July 2021 edition: New Teachers – We Need to Look After Them More Than Ever Before

New Teachers – We Need to Look After Them More Than Ever Before

Covid-19 times have shown us more clearly than ever the importance of education and why we need to protect it. We have not only seen how hard it is when teachers and their pupils cannot be together but also how much it matters that the disruption to learning this has created is addressed. We have also been constantly reminded that an excellent education is the foundation for everything else. Without education we would not have any of the other things upon which our civilised lives depend. We would not have been able to navigate our way through this global crisis without the scientists and many other experts whose own education has helped them to rise to the challenges so magnificently. Hopefully, this means the world is clearer than ever about the importance of schools and the importance of teachers.

Teachers have worked incredibly hard in the most challenging of circumstances. Now it matters more than ever that as a society we look after them – all of them – but we need to give special and focused attention to our new teachers. They not only represent the future of the profession – they can play a central role in reformulating what happens now.

New teachers matter more than ever

I believe the trauma with which this generation of teachers has been faced in its first year will make its members stronger.

Sam Twiselton

As you would expect, the impact of Covid-19 on new and trainee teachers starting this year has almost as many different variations as there are new teachers. There has always been great variation in what it’s like for new teachers, and Covid-19 has amplified this in the same way it has amplified so many of the other variables in all our lives

At Sheffield Hallam we have been focusing on how we support these new teachers: to help them to develop, re-establish and to nurture relationships with the children they teach. For many, this is proving to be a really strong identity-forming way to come into the profession. Without those relationships, and without understanding of the different factors that impact on children’s ability to learn, we cannot overcome all the barriers that come with them.

Having said all this, it would of course be wrong to say it has been an easy time or that the stress of starting a new and demanding career has not been made so much harder for the majority of new teachers. They have had a disrupted ITE year and are likely to come into schools at a time when teaching and learning are still not ‘normal’ and when there are many things that add to the usual stress. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that many have risen to the challenge brilliantly and have maybe even enjoyed some of the ‘stripped back’ nature of having to really focus on the basics of what is achievable in these constrained circumstances. This does not, however, mean they do not need our current and ongoing support.

Teacher retention and the policy landscape

The problem of teacher retention existed long before Covid-19.  ITT is very short and this combines with an accountability system that can tempt some school leaders into expecting new teachers to be the fully formed product and able to hit the ground running. It can be a toxic combination. Stress, workload, and a lack of self-worth inevitably follow. The DfE have recently woken up to this problem and in publishing the Recruitment and Retention Strategy came up with a sensible response. As a strategy it includes different moving parts which all need to work together, but it is the Early Career Framework (ECF) and ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) that are uppermost for me.

When the two frameworks are fully up and running and working together from September, we have something that could make a huge difference – a core entitlement for all trainees and early career teachers, regardless of where they train or where they get their first job. This ‘Velcroed-together’ set of frameworks should provide consistency in the evidence-based training, support and development that new teachers receive across the ITT year and the first two years after they have qualified. This is a great step forward and the system needs to get behind it and support it. We need to change the narrative for new teachers, and we need to support, develop and (if appropriate – as some leaders do this well already) adjust our expectations of them.

Beyond the frameworks

We need to recognise the value these policy reforms bring for new teachers not just as good things in themselves but also in the way we need to think about our profession. The lens I believe we need to look through from September onwards is one of the role new teachers can play in helping put a premium on relationships and responsive flexibility. As a system we need to emphasise the centrality of positive and mutually respectful relationships with children, staff and parents. The fact we have all been dealing with trauma, bereavement and (for some) economic catastrophe, which will be present well into the next academic year, should be our focus. How we develop and re-establish relationships, and how we support new teachers to also nurture those relationships, is probably the most important thing. The fact that new teachers will be entering at a point when this is front and centre of people’s minds, can only be a positive thing. Hopefully, it will help form their professional identity and thereby make them a positive force for good in the system. I believe the trauma with which this generation of teachers has been faced in its first year will make its members stronger.

Now more than ever we need to support our new teachers and ensure the profession has a bright and secure future.