2019 Spring Term 1


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How can schools best support early career teachers? Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looks at the training and support early career teachers say they need, and considers the implications for schools and policy.

First Steps

Teachers in their first three years in the job are a precious commodity. Not only do they represent the future of the teaching profession, they bring energy, dynamism and new ideas to the classroom. Yet research shows that it is getting harder to retain early career teachers (ECTs) in the profession, especially in maths, science and modern foreign languages (www.nfer.ac.uk/teacherworkforce). There are a number of factors that could be influencing this trend, including variation in the quality of support and training, as well as a lack of opportunities for new roles. 

A new NFER research report, commissioned by the DfE, provides interesting insights into what support is needed and examples of effective practice, from 20 schools in England, identified as having higher than average rates of ECT retention.

Newly qualified teachers (NQTS) Typically have a broad range of development needs and benefit from collegial support.

Findings from the Early Career Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – Exploratory Research report (www.nfer.ac.uk/ECTresearch) suggest that new teachers commonly experience ‘practice shock’ at the start of their careers, and that the reality of life in the classroom can take them by surprise. They need support from colleagues to help them settle into their new roles, and to acclimatise to the school environment. 

The level of support they receive from more experienced colleagues is crucial to their professional development. A quick word of advice in the staffroom: an informal one-to-one chat to discuss a problem with a pupil, or an aspect of a lesson, can be as effective as more formal and structured CPD. 

Typically, the study found that newly qualified teachers are allocated two mentors in their induction year, particularly in secondary schools: a ‘professional mentor’, who is usually a member of the school’s senior leadership team with responsibility for inducting new staff members, and a ‘subject mentor’ or ‘key stage mentor’ who provides day-to-day support and coaching. Some primary schools also provided two formal points of contact for NQTs, although it was more common for NQTs to have a single mentor. 

Where two mentors were available, this split in roles was generally valued by ECTs, as they benefited from having two formal points of contact and a range of opinions. The study found that while they responded positively to their mentors and the help and guidance they provided, they viewed them each as having different roles. In secondary schools, conversations with professional mentors were valued in the context of evaluating their performance, while the function of subject mentors was considered crucial to their development as a teacher. In primary schools, where only one mentor was usually available, these roles were more typically combined. 

During their induction year, the CPD provided tended to focus on certain key areas of development, including behaviour management, assessment, pedagogy and supporting pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND). 

There were a number of common factors that formed ECTs’ positive views of induction. They valued having a balanced package of support, such as a standardised training programme coupled with more personalised, teacher-led opportunities. They also recognised the value of a supportive school culture, where induction was viewed as the start of a career-long journey of training and support, where support could be accessed from a range of colleagues. 

However, ECTs were less positive about their induction when they had not been allocated a subject or phase mentor, access to their subject mentor was limited, interactions were of poor quality or where there was a lack of tailored training and support.

As teachers progress into their second and third years of teaching, their needs change, and school support needs to change, too.

The report found that teachers, in their second and third years of teaching, wanted training and support that would help them to progress into leadership roles, whether it be in their subject/ department, year group/key stage or other middle-management roles within the school. 

Some expressed a desire to take on specialist roles or responsibilities, which would help them to maintain high levels of job satisfaction. 

With currently no statutory requirement for schools to provide training and support for teachers in their second and third years of teaching, it is perhaps unsurprising that, in most of the case-study schools featured in the research, dedicated support for these teachers appeared to be limited. The report found that the formal training and support opportunities available to these teachers were often the same as those available for all staff who had completed their NQT year. Nevertheless, most ECTs were positive about their second and/ or third year of teaching, and they particularly welcomed a supportive school ethos, access to advice on the range of career options available to them and more personalised light-touch training and support. 

It was also clear that job satisfaction came with opportunities for new roles and more responsibility, rather than the quality of training. The extent to which schools could offer such opportunities, particularly ones that attracted additional teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payments, varied, leading some young teachers to feel frustrated by not being able to progress, and what they saw as a lack of recognition. In such cases, ECTs reported that a key reason for them remaining in post was the positive and supportive school culture.

Implications for the future

So, what are the implications of the research findings for future education policy? 

  • The findings should help to inform the government’s planned reforms to qualified teacher status (QTS), which include increasing the length of the induction period from one year to two years. 
  • New induction arrangements should be responsive to the changing needs and expectations of teachers as they progress from their first to their second year in teaching, and to the potential challenges that a lengthier period of monitoring and assessment could bring to NQTs and schools. 
  • Changes to induction arrangements should give greater focus to more personalised support in the second year, aligned to teachers’ chosen career paths. This could be coupled with a rebalancing, over the two years, of the current processes for monitoring and assessing an NQT’s performance against the relevant standards.

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Matt Walker
Research Manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

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