Like the start of the Christmas season, the hunt for new staff seems to get earlier every year.
It’s around this time of year that schools begin foraging around in the various ITT programmes in their area, snuffling for potential NQTs.
But the earlier this gets, the more of a gamble the whole thing becomes.
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Are we doing our new teachers a disservice by starting this selective process so early in their training?
Are we targeting the vulnerable before they have had time to reflect and evaluate their genuine position and career goals?
The government’s creation of the Early Career Framework (ECF) is a positive move. Its vision is “to build on high-quality initial teacher training (ITT) and become the cornerstone of a successful career in teaching” – schools need to understand their responsibility in helping to make that vision a reality.
The scary thing is that there is no sense of extensive preparatory support for trainees before they enter the classroom; many are on salaried programmes (“Hello, come and have an 80 per cent timetable and meet floor standards by the end of the day”) and do not have the freedom that comes from being able to observe others, to build slowly to manageable teaching loads, to take small steps.
We promote this in our teaching. Guided practice, models, exemplars, establishing existing knowledge bases, avoiding cognitive overload – the evidence is clear. So why don’t we apply classroom pedagogy to our recruitment and retention of trainee teachers?
With this in mind, here are some pieces of advice for schools and their leaders looking to recruit from the trainee pool:
About your needs, the needs of your curriculum, the needs of the students, the capacity you have for support, the quality of mentoring you can offer and – above all – the qualities and needs of the trainee you are after.
It is their career, ultimately – don’t threaten it before it has had a chance to flourish.
Don’t just talk about support
Offer it, do it, and do it properly. According to a study from Harvard, “providing high-quality professional development and learning opportunities to employees is among the most important and long-standing challenges faced by organisations […]
"On average, teacher coaching also has a positive effect on student achievement. Coaching requires teachers to be willing to open themselves to critique and recognise personal weaknesses”.
They are likely to be receptive. Who is more open to support, used to taking feedback, and seeking to develop their practice than an NQT who has been through a training programme, where that is their daily diet?
Promote your school
Promote the vision and ethos of your school at every available opportunity: be present at local CPD events and recruitment fairs; contribute to the bigger picture of development in your area through your local SCITT or teaching school.
Create the right environment
Think carefully about the environment you want your trainees to enter. You want to recruit and then retain them, as well as retaining your existing staff to help the school grow and students to flourish.
In supportive schools, teachers not only tend to stay and be more effective in their classrooms, but they also improve at much greater rates.
But let them go
Don’t seek to “hog” teachers in your establishment at the detriment of their own professional development and careers.
In the same way that we shouldn’t “pass on” ineffective teachers by giving overly-effusive references, neither should we pressure to retain a novice (and therefore professionally vulnerable) teacher to help make up the numbers when we know they would be better served in a different context.
Use your strategies as leaders and decision-makers to turn a “hot” decision into a “cold” one; just because the race for teachers starts ever-earlier shouldn’t mean that you are forced into poor recruitment of the wrong person.
Plan recruitment sensibly and in sequence – think about succession, think about support and think about strengthening your staff body for the benefit of your students.
Henry Sauntson is assistant principal at City of Peterborough Academy