Learning from ECF Implementation
The Early Career Framework (ECF) is a huge opportunity to invest in teacher professional development across the school system. This is a big step forward for the profession, guaranteeing new teachers across the country access to a structured and sequenced training programme at the start of their career.
I also see the investment in early career teacher (ECT) development as part of a broader and welcome shift in the profession, away from more judgemental, high-stakes processes like graded lesson observations or scrutiny of teacher’s marking, towards more supportive and regular developmental practices such as teacher coaching and mentoring. This is an important culture shift for us to tackle across schools if we are to reverse the current trend where a third of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of service.
Last year saw the start of the full implementation of the new framework and an extraordinary effort from teachers and school leaders across the country to mobilise this ambitious reform. Throughout 2021, colleagues across the country set up new delivery structures, including 87 new Teaching School Hubs, and worked with lead providers to recruit and start tens of thousands of participants on to ECF programmes. All of this was at a time when the education sector was under unprecedented pressure from the continued challenge of coronavirus.
Together, we have the potential to strengthen and grow what we do as an education system, by creating an opportunity for every new teacher to access excellent professional development and mentoring in those crucial first few years of their career.
Despite ECF being early in its implementation, bright spots are already emerging – for example, over 10,000 ECTs and mentors on Ambition’s ECF programme have already engaged in over 150,000 hours of professional development between them, and we’re only half-way through the year. Many involved are beginning to feel the power of a rich and carefully sequenced curriculum combined with weekly, incremental coaching. Teachers are reporting that the little-and-often nature of the weekly mentor meetings are making a precise and immediate difference.
For School Trusts, the ECF is not only forming part of their internal staff professional development and retention strategies, but an opportunity to contribute to the wider system challenge of teacher development. For example, Matt Dunne Director of Ark Teaching School Hub, an Ambition partner, says that:
"Coaching is at the heart of teacher development at Ark. We have coached early career teachers for a number of years and have found that following the structured curriculum and high quality resources within the Early Career Teacher programme really supports this work. Our Teaching School Hub supports more than 75 schools outside of Ark with this programme and for many, this is the first time instructional coaching has taken place in their schools. School feedback from the first term of the national roll out of the Early Career Teacher programme has been overwhelmingly positive; the online learning platform Steplab, the quality of the resources Ambition have developed, the support provided for mentors and the high standard of professional development sessions we have facilitated have all been praised by teachers and leaders.”
The ECF is an ambitious project and so year 1 implementation was always going to be challenging, even without coronavirus still in the mix. In his excellent book ‘Accomplishment: How to Achieve Ambitious and Challenging Things’, Michael Barber (former head of the Government’s delivery unit) describes it as something‘fundamental in human endeavour’ that ambitious projects will always require hard work in implementation and highlights the importance of ‘gathering intelligence thoroughly’ at this stage. For any large-scale reform to be effective, the key is to listen and learn quickly and so as well as holding a high bar on the quality of ECF delivery, providers and the DfE must be rigorous in identifying challenges and responsive in addressing them.
Mentor capacity is an obvious example – the ECF has introduced a more consistent mentoring entitlement for teachers across schools and headteachers are rightly asking the question: ‘how can I create time and space for my early career teachers to gain access to great mentoring?’. In our experience, there are few quick fixes when it comes to embedding high-quality professional development across an organisation. However, there are increasing examples of Trusts and schools that are successfully addressing this challenge, and there is more we can do collectively to share these stories so we can learn from each other as a sector throughout this first year. In our experience of working with schools as part of the ECF Early Roll-Out, implementation pressures ease significantly from year 2 onwards, as mentors become increasingly familiar with the programme.
We also need to make sure we reduce any unnecessary administrative burdens for ECTs and mentors, so the precious time that mentors have can be spent on what matters most – constructive and high-quality development conversations with ECTs. At Ambition, we’ve already made several changes in response to feedback from our partners, and while I am sure there is still more we can do, we know that it is making a difference and are excited about the impact that we are already starting to see in our partner schools and Trusts.
The ECF is an ambitious thing for us to be doing as a sector and there’s much to be celebrated about its development over the last few years. There are ways we can and should improve it, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what we stand to gain through doing this really well. Together, we have the potential to strengthen and grow what we do as an education system, by creating an opportunity for every new teacher to access excellent professional development and mentoring in those crucial first few years of their career.