge, understanding and abilities that will fuel the industries of tomorrow.

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The report

Subjects Matter

A national system of subject-specific CPD for all teachers can help to increase the quality of teaching in our schools and improve educational outcomes for all students.

Read the report (PDF, 3.29MB)


Governments should:

1. Improve professional standards through a systematic approach to developing teachers’ subject knowledge for teaching* by:

  • acknowledging the essential role of teachers’ subject knowledge for teaching in driving improvements to overall teaching quality;
  • establishing an expert advisory group to develop and implement a national strategy to provide subject-specific CPD in each school subject with the aim of improving student experiences and outcomes; and
  • developing existing standards, frameworks and qualifications to clearly articulate the required subject knowledge for teaching in each subject.

2. Fund, develop and implement a national system of subject-specific CPD in each subject that:

  • takes a long-term approach, with the target of increasing the number of better educated school leavers and contributing to economic recovery and growth;
  • reduces social and regional disparities in access to high-quality teaching for students;
  • is accessible to all teachers and addresses all types of need based on their experience, career stage and subject background;
  • enables schools and teachers to make informed choices and to plan for several years of professional learning;
  • builds on existing policies, programmes and evidence-based practice; and
  • includes an integrated programme of robust evaluation, informed by experts, to drive improvement and strengthen the evidence of impact and what works.

3. Establish an entitlement for teachers which ensures that at least half of their professional learning is subject-specific in a way that:

  • reinforces the importance of subject knowledge for teaching and its continued improvement;
  • ensures senior leaders in all schools allocate time for teachers to engage in subject-specific CPD to drive improvements in subject teaching;
  • contributes to a teachers’ entitlement of at least 35 hours of CPD per year; and
  • spurs a sector-wide culture change that improves the perception of the value and importance of subject-specific professional learning.

* We are using the term ‘subject knowledge for teaching’ as a description of knowledge that is broader than simply content knowledge; it includes: substantive (content) knowledge, disciplinary knowledge and pedagogic content knowledge (PCK).

Follow-up activity

The IOP is planning further activity to discuss the report’s recommendations and their implementation. To receive further details and other updates on our work in this area, please contact [email protected].