A Potential Paradigm Shift in the Way Teachers Begin Their Professional Journey
It’s good timing to be writing for Trust as new teachers are very much on my mind right now. I have recently started chairing the DfE expert group that has been asked to help develop guidance for ITE providers as to how to amend their curricula so that they align as seamlessly as possible with the Early Career Framework. This is both enjoyable and potentially important work. It’s enjoyable because so many people are keen to contribute and the immediate team I’m working with are so passionate about what we’re trying to achieve. It’s important because if we get it right and the system gets behind this and also the Early Career Framework we have the potential to create a real paradigm shift in the way teachers begin their professional journey.
I have written about this previously and I feel as optimistic now as I did then. As I have said many times one of the things I’m most certain about is that we need to make these changes to the way we support early career teachers if we are to begin to solve the retention (and therefore recruitment) crisis.
Back in 2014-15 I had the privilege to spend several months working almost full time as an expert advisor to the Carter Review of ITT. It was the most professionally rewarding experience of my life. I got to meet so many beginning teachers starting out on their journey in the most important career that exists and also the many people who support them along the way. We found many things that are working well in the system and a number of shining beacons of excellent practice. Inevitably we also found some things that needed to improve. The most important of these was under-reported at the time. This is that for the majority of trainees ITE is just far too short. This was clear from a range of sources.
This is why the fully funded Early Career Framework is such a positive thing for the profession. Taken in combination with ITE it guarantees a minimum of three years ongoing support and development for all new teachers.
Firstly international comparisons showed very clearly that high performing education systems elsewhere put more time into the initial preparation of teachers – often five years or more. When looking at other sources of evidence the reason for this becomes quickly clear. As part of the review we met with many expert groups on themes such as SEND, behaviour, subject knowledge, assessment etc. Each of these meetings yielded notes that typically ran into twenty plus pages. These notes were essentially lists that experts told us new teachers needed to know and be able to do if they were to feel competent and confident in the classroom. There was little there that you would argue with yet realistically it would take years to really achieve the level of understanding and ability that was implied. Combine this with the fact that the pressure of accountability can sometimes lead school leaders to actually expect NQTs to have this level of knowledge and skill from day one and you can begin to see why early career retention is such an acute and growing problem.
This is why the fully funded Early Career Framework is such a positive thing for the profession. Taken in combination with ITE it guarantees a minimum of three years ongoing support and development for all new teachers. In some places the system has already done this for itself. In the Carter Review we found examples where Trusts and Teaching School Alliances had created their own career pathways of support from pre-ITE to early career and beyond. The fact that they had done this so well and that the joins at each stage were almost seamless shone a light on the fact that this was not systematically in place everywhere for all. Now we have an opportunity to put that right.
It is the need for a ‘seamless join’ that explains the work of the ITT group I have just started to chair. If we want to really maximise the impact of the ECF we need to make sure ITE and early career support and development aligns as closely as possible. For most the guidance we produce will not create the need for dramatic change but more adjustments that many are already possibly planning for themselves. Having said this we are clear about the importance of the school context as a powerful place for learning and the need for beginning teachers to have the right kind of support and development while they are there. This is after all, the place they spend the vast majority of their time in their ITE period. We will therefore be giving a lot of attention to how this can be as impactful as possible. We need to ensure the system supports and gives profile to the centrality of the mentor role and to the careful crafting of the kind of experiences and conversations, supported by positive agentic relationships that need to happen in school to support teacher development. All in all I feel good things are potentially going to be happening for new teachers. If everyone in the system can see the importance of getting behind and supporting them, between us we could really make a difference.