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Dear Ted

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I'm a mature secondary NQT who doesn't get on with a much younger mentor. I heard today that she's told other staff that she expects me to fail. What should I do?

Ted says

No decisions about "pass" and "fail" in teaching should ever be made by individuals, even though some people try to seize such power. The assessment of teaching is a subjective matter and that is why most procedures usually involve what is sometimes called "a consensus of those competent to judge".

It depends what lies beneath your comment about having a much younger mentor. Is there envy, or threat, in either direction? Are personal relationships poor, partly because of the age gap? Age in itself is not usually a barrier to friendship or mutual respect, so there must be other factors at work. Ask yourself honestly whether you have done what you were supposed to do, taken and followed advice if it was offered, and tried hard to improve your professional skills.

If the honest answer to all three questions is "yes", then you should discuss the possible personality clash in confidence with a senior member of staff, such as a deputy head . If, however, the answer is "no", then you should talk to your mentor about what you can do to improve and whether you feel you have been well counselled.

In any case, a colleague should not be discussing you so openly behind your back. Appraisal is a delicate and private matter and must not become the subject of public gossip. And if what she says is true, then you should be given, in writing, any reasons why you might be failing. Critical comments should also be offered in time for you to do something about them. The school should not only indicate your weaknesses but offer positive help for you to overcome them. Adults are not all that different from children: if you expect people to fail they will often do so. Equally, the expectation of success can breed it.

You say

Focus on completing the year

You've probably spent far too much time worrying about what to do. You must move on, especially as you are at a really important stage in your first year. You need to separate the quality and nature of your relationship with your mentor from the evidence you currently have about your performance as a newly qualified teacher. While that relationship may need sorting, the most important thing is whether or not you are on track to complete your induction period; the relationship only becomes critical if it is likely to endanger that happening.

It's especially important to get the relationship sorted if you know that questions about your performance are backed up by evidence. If what you've been told about your mentor's behaviour is true, then she needs to be reminded of her professionalism - although your emphasis on the age gap and the evident dislike in your