Early Career Framework: everything you need to know

The ECF is set to begin in September 2021. Two teachers involved in its formation tell you what to expect from the change

Jon Hutchinson and Caroline Spalding

The Early Career Framework for new teachers: What schools and NQTs need to know

The year is 2022, it’s Friday, period five, and Mr Findlay is standing at the front of his classroom. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

The pupils know that Mr Findlay is just into his second year as a qualified teacher. Accordingly, two of the “livelier” pupils, Patrick and Stephen, begin to giggle at one another at the back of the classroom, conscious of an easy target. They have conspicuously chosen not to write the date as instructed and, instead, have turned to each other to engage in conversation.

It is an age-old test of mettle; venturing over the established boundaries to scout out the response from the teacher stood in front of them.

What the pupils don’t know is that the new early career induction period means that Mr Findlay has enjoyed coaching in his school based on a rigorous and structured framework, informed by the best available research evidence. It’s the same post-initial teacher education (ITE) training that every teacher in the country now receives.

So Mr Findlay has the knowledge and the strategies to deal with this common scenario.

The Early Career Framework: NQTs are no longer alone

And he has more. His school has received additional funding so that support traditionally given in an NQT year has continued into his second year. Second-year NQTs like Mr Findlay are no longer alone.

He glances up at his mentor. She relaxes back into her chair and gives him an encouraging nod.

“You know what to do,” her eyes say. “We’ve practised this – I know you can do it.”

Mr Findlay thinks back to their last mentoring meeting, when they discussed the power of positive reinforcement when managing behaviour. They had watched the online video outlining the research, and then practised using early and least-intrusive interventions to address low-level disruption.

Walking calmly towards the pupils at the back, Mr Findlay points to several other children in the class.

“I can see that Jacinta, Luke and Madina have all written the date neatly and are ready to start. Well done.”

He taps the exercise books of Stephen and Patrick without making eye contact. With a grudging respect, they pick up their pens and begin to write.

“Good,” continues Mr Findlay. “Today, we’re going to be learning about Sir Isaac Newton and what he meant when he said, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.'”

New approach

If Mr Findlay had begun teaching in 2019, before the Early Career Framework (ECF) came into action, he might not have been so well prepared for such a situation. While some NQTs enjoy this kind of extensive support in their first year, for nearly all it is a question of “out of the frying pan and into the fire” when they hit their second year as a qualified teacher.

Sure, some teachers – whom the gods smiled favourably upon – end up in schools that have the time, skill, inclination and expertise to offer an extended and supportive coaching programme. But this is certainly not the case across the country.

The ECF will change that. New teachers will receive what other professions have enjoyed for a long time: a structured, consistent and coherent induction period, in which they are taught the accumulated knowledge and skills necessary to not only survive but thrive in their chosen profession. The exposure to research on the varied areas of education (from special educational needs to assessment theory) will mean that each teacher can embark on a career-long path of increasing expertise in their chosen field.

So what exactly is the ECF?

A reality for all teachers

The educational future that Mr Findlay inhabits is set to become a reality in September 2021.

And it began on a summer’s day in 2017, when – along with a large group of other teachers, academics, senior leaders and teacher educators – we (the two teachers writing this piece) first met with Department for Education officials. The task of this group was to begin planning for “strengthening qualified teacher status and ongoing career development”. The promise was that this change was to be teacher-led, and our experience is that it has been. Our group of teachers – from across the phases and different types of school and, importantly, from across the ideological spectrum – have argued this out and delivered the end result.

The objective at the first meeting was both ambitious and deceptively simple: to improve the professional entitlement of teachers, providing them with the firmest foundations possible as they begin their careers, giving them the best chance to deliver excellent educational opportunities for their pupils. That objective remains the same today, and it is one that we are optimistic that the profession is ready to claim.

In a nutshell, under the ECF plans, the NQT period will be increased to two years and a new, detailed accompanying framework for that two-year induction has been published that complements the Teachers’ Standards. All new teachers will work through this framework together with their mentors. They will then be assessed at the end of the two-year period against the Teachers’ Standards, as currently happens at the end of the one-year NQT induction.

