Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: A Balanced Approach to Professional Development

EEF blog: A Balanced Approach to Professional Development

Kirstin Mulholland
Kirstin Mulholland
Associate for school engagement and evidence use

Kirstin Mulholland, EEF Associate for Content and School Engagement, introduces a new animation to support understanding of effective professional development. 

Blog •2 minutes •

Research tells us that one of the most important things we can do to improve pupil outcomes is to continuously develop the quality of teaching and learning (Higgins et al., 2014).

This means that, as we move towards a new school year and begin to consider training opportunities for teachers, many school leaders will be thinking about how best to ensure that the professional development we provide actually has a lasting and sustained impact on classroom practice.

The EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance report highlights essential building blocks – or mechanisms – which can help to bring about changes in teacher behaviours and improve pupil outcomes.

The mechanisms can be divided into four key groups:

  • Build Knowledge,
  • Motivate teachers,
  • Develop teacher techniques
  • Embed practice

Together, these four groups of mechanisms form the balanced approach to professional development design.

A Balanced Approach to Professional Development

When professional development includes at least one mechanism from each group, it is more likely to be embedded into regular practice (EEF, 2021). Furthermore, the more mechanisms we include within PD, the more likely it is to positively impact upon pupils’ attainment.

To support the designers and leaders of professional development in schools to maximise the potential for change afforded by professional development, the EEF has produced an animation to introduce the essential mechanisms of effective professional development, and to show how these work together to form the balanced approach to professional development design.

We hope that this can support school leaders both when designing, selecting and implementing professional development, helping to ensure that any activities into which they invest time, energy and resources achieve our ultimate goal of making a lasting impact on classroom practice a reality.

Where does the evidence come from?

This blog and animation are based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of 104 peer-reviewed studies. This was commissioned by the EEF and authored by Sims et al. (2021).

The full review is available from the EEF website.Sims, S., Fletcher-Wood, H., O’Mara-Eves, A., Cottingham, S., Stansfield, C., Van Herwegen, J., Anders, J. (2021). What are the Characteristics of Teacher Professional Development that Increase Pupil Achievement? A systematic review and meta-analysis. London: Education Endowment Foundation. 

Available at: https://educationendowmentfoun…[1]professional-development-characteristics.


EEF (2021) Effective Professional Development: Guidance Report. Available at:

Higgins, S., Major, L. E., & Coe, R. (2014) What makes great teaching?’, What works (and what doesn’t), Professional Voice, 11 (3), pp. 11 – 16. Available at: