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Shaping the future of teaching

Emma Hollis, of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, on what's required of the forthcoming Early Career Framework initiative

Posted by Julian Owen | October 05, 2018 | People, policy, politics

This academic year is arguably the most critical yet in terms of addressing the issues facing schools on teacher recruitment and retention. The Department for Education’s response to the ‘Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and Improving Teacher Career Progression’ consultation in February set in motion a series of initiatives which should – if resourced and funded appropriately – make a huge difference to teachers in this country.

Perhaps the most critical initiative is the Early Career Framework (ECF) for new teachers, which we are involved in behind-the-scenes and is due to be published by Christmas. The ECF is essentially a longer period of support and guidance with clear entitlements (and entitlement is, I think, a key word) to professional development, access to mentoring and coaching and, potentially, reduced timetabling.

The content of the ECF will build on - and complement - Initial Teacher Training (ITT), and will be designed to offer coherence on what teachers actually need to excel in the business of helping children to progress. It therefore gives us the ideal opportunity to rationalise what it is that we really want from ITT and what is more suitable for coverage later in their careers. For example, would now be an appropriate time to look at what is most needed in pupils' initial year and streamline the over-crowded ITT curriculum?

The ECF will also need to strike that careful balance between ensuring a fair and equitable common entitlement for all teachers whilst giving enough scope for personalisation, and thereby prevent a generation of ‘cookie cutter’ teachers who are prevented from exploring their own interest and expertise. What works in one geographical area, indeed in one school, will often be different to what is needed in the school down the road.

"The ECF must be about guidance, nurture, support and wellbeing, and must not simply create a tick-list of training events to be sat through for the sake of a paper trail."

The issue of Newly-Qualified Teacher (NQT) mentoring is one I am particularly passionate about. I could foresee a situation whereby schools must have a dedicated mentoring lead in the same way they do for safeguarding and Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). This individual would have overarching strategic responsibility for mentoring early career teachers, training all staff on what it means to be a mentor – this should be a set of skills common to all teachers and not simply held within one formal teacher-mentor relationship – and to whom all staff ultimately report back.

Another idea could be to form local hubs which provide access to accredited mentors. Most teaching schools are already working with accredited teacher training providers who know what early career teachers need and have a wealth of expertise which schools could access for mentoring training support. These providers are ideally placed to serve as such hubs. By tapping into the existing network of accredited training providers, we could give more time to the mentors we have already got and, importantly, avoid setting up a whole new mentor recruitment and procurement system.

Naturally, there is a direct link between the ECF and the Government’s wider teacher recruitment and retention strategy, which is also something we are involved in. We can expect this discussion to focus on the evolution of the ITT market from where are now, what we can do to build capacity, and how we might reshape the market. The specifics around the search and apply stages of application to ITT, and whether there is more we can do to support a seamless journey into ITT, may also feature.

"It will need to strike that careful balance between ensuring a fair and equitable common entitlement for all teachers whilst giving enough scope for personalisation, and thereby prevent a generation of ‘cookie cutter’ teachers who are prevented from exploring their own interest and expertise."

In terms of immediate priorities, we first need to be clear on the detail of the ECF. The big elephant remaining in the room is the issue of funding. And, as yet, a firm Government commitment to the funds that will be allocated to schools to implement the changes resulting from the QTS consultation has not been made. What is obvious is that schools are not in a position to provide the additional support that is required within existing budgets. Without time and resources where necessary, I fear that the ECF would, sadly, be doomed to failure.

The good news is that by clearly setting out the entitlement to support that every NQT should receive, clarity over professional development, guidance, coaching and mentoring should become far more transparent and less dependent on the whims of a particular school leadership team. But by committing to entitle early career teachers to more support, we must not create a system fraught with accountability and data gathering issues which increase workload and stress, exacerbating the very problem it is trying to help solve. The ECF must be about guidance, nurture, support and wellbeing, and must not simply create a tick-list of training events to be sat through for the sake of a paper trail.

Emma Hollis is Executive Director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers

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