The framework itself is not designed to be used as an assessment tool, and should not be used as a checklist or tracking sheet. A complete curriculum and supporting materials will be published to support the delivery of the framework, and will be freely available to all schools. There will be no need for schools to design a whole new system from scratch unless that is something they desperately want to do!

The rationale for extending the induction period is threefold.

1. We know more about what works than ever before

First, owing to research from a range of disciplines, we now know a lot more about effective education compared with a few decades ago. As cognitive psychologist Professor Daniel Willingham puts it: “The mind is, at last, yielding its secrets to persistent scientific investigation. We have learned more about how the mind works in the last 25 years than in the previous 2,500.” (Why Don’t Students Like School? 2009).

If we want to support teachers in understanding this new knowledge and the opportunities to embed it into their practice in their own unique way, it will take longer than NQTs are currently given. Extending the NQT period to two years gives new teachers the time and space they need to get to grips with the latest research and apply it to the classroom, as well as translating it into their own contexts.

2. We need better support in the first years of teaching

A recent briefing paper for the House of Commons library revealed that “22 per cent of newly qualified entrants to the sector in 2015 were not recorded as working in the state sector two years later”. Getting these early years right is crucial if we want to retain teachers and give them an experience that is professionally fulfilling while manageable alongside a healthy life outside of school.

The current tempestuous educational landscape is well documented: unreasonable workload and the associated wellbeing pressures, leading to recruitment and retention challenges. We hope that this new framework will go some way to blowing away these dark clouds.

It is not, however, designed only for those teachers who find the first few years particularly challenging. The new framework will raise a tide that lifts all boats. Every teacher can improve, and each has the right to have access to the support that will help them be a little bit better each day, which takes us to the third reason for these changes.

3. A pathway to career development

We want to give every teacher a broad and secure foundation in all of the essential elements of expert teaching, while opening up varied pathways for further career development. As it currently stands, the principal method of “progressing” in your teaching career is to become a head of department or year, and then on to senior leadership. While we, of course, need excellent senior leaders in the school system, not every teacher aspires to this particular position. It is our hope that the early career framework will naturally segue on to professional qualifications in a diverse range of educational expertise. For some, this may mean mastering assessment theory, or speech and language difficulties, while others may wish to consider curriculum structure or building meaningful links with parents and the wider community.

Professor Dylan Wiliam’s now-famous phrase that “every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better” was forefront in our minds as we considered the early career development and ongoing career pathways of teachers. Some teachers who seem to be doing alright in the classroom will nonetheless benefit from structure and support that allow them to master their craft and choose their own area of expertise.

Will it be more work for new teachers?

With a number of new initiatives and changes in curriculum, assessment and policy, you would be forgiven for rolling your eyes throughout the preceding paragraphs. Perhaps these plans fill you with concern at another box to tick, giving you even more workload on an already full plate.

We want to assure you that this is the opposite of what we hope to achieve. The framework will not be assessed, so there will be no need to “track” progress or complete any paperwork at all.

Additional funding will be allocated for mentors, alongside new training materials. A blend of online and regional events will ensure that an easy-to-implement curriculum sits in front of the framework document, available to all schools. NQTs will work on a reduced timetable to allow them to focus on improving their practice. New nationally recognised qualifications will be available for more experienced teachers to pursue their specific area of interest.

We are teachers – we understand the pressures. We are determined to do this right and give the profession ample lead-in time, however long it takes.

The framework in detail

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at exactly what is included in the new framework. It considers five fundamental areas of practice: pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, behaviour and professional behaviours. Supported by the Educational Endowment Foundation, we reviewed the best available research in each of these areas.

This meant scrutinising high-quality and robust systematic reviews and meta-analyses, as well as individual studies, books and academic literature. Working with special educational needs and disability (SEND) groups, we sought to ensure that the framework delivers access to an excellent education for all children, including those pupils with the four areas of need set out in the SEND Code of Practice.

