There are "huge concerns" over schools' mentoring capacity following a surge in teacher training applications sparked by the Covid-19 crisis, providers have warned.
Prior to the pandemic, providers had "already been concerned about the capacity for mentoring in schools", especially in light of the expectations set out in the new Early Career Framework (ECF), which is set to become statutory next year, according to the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT).
But "if we add to that where we are now", with schools facing "unimaginable pressure" and the fact that we may see an "uptick" in teacher trainees, there is "huge concern" over capacity to meet demand, NASBTT executive director Emma Hollis said.
Coronavirus: Teacher trainers' concern over mentor quality
Teacher recruitment: Lockdown teacher training applications leap by a third
New research published this week shows that the Covid-19 recession has reignited interest in the teacher training sector – with a 35 per cent year-on-year increase in applications between March and August.
Fears over shortage of teacher mentors
And the overall number of postgraduate teacher training applicants up to mid-August 2020 was 16 per cent higher than at the same point in 2019.
Meanwhile, the number of accepted offers to primary and secondary teaching courses was 14 and 20 per cent higher, respectively, in 2020-21 compared with 2019-20.
According to the National Foundation For Educational Research (NFER), the recession sparked such an increase because "teaching is seen as offering secure employment when unemployment is high".
But, speaking at the Labour Party's annual conference this week, Ms Hollis said a rise in trainees could put extra pressure on the system.
Asked about the implications of the NFER research for mentoring capacity in schools, the NASBTT leader said: "Prior to Covid, before the pandemic hit, before we saw an increase in applications to teacher training, we had already been concerned about the capacity for mentoring in schools.
"ITT [initial teacher training] providers were telling us that they were concerned simply for ITT provision – that consistently the quality and availability of mentoring within schools was one of their biggest challenges, after recruitment.
"And so there was the concern anyway. Some of the concern was around staff shortages – so simply not having enough people on the ground, schools being unable, not unwilling, but unable to release mentors for quality training because they were so short-staffed that they weren't able to let them out of school to attend training, and simply not having the capacity to be able to support early career teachers as they enter into the school.
"If you add to that the Early Career Framework, which is an incredibly exciting development – something that we are really inclined to believe in and think that, in terms of teacher retention, is an important tool, that again asks more of mentors within schools."
Ms Hollis said the newly-introduced ITT core content framework, designed to "velcro on" to the ECF, has also added to demand.
"Once again, it's requiring more of mentors and asking more of mentors in a school-based setting," she said.
"And so you are asking headteachers, who are already short on staff, to suddenly have much more capacity to be able to support early career teachers."
Now, with schools under "unimaginable pressure" amid the Covid crisis, "we are even shorter on the ground", she warned.
"And add to that then the positive news that we might have more trainees coming into school – we might have an uptick in trainee teachers over the next couple of years, there is a huge concern over where this capacity is coming from."
Ms Hollis said "there are steps in the right direction", including funded mentor training for the ECF, the introduction of a new specialist qualification for teacher developers, and "recognition from government that mentoring is absolutely fundamental to the success of early career development".
"But all of that needs time, capacity, the respect, the pay, quite frankly, and the ability for schools to give the time and resource and money that a mentor needs to do their job exceptionally well," she said.