Early Career Teachers | Addressing the challenge of supporting early career teachers to re-join as we move into a post-pandemic landscape
Author: Claire Harnden | Contributors: Angela Jenkins, Alison Fletcher, Stuart Russell and Esther Cook.
‘The goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty but rather to navigate it.’ (Andy Stanley)
As we head forward into a period of repair and reintegration in education, we need to be ready for the challenges ahead. There will be many calls made on school leaders and a number of key priorities to address. Enabling disadvantaged children beyond the pandemic, closing the gap for vulnerable learners, risk assessments encompassing ever-changing social distancing measures, revisiting relationships and bereavement policies, the emotional impact on staff and the likely prospect of staff shortages will be amongst these priorities. There is a great deal to do.
At this time, there could be a temptation to shift attention and capacity away from early career teachers who need support more than ever. For the profession, this would be catastrophic and a review of current articles would suggest that this topic lacks attention.
The recruitment and retention of new teachers into the profession remains a significant challenge and high priority. The government’s ‘Recruitment and Retention strategy’ was developed to address this with an emphasis upon improving the induction package for early career teachers. The Early Career Framework (ECF) grew out of this strategy and then in turn the ITT Core Content Framework. This three-year package of entitlement was designed to improve the offer to all new teachers regardless of geographical/school/ provider context. We need this post-pandemic more than ever.
Post-lockdown ITT 2020-21 recruitment has seen a surge of summer term applications. This unprecedented increase will benefit school recruitment in 2021. Contrary to this, the picture for newly qualified teachers in 2020 is not as positive. Vacancies have slumped in most areas of the UK leaving a surplus of applicants in the system. We must be mindful of the potential NQTs who may have a significant gap in service unless they gain employment. With the potential requirement for smaller class sizes bringing staff capacity issues to schools, could there be a centrally funded employment strategy or scheme to enable their continual development and school experience whilst adding value to schools? There are creative solutions for the sector here.
NQTs with employment for September are generally excited about their first teaching post. ITT providers have kept trainees ‘on programme’ so training has not stopped and for many, the period of reflection has aided growth. School-based provision had encompassed around 96 school-based days, 24 days of professional input and experience in two schools before COVID-19 related school closures. It would not be true to say that these new teachers have stopped classroom practice altogether. Many have contributed to remote learning and have volunteered to support classes in their schools, even though there was no compulsion to do so. What will these teachers bring into our schools? Increased flexibility and an ability to adapt? Potential for more resilient staff who are ready to roll their sleeves up and crack on? Nevertheless, what are they facing ahead? There are many unknowns but with careful communication and collaboration, this can be managed. We must work collectively to carefully pass the baton on.
‘Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.’ (Alexander Graham Bell)
There is an opportunity for innovation ahead and the Queen Street Group has identified the following key challenges and opportunities for further thought and consideration:
- Pass the baton carefully – work together to ensure high quality professional development and support is in place for all early career teachers. Transition documents should include key strengths and areas for development.
- Collaborate, flex and build a partnership that adds rather than reduces capacity. ITT providers are planning autumn term support for their alumni and NQT appropriate bodies and schools will be revising induction training. There is a danger here of further reducing school capacity rather than seizing the opportunity to help. There is a moral obligation to prioritise needs of schools, children and trainees. Be agile and build upon the value of blended and remote learning opportunities available to assist capacity next term. It must be clear what ITT providers and NQT appropriate bodies are doing to mitigate for the gap in experience/training.
- Address anxiety and nourish foundations – NQTs will experience a crisis of confidence if schools do not reopen more widely before the summer. Schools, ITT providers and NQT appropriate bodies must have an understanding of this and work together with compassion for new teachers and their mentors during these unprecedented times. This increased emphasis upon relationships and collegiality could mark a turning point in the profession for the better.
- Seize alternative modes of working – the rate at which the sector responded to the need for change in delivery methodology has been tremendous. Monumental changes have taken place with virtual, remote and blended delivery and meetings. We do not have to go back to how we used to work. Embrace what has been learnt and consider the positive impact upon workload.
- Communicate with new teachers – make meaningful connections now. Remove as many unknowns as possible and provide a level of reassurance through structure and open communication. Get mentors in place and put them in touch before the end of term. Make sure new teachers know who to go to for support and what policies, protocols and expectations are in place. Hold virtual meetings at year or departmental level depending upon phase and involve new teachers in planning for autumn.
- Consider timetabling – is there an opportunity to aid induction through the temporary removal of additional duties and responsibilities? Be creative and consider co-teaching experience, live coaching, staggered release time and look for an opportunity to build in protected mentor time.
- Engage mentors in instructional coaching and positive feedback techniques now. School leaders will want to know what ITT providers and appropriate bodies are including within their training and may have already planned blended learning activities to support. Consider mentor networks and shared mentoring across schools embracing use of virtual meetings.
- Raise the profile of mentors and consider the collective responsibility of all staff to mentor early career teachers. Formally recognise and empower mentors to make a difference and build capacity. ‘Developing others’ is a core component in all leadership training and the first experience of this for many is to mentor a trainee or NQT. As the ECF gains momentum it could be prudent to consider a whole school Teacher Educator NASBTT (the National Association for School Based Teacher Trainers) has long been an advocate for this and has developed a suite of Teacher Educator’ training/ qualifications and a ‘Teacher Mentoring Zone’ ready for use by schools.
- Embrace the Early Careers Framework (ECF) now – build a slower but deeper understanding of this minimum entitlement over the next two years to improve provision for early career teachers and those who work with them. Although statutory rollout of the ECF is not until September 2021, organisations including The Chartered College, Ambition, UCL, EDT and Teach First have started to develop ECF resources for an early roll out. ITT Core Content (the preliminary year of this three-year early career package) starts this September enabling school leaders the opportunity to build on this content in their schools.
Can you afford to invest in training teachers for the future? Can you afford not to?
- Grow your own – build a sustainable work force and embrace the capacity that this can bring. If there is training in the area, there will be teachers in the area. The DfE have temporarily relaxed the ITT Criteria to enable greater flexibility for schools regarding placements next year (malleable age range and second school arrangements). Offer placements and open your doors to trainee teachers. See trainees as agents for change and as part of your solution with graduates on hand to work with small groups, offer focused intervention or remote follow-up. An extra pair of hands that cares and wants to develop and learn.
We need strong partnerships, flexibility and the vision to look beyond.
As we move ahead into a post-pandemic world, the education sector has gained significance. The value of education and teachers who make a difference has been highlighted. Keyworkers are highly valued and as the economy prepares for the challenge of rebuilding, teaching has become an attractive career for many. UCAS figures for teacher training in May and June are significantly up and there is an opportunity to bring a multitude of professional acumen to our schools. Initial teacher training should be embraced to build capacity in our schools, to enable schools to grow their own new teachers and develop a sustainable model for recruitment as we take our next step into the emerging new world.
Queen Street Group
This think piece is for discussion put out by the group as a whole and should not be seen as a reflection of specific policies adopted by any of the named member Trusts.
28th June 2020
1 The QSG member Trusts educate 214,000 pupils across 393 schools. The members are:
Academies Enterprise Trust; Astrea Academy Trust; Brooke Weston Trust; Cabot Learning Federation; Creative Education Trust; Dixons City Academy Trust; Education South West; The First Federation Trust; Future Academies Trust; Lead Academy Trust; Leigh Academies Trust; Oasis Community Learning; Ormiston Academies Trust; South Farnham Educational Trust; Unity Schools Partnership; Ventrus Limited; The White Horse Federation.