Research, of course, is constantly evolving and so we envisage that the framework will be reviewed regularly to accommodate our improved understanding of effective educational practice.

To marry the framework as logically as possible with the Teachers’ Standards that NQTs will ultimately be assessed against, we matched these areas with the different standards.

There are eight sections to the new framework then: demonstrating high expectations (standard 1), understanding how pupils learn (S2), subject knowledge and curriculum design (S3), classroom practice and pedagogy (S4), adaptive teaching (S5), assessment (S6), managing behaviour (S7), and professional behaviours (S8).

Each of these sections is split into two areas: knowledge and application.

  • The knowledge or “learn that…” statements outline findings from research. For example, the classroom practice section includes the knowledge statement, “Explicitly teaching pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning, supports independence and academic success."

  • Alongside these knowledge statements, there are corresponding applications or “learn how to…” statements. For example, linked to the previous “learn that” statement would be the “learn how to” statement: “Narrating thought processes when modelling to build pupils’ metacognition (eg, asking questions aloud that pupils should consider when working independently and drawing pupils’ attention to links with prior knowledge)”.

In what follows, we outline each of the eight sections in turn, with examples of some of the knowledge and application statements, why we think they are important, and how they might play in the classroom.

1. High expectations

This first section in the framework underscores the power of teachers to influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of their pupils. Teachers are key role models, with teacher-student relationships strongly associated with performance, and students’ happiness and sense of belonging at school. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has found that many teachers value pupils’ social and emotional development as highly as their academic proficiency.

In the classroom, the implications for this might be learning how to create an emotionally safe environment, where making mistakes and learning from them, as well as the need for effort and perseverance, are part of the daily routine. Specifically, this may mean considering how positive attitudes to learning are praised and rewarded. Or learning how to use intentional and consistent language that builds a culture of mutual respect.

For example, while the experienced teacher can be adept at the use of humour to build relationships, we will all be aware of the way sarcasm can unintentionally upset or demean. The expert teacher, then, needs to be skilled in the use of positive and unambiguous language that promotes challenge and aspiration, modelling the courteous behaviour expected of pupils.

2. How pupils learn

Section two draws on the most up-to-date information about the working memory (where information is actively processed) and long-term memory (our store of knowledge that changes over time through the integration of new ideas with existing knowledge).

As a teacher, this may seem like one of the most fundamental breaks with what has gone before in that it foregrounds that learning is much more than what takes place in one lesson: learning involves a lasting change in pupils’ capabilities or understanding.

Through considered long-term plans, this means teachers taking into account prior knowledge and then sequencing lessons so that pupils secure core ideas before encountering more complex content. It also means planning for regular review and the revisiting of ideas through spaced retrieval practice so that pupils remember more of what has been taught.

In addition, it is about keeping the complexity of tasks to a minimum so that attention is focused on the information that is to be learned and not the activity itself.

In maths, this might mean memorising times tables to support progression to more sophisticated mathematical processes. In English, it could mean breaking down the complex task of creating a piece of transactional writing into crafting sentences and making effective use of punctuation before tackling a longer response.

3. Subject and curriculum

In line with the draft Ofsted framework, this section will emphasise the need for a coherent vision for the knowledge, skills and values that pupils will learn.

For teachers new to the profession, this might mean working closely with more experienced colleagues to develop understanding of their subject discipline; for example, likely misconceptions and how these can be addressed. More specifically, this might mean the sharing of the very best analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations and demonstrations that can be used to powerfully articulate new or challenging concepts to pupils.

Appropriately, literacy is also explicitly addressed in this section of the framework. Research underscores that every teacher can improve pupils’ literacy by explicitly teaching reading, writing and oral language skills specific to their individual disciplines.

In the classroom, this might mean a history teacher modelling the key reading processes of prediction, questioning and summary when reading a source text, or asking pupils to respond in full sentences or to make use of appropriate technical language.

