Subjects Matter

IOP report recommends a national system of subject-specific CPD for all teachers to help increase the quality of teaching in our schools, improve educational outcomes for all students, and boost economic growth and prosperity across the UK.

The UK government is seeking to boost economic growth and ‘level up’ opportunity in all parts of the UK.

Progress towards these goals can be propelled by increasing the flow of well-educated students moving from our schools into employment or continued education with valuable knowledge, understanding and abilities; equally, progress will be hindered if we do not take steps now to increase the pool of talent in the workforce and education system.

Subjects are at the heart of 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 in 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.

The IOP is calling 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. This report sets out the case for such a system and offers advice and recommendations about how existing provision can be built upon and strengthened.

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.

The nation already has a critical skills deficit, serious teacher recruitment and retention challenges, and ingrained inequality. Investment in the teaching workforce is needed now if we are to achieve the aim of being a knowledge-based economy driven by research and innovation during the coming decade. 

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 event

The IOP will be holding an event in early 2021 to discuss the report’s recommendations and their implementation. To receive further details of this event once confirmed, and other updates on our work in this area, please contact [email protected].