CPD for Knowledge Fans

CPD has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares. At the end of a long day, the last thing I would choose to do is spend an hour sitting around discussing questioning strategies for closing the pupil premium gap, or messing about with Bloom’s Taxonomy card sorts, or worse– trawling through reams of data. Utterly soul-destroying stuff.


Since joining Michaela, I have not had to sit through anything close to this. In the English department, our CPD is focused around improving our subject knowledge. Under the guidance of our exceptional Head of English, Jo Facer, I have learned lots about the texts we teach, which has dramatically improved my teaching. Here are three things we do as a department to improve our subject knowledge.


  1. Annotation


We meet each week for an hour to discuss our upcoming lessons (which have been planned and resourced in advance). We all arrive to the meeting with the lesson content (poems/ book chapters/ grammar exercises, etc.) pre-annotated so that we have lots to discuss. Jo leads the meeting, and she goes through a few key points that need to be drawn out, focused on or developed in the lesson. We then branch out into a discussion about some of the texts, sometimes driven by our particular specialisms or interests. The aim is to deepen our understanding of the content. We all add to our annotations as the discussion progresses, building on each other’s points. Another aim is to consider possible misconceptions and alert our attention to things that pupils may struggle with. For example, Jo might point out some ambiguous vocabulary, or clarify, ‘make sure they don’t get x confused with y here’. It’s really, really useful, and it means that every teacher in the department spends a lot of time thinking deeply about the content.



  1. Memorisation


At Michaela, pupils carry out memorisation for homework every night. The aim of this is for every child to learn the most crucial knowledge to automaticity. Teachers at Michaela also work hard to memorise the same knowledge by heart. I’ve found this tremendously useful. If I find my class packed up, standing behind their chairs a few minutes before the bell, I can quickly quiz them on a few things without having to scramble around and look for a sheet of paper. It also means that I know what they know, down to the precise definition they have been taught for each concept. I have found that having a shared language for such things to be invaluable.


We also learn quotations and poetry off by heart. Again, it’s lovely to be able to refer to this shared language regularly with kids. For example, I often say things like ‘Come on, team, we need to fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run!’ or ‘You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul! Don’t let yourself down!’


We sometimes have knowledge tests in our weekly English meetings, which is good because it holds me to account! When there are a million things to do, learning Macbeth quotes might slip down the priority list; knowing you’ll be tested on it in a week’s time is a good motivator!


  1. Reading


Of course, relying on the above is not enough. Teachers should always be a long way ahead of their pupils in terms of subject knowledge. As a non-English graduate, I feel particularly paranoid about this from time to time. This is another area in which Jo Facer and Joe Kirby have been brilliantly supportive and helpful: they have recommended various books and articles for each unit we teach, and in some cases, have furnished us with helpful abridgements! All of this has really helped to enrich my understanding of the curriculum.




If you want teachers to teach knowledge, then shaping CPD around the content they will be teaching is a good place to start. Of course, this isn’t going to help teachers get better at managing behaviour, nor will it directly improve their pedagogy, but it does help to focus their minds on their subjects. Sadly, subject knowledge gets pushed to the sidelines in many schools, often because of pressures surrounding data or exams or moderation, etc., and whilst those things are important, they shouldn’t eclipse our subjects, because our subjects, after all, are what we are here to teach.



8 thoughts on “CPD for Knowledge Fans

  1. Focusing on subject knowledge on for CPD, seems like a revolutionary idea! Yet surely one of the most important aspects of teaching? Lets boot out blooms and do something useful instead.

  2. Can you tell me how many hours per week you spend working? This includes teaching, preparation, marking, meetings etc.
    Teachers here in Ireland are generally terrified by the hours teachers in England work and therefore many reject any reforms that have been tried in the UK. Currently the government is going through a consultation process on school autonomy and all the teacher unions have rejected it completely.

    • A Michaela teacher with no additional responsibilities probably works about 10 hours per day Mon-Thurs and then 9 hours on a Friday (early finish). We cut back on lots of nonsense so that teachers can focus on actually teaching. We also have an extra week holiday in October half term. Teachers work hard when they’re in school, but don’t have to take much (if anything) home with them.

      • I was previously working about 11 hrs per day and 5 at weekends. Way too much for a £35k job and having a serious impact on the rest of my life. All I can suggest for others in a similar situation is to take control of, and keep track of the hours you work. Ask SLT how much they expect in terms of workload. If they use comments like as much as it takes to get the job done, I would question whether it is the right school to be working in. If you love your job and enjoy 60hr working week, good for you; but don’t be bullied into doing more than is reasonably expected.

  3. Hi

    Excellent article and an area that’s limited to teachers of English. In my role as advisorary teacher of science I rarely come across schools investing Inset time on specific subject knowledge – instead focusing on system wide issues such as behaviour and non subject specific pedagogy.

    we need to sharpen the subject saw as well as the pedagogy one – the best teachers are excellent practitioners who also have in depth subject knowledge.


  4. Pingback: Lessons from great footballing nations | Class Teaching

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