Could this solve schools' teacher retention issues?

Three new initiatives are set to change the start of early teachers' careers - so could they help the profession hold on to staff?

Samantha Twiselton

Teacher

The problems with teacher retention have been growing for years. We see it both in terms of the number of teachers who are leaving the profession and how soon they do it (it is getting earlier every year). 

The government seems to have been in denial about this for a long time, but they’ve finally woken up to the need to address it.

And so there are three new approaches being introduced, all of which focus on teacher development. What's particularly exciting is that it all joins up in a way that policy often tends not to. 

Major changes

The first is the revision of the NPQs and particularly the Leading Teacher Development one, which is really about supporting mentors, because they're a really key part of this. That could have a big impact on teacher development. 

But the really major changes are in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Core Content Framework and the Early Career Framework. The two link together to create a minimum three year entitlement to high quality support and development for new teachers. The Core Content Framework was implemented in ITT this year and the Early Career Framework comes in as an entitlement for all early career teachers from September onwards and will guarantee access to support and development for the first two years of a new teacher’s career.

The two frameworks are designed to work together to make a kind of continuous curriculum, so teachers will start working on things in their initial teacher training that they can carry on with at a higher level with their own classes, in those first two years in their first job. That's a really, really good thing. 

When I was on the Carter review of initial teacher training back in 2014, one of the biggest things that stood out for us is how much there is to learn in so little time, particularly when you're on a postgraduate course (where you've effectively really got nine months when you take out school holidays and start dates and end dates and so on). 

There are an awful lot of things that you're expected to know by the end of those nine months and it is unrealistic. One of the reasons why we've had lots of teachers drop out is because they're expected to be the fully formed product as an NQT and you just can't be, you've only had nine months.

Three categories of trainees

When I was researching trainee teachers, I found that you could put them into three categories.

The first is the task manager. Here, all you’re really trying to do is get the kids to do the stuff, and as long as they've done as they're told, that feels like you've succeeded. But you're not really attending to whether children are actually learning anything from doing whatever it is you've asked them to do. It’s true new teachers need to learn how to get children to do things and we mustn’t underestimate the importance of helping them with this. It’s important, however, that they don’t get stuck in a rut and forget about learning.

The second category is the curriculum deliverer. This is often where people tend to go next. They will talk about learning as part of what they were trying to do, but in terms of ‘I've got to get through this plan because it’s in the scheme of work’ or ‘It’s what the national curriculum says I've got to do’. But they still aren’t really thinking about the learning beyond knowing that somebody has got to deliver this thing to these children. It’s a ‘that's what I've been told I've got to do, so that's what I'm doing’ position. Again -it’s  important that new teachers learn how to deliver a plan and cover the curriculum. Over time though it can become a problem if they’re not thinking deeply enough about learning rather than coverage.

Which is different to the final category, the concept skill builder. Here you are really thinking much harder about what these children need to understand. They might be dissecting a text in one lesson, for example, because they need to know what powerful verbs are in order to do some effe  writing tomorrow. It’s about thinking in a way that goes beyond ticking boxes on a curriculum planner, instead thinking about the concepts and skills that children need in a longer term way that transforms their understanding. 

Through the stages

So now, for at least three years, new teachers will have this joined up professional development as they go through those stages. It's almost like a cycle; if you go to a new subject or a new school or new children, you almost have to go back to managing tasks to start with and then thinking about learning in a more limited, delivering-the-curriculum kind of way, until eventually you get to a point where you can stand back and really think bit harder about all these children really learning things in a way that they can apply in the future.

The system needs to help both trainees and early career teachers to get through those different stages, but that takes quite a long time, probably longer than nine months. And it also needs the school and particularly the mentor, to really support them and their thinking about that, they can't just really do it on their own.  So these frameworks are an opportunity to really build and get to that point.

There was a survey a few years ago, looking at why teachers stayed or why they left, and they found the number one thing that mattered to teachers was feeling like they’re good at their job.

When you feel like you’re good at it, you’re more likely to stay and if you feel like you’re not, or you’re not being helped to get better at it, you’re more likely to leave. That’s what job satisfaction is all about. 

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Samantha Twiselton

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