February 2021 edition: The Early Career Framework – Learning from the Early Roll-out

The Early Career Framework – Learning from the Early Roll-out

The Early Career Framework (ECF) provides such an opportunity for new teachers and their mentors right across the system. It addresses that most critical issue about how you support a new teacher at arguably the most challenging time of their career. It helps those supporting teachers in the early stages of their career prioritise what they learn and better sequence their development opportunities. It also gives us the tools, as a sector, to create alignment and coherence, helping to ensure that all our teachers have a shared understanding of research and best practices in teaching and education.

What is the ECF?

The Early Career Framework sets out the key things teachers should know and be able to do at the early stages of their career. It was created as part of the DfE’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy to provide a more coherent experience for new teachers, ensuring they had the knowledge and skills to become effective teachers who were retained within the profession.

In September 2020, an Early Roll-out programme across the North East, Manchester, and Bradford was launched. The aim was to enable schools and providers to work together to deliver a programme of training and support to NQTs and their mentors in school prior to a national launch to all schools in September 2021. Four 'lead providers' were selected to run this early roll out; Ambition Institute, Education Development Trust, Teach First and UCL Early Career Teacher Consortium. Each Lead Provider designed a curriculum, underpinned by the ECF called the 'Core Induction Programme' and all of the materials have been made publicly available to all schools. 

We know the impact of Covid-19 on trainee teachers was challenging, many missed out on key elements of their ITT and, while providers across the country developed innovative solutions to this, the Early Career Programmes offered an additional opportunity to support them. The government supported the launch of a one-year programme for all NQTs and their mentors in September 2020, meaning a greater number of NQTs would have access to the materials and support available.

From September 2021 all schools will have to provide an Early Career Programme, this will be an entitlement for all Early Career Teachers (ECTs) and the mentors who support them. Schools can either develop their own programme (using the Core Induction Programme materials designed and shared by Lead Providers) or can work with a Lead Provider to deliver the programme in partnership. This partnership way of working is called the Full Induction Programme. Organisations who want to work with schools to deliver this have gone through a rigorous application process with the DfE, and we expect successful providers to be announced soon.

What has Teach First learnt from the Early Roll-out?

1. It takes a while to ‘cut through’ with very busy schools

Schools have a lot on their plates in a 'normal' day, but their role in supporting whole communities through a global pandemic has certainly increased the load. What we have learnt is that communication in all different forms is key. Allow space for school leaders and potential mentors to ask lots of questions and have them answered quickly. When time is limited, teachers and leaders need clarity and a simple way to get response.

2. Ensuring the curriculum is right for every ECT

Teachers are busy, and we know the things that are easier to deprioritise are the less urgent things which are often the most important, such as your own development and learning. We know we have to make every minute count, and one of the challenges we faced was the different starting points for ECTs in relation to the research and experiences they have had in ITT. We addressed this by ensuring all of our modules had 'stretch' content, ensuring trainees who had expertise in certain areas could still grow and develop through the programme. We have also built in subject and phase specific content, and worked with sector experts to ensure the content continues to develop ECTs and their mentors across the whole two year programme.

At a national level, the development of the Core Content Framework will help. This means schools will have greater clarity over the level of understanding that NQTs have when they join. The Core Content Framework sequences into the ECF to ensure a coherent path for the first three years of the profession.

3. The importance of mentors

Mentors are critical to teacher development in all schools, and yet sometimes the role isn’t given sufficient time, status or opportunity. We wanted to ensure mentors had what they needed to support their ECT. In our curriculum we have provided a thorough guidebook. This handbook provides step-by-step guidance, but also flexibility so mentors can provide bespoke and responsive support, underpinned by evidence about what supports teachers to develop quickly. Mentors also have access to the materials their ECT receive, so they can support them to apply their learning in the school context. Mentors who are unfamiliar with some of the research are able to attend seminars to get input from an expert.

4. Changes to timing and the online world

Flexibility has been important for all of us over this past year and especially for our schools. We adapted our programme to meet the changing needs of schools. It already had a significant online ‘live’ and pre-recorded element, however this was increased and we obviously removed face-to-face elements. We changed the times of live seminars to fit in with the changing school day and provided recordings of these so that teachers and mentors could access these flexibly if they were unable to attend.

5. The workload challenge

Workload was an issue for all teachers even before the pandemic. Starting out in a new school at the beginning of a new career is difficult, as is learning the craft and science of being a good teacher. It takes focus which is difficult when it feels like everything needs to be addressed at once. The ECF is an entitlement and it is vitally important that we make the time and space for ECTs and their mentors to engage with it. We also need to ensure it doesn’t become a "stick”, too cumbersome or a way to assess teachers. This will take away from the initial intent of the strategy. Assessment of teachers in their early career is important for the sector, and needs to work alongside the ECF, but not override the focus, which is about providing ECTs and their mentors with the best available training and support.

What we need to remember as a sector

The Early Career Framework provides such an opportunity for new teachers and their mentors right across the system.

Reuben Moore

We need to sell the ‘why’ first. The ECF underpins an investment in professional learning for new teachers to help them improve further. That is good for schools and the pupils they serve as well as the individual.

Any programme (whether schools choose to do this on their own or in partnership with a Lead Provider) needs to be precise and clear so that colleagues can focus on the learning not logistics.

It needs to be part of the work of the teacher not in addition. Schools and providers need to think hard how to do this well. This means building time for it, avoiding duplication with other programmes, and limiting needless assessment.

Finally, the curriculum needs to be applicable in a teacher’s day to day practice and this requires it to be both practical and memorable. Learning science shows us how to make things "stick” with pupils, we should be using these theories ourselves as we design learning experiences for our teachers. Blocks of learning, precise application, focused feedback, and revisiting concepts can help ensure that professional development really sticks. This means teachers can apply their own learning more readily in service of the achievement of their pupils. That is a win all round.

The Teach First materials can be accessed here.