The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

NQTs and COVID-19 – challenges and opportunities

COVID-19 has brought so many different challenges in so many shapes and levels of stress for everyone working in the education sector. Those who are about to become Newly Qualified Teachers represent not only a specific group for us to worry about but also a group in whom (if we look after them properly) we can put a fair bit of hope for the future.

As always, with anything important, education is going to be one of the most important features of the rebuilding (and maybe even to some extent reimagining) of our communities and society going forward. It is therefore more important than ever that we look after the new teachers coming into the profession. They represent such an important part of its future.

The good news is that from my recent experience, this incoming set of NQTs are already showing themselves to be pretty good at several important things.

Some are serving the school communities they belong to by supporting with remote learning or for example volunteering help with free school meal deliveries often whilst juggling a range of other commitments. All are seizing the opportunity to really look after their own professional development by combining the work set by their ITE providers with a more personalised approach that focuses on their individual priorities.

Understandably the vast majority are very worried about the time they are missing in the classroom and the impact this may have on their confidence and competence in September. For this they cannot be blamed, and we do need to take their fears seriously. The final third of a PGCE year is typically mainly spent in school and is usually a huge growth point in the making of a new teacher. The absence of this is bound to be severely felt and we need to be mindful of this when supporting and adjusting our expectations for teachers taking up their first jobs next year.

In my experience, however, the anxiety they are experiencing right now is being channelled in positive and useful ways. I have been so impressed with how seriously they are taking the challenge of maximising the time they have between being so suddenly and traumatically disrupted from the school-based element of their ITE and when they will be back in the classroom.

The fact that lockdown is happening during the period of ITE where accelerated growth usually happens on final school placement is a thing that really interests me and (counter intuitively) gives me great hope for how quickly these NQTs will catch up when the time comes.

One of the reasons they normally learn so much during this time is undeniably the intense hands-on classroom experience they are currently missing. However, another explanation for the fact they gain so much from this may also be a reason why they are not just ‘standing still’ without it. My research into early career teacher development suggests that this is the point where trainee teachers have become so much more aware of the bigger picture of what they are hoping to achieve for their pupils’ learning.

Taking time to really stand back and reflect and use the range of tools available to analyse teaching and learning with forensic detail may prove to be extremely beneficial when they do return to the classroom. Many are availing themselves of the tremendous online CPD being made available by organisations like the Chartered College of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust. To do this alongside scrutinisation of online teaching for pupils in the form of (for example) the Oak Academy could be so beneficial. The ability to really study how others make complex concepts accessible and meaningful to pupils at different stages is a great benefit and is likely to prove so useful in the future. Bringing together thinking about the bigger picture of what teachers are there to do for their learners with studying micro-moments of practice is such a supportive process for new teachers.

As always, with anything important, education is going to be one of the most important features of the rebuilding (and maybe even to some extent reimagining) of our communities and society going forward.

Sam Twiselton

Come September it is very likely that all in school – from new teachers to senior leaders will inevitably be rightly focused on very practical issues. Establishing new routines, relationships and ways of working with pupils who have had a long period away from school will be top priority. For some children these will include circumstances involving a range of trauma. Addressing these challenges will be ‘all hands-on deck’ in this endeavour. If this is done in a culture of teamwork and mutual support, my prediction is that this will make a conducive and supportive context for new entrants to the profession. To get through this initial period in a spirit of support and pragmatism seems sensible.

As things settle to a new normal the foundation of principled reflection on and analysis of practice that has been established during this strange period we are living through will hopefully really benefit new teachers. To optimise these benefits it will be important for mentors and school leaders to support their NQTs to link this learning to their new and current experience in the classroom once things have settled down in school.