4. Classroom practice

This section summarises some of the research around specific classroom strategies. For example, the way good models can make abstract ideas concrete and accessible, and the positive impact on pupil autonomy of explicitly teaching metacognitive strategies.

Research supports what many experienced teachers will already know: paired and group activities can increase pupil success but, to work together effectively, pupils need guidance, support and practice. For a teacher new to the profession, this may mean the conscious deployment of short group activities designed to build pupils’ ability to work constructively with others, with these tasks lengthening over time.

This section also summarises findings related to homework: while it can improve pupil outcomes, particularly for older pupils, it is likely that the quality of the homework (eg, its relevance to teaching in class) is more important in terms of impact than the amount set. For teachers, this means planning suitable homework tasks and resisting activities that simply tick “homework set”.

5. Adaptive teaching

Here, the focus is on the needs of individual pupils, highlighting findings that, in order to succeed, pupils are likely to learn at different rates, and to require different levels and types of support from teachers. For pupils with SEND, all teachers need to work closely with colleagues, families and pupils to understand barriers and identify effective strategies so that all pupils have the opportunity to experience success.

So, what does this look like in a classroom? It means that, through use of formative assessment, additional guidance, and liaison with the SEND coordinator and other specialist professionals, teachers need to ensure they have a really clear grasp of the needs of their pupils and the strategies they can use to support them.

It should be noted that this section of the framework also tackles that ubiquitous educational white elephant: learning styles. For once and for all, it is stated that the idea that pupils have distinct and identifiable learning styles is not supported by evidence, and attempting to tailor lessons to learning styles is unlikely to be beneficial.

6. Assessment

Good assessment can provide teachers with vital information about pupils’ understanding and needs, ensuring that they are not influenced by potentially misleading factors, such as how busy pupils appear in the classroom. However, it also draws attention to research findings that all teachers will know from personal experience – that assessment can easily become onerous and have a disproportionate impact on workload, relative to its benefits.

For assessment to be of value, teachers need to use it when they need it to inform decisions. For example, the use of hinge-point questions to assess the trajectory of a lesson. Key to this is considering the most effective method for getting the information that is needed. For example, whether a peer-marked multiple-choice quiz assesses if core knowledge has been learned as effectively as an extended prose response marked by the teacher.

High-quality feedback is likely to encourage further effort and provide specific guidance but this can be written or verbal.

Practically, many teachers are already trialling strategies such as whole-class feedback and marking codes, allowing them to more quickly identify areas for development and respond to pupil work. As with many aspects of developing practice, the framework articulates the research and rationale that underpin this, hopefully giving teachers new to the profession the confidence to pursue really effective strategies back at the chalkface.

7. Behaviour

The successful management of behaviour can feel like one of the most hard to attain aspects of classroom practice for those new to the profession. However, research has shown that establishing routines can help to create an effective learning environment. This includes having a predictable system of reward and sanction. For the new teacher, this might mean having faith that day-in, day-out consistency will reap rewards with that “challenging” class, but also understanding that they have a right to assistance from more senior colleagues within a wider approach to behaviour for learning.

8. Professional behaviours

This is at the heart of what the ECF sets out to do: to detail a vision for our profession – one where high-quality professional development sustained over time is the norm from the moment entrants join us, and where teachers’ time for rest and recovery is fiercely protected. It is this that will keep people doing this job we so love, and enable NQTs to become the next generation of expert teachers.

Jon Hutchinson is a primary teacher and curriculum lead at Reach Academy Feltham and Caroline Spalding is assistant headteacher at The Bemrose School in Derby

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

Girl doing the splits

10 features of a flexible classroom

A flexible, empathetic environment can work wonders for learning. Ginny Bootman offers her tips on how to achieve it
Ginny Bootman 30 Nov 2021
Early years: Why our broken EYFS system is failing

Why early years funding increases still fall short

An experienced early years head explains why 21p per hour funding increases don't go far enough for a sector that feels it is continually overlooked when the cash is handed out
Dr. Lesley Curtis 30 Nov 2021