The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Supporting early career teachers: Priorities, practice and policy direction

The challenge the sector faces in teacher recruitment and retention needs little introduction; increasing pupil numbers, fewer teachers joining the profession, and more teachers leaving.

Early career teacher retention in particular is becoming progressively worse, with a quarter of new teachers now leaving the profession within three years (Worth, 2018).

We also know that teacher quality is the biggest in-school factor in pupil attainment, and that teachers’ learning curves are at their steepest in the early years of their career (Allen and Sims, 2018). With improving outcomes for young people as our overarching goal, supporting early career teachers effectively should therefore be our priority, as the DfE’s commitment to strengthening the provision for early career teachers through a two-year induction period recognises (Department for Education, 2018). But what should the focus be, at a school, trust, and national policy level, in order to really make a difference?

Provide a supportive professional environment

Kraft and Papay (2014) note that teachers’ effectiveness improves at a much higher rate in schools in which there is a strong professional environment, and characterise this as one in which:

  • Rules around behaviour are consistently enforced
  • Teachers are given time and resources for professional development
  • There is a culture of trust, respect and openness; commitment to student achievement; and opportunities for peer collaboration
  • Teacher evaluation is focused on improving the quality of teaching.

With improving outcomes for young people as our overarching goal, supporting early career teachers effectively should therefore be our priority, as the DfE’s commitment to strengthening the provision for early career teachers through a two-year induction period recognises (Department for Education, 2018). But what should the focus be, at a school, trust, and national policy level, in order to really make a difference?

Cat Scutt

As teachers become more effective, they also develop higher levels of self-efficacy. Given that ‘making a difference to pupils’ lives’ and ‘thought I’d be good at it’ are among the top reasons for choosing teaching as a career (Menzies, 2015), actively helping new teachers to improve their teaching quality and achieve success is critical – for them, and for their students.

Creating time for development requires careful consideration of teacher workload – itself a driver for teachers leaving the profession, with the manageability of teachers’ workload influencing job satisfaction (Sims, 2017).

These priorities apply at a system level, too; in the context of early career provision, the new two-year model should be about ensuring new teachers have appropriate provision and support to enable them to succeed, whilst the early career framework will need to be carefully positioned and managed to ensure it is not perceived as putting more pressure, workload or judgement on teachers at the start of their career.

Work collaboratively – at every level

The development of new teachers’ expertise will often come, at least in part, from working alongside highly effective colleagues and having the opportunity to learn from these (Spillane et al, 2018; Jackson and Bruegmann, 2009). Teachers’ sense of self-efficacy is not just individual, but collective (Muijs and Reynolds, 2017), and collaborating with colleagues influences teachers’ job satisfaction (Sims, 2017), so providing space for this is important.

More widely, the experience of teachers as they join and progress through the profession depends on input from ITT providers, schools, trusts, CPD providers, the DfE, professional associations and more. To ensure progression and a consistent experience for new teachers in all settings, all of these need to work together; as Weston and Clay point out in Unleashing Great Teaching, we need to share the system’s collective expertise, ensuring that the best that is available anywhere is available everywhere.

Develop a culture of coaching and mentoring

The value of mentoring support in the early years of a teacher’s careers is widely recognised, whilst approaches such as instructional coaching have consistent evidence of impact on teachers’ practices and pupil outcomes (Kraft et al, 2018). The benefits of providing new teachers with high-quality coaching and mentoring extend further, too; it requires expert coaches and mentors and thus, by default, means development opportunities for those with more experience.

Effective coaching and mentoring in the early years of a teacher’s careers does, however, require appropriate funding to be given to schools to enable them to develop capacity and provide time, space and recognition of the value of mentoring.

Raise the bar for the profession

It is worth noting that the approaches proposed here are valuable for all teachers, not just new ones. The DfE’s consultation, for example, questioned whether new teachers should be released from ‘non-teaching’ tasks; they should certainly be released from ‘unnecessary’ tasks – but so should all teachers. Reviewing school and system-level policies and practices to ensure new teachers are supported benefits everyone. And if teachers start their career with excellent professional development and support, they will develop high expectations for the rest of their career – raising the bar for us all.

References:

Allen, B and Sims, S (2018). The Teacher Gap. Abingdon: Routledge (David Fulton).

Department for Education (2018). Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and improving career progression for teachers: Government consultation response. London: Crown Publishing.  (accessed 10th November 2018)

Jackson, C. K and Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers. NBER Working Paper No. 15202.

Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D. and Hogan, D. (2018). The effect of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 88(2).

Menzies, L, Parameshwaran, M, Trethewey, A, Shaw, B, Baars, S and Chiong, C (2015). Why Teach? London: Pearson and LKMCo.

Muijs, D and Reynolds, D (2017). Effective teaching. Evidence and practice. Fourth edition., London, SAGE Publications

Sims, S. (2017). TALIS 2013: Working Conditions, Teacher Job Satisfaction and Retention. Department for Education (UK) Statistical Working Paper.

Spillane, J, Shirrell, M, and Adhikari, S (2018). Constructing “Experts” Among Peers: Educational Infrastructure, Test Data, and Teachers’ Interactions About Teaching. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Weston, D and Clay, B (2018). Unleashing Great Teaching. Abingdon: Routledge.

Worth, J (2018). Latest teacher retention statistics paint a bleak picture for teacher supply in England. National Foundation for Education Research.  (accessed 10th November 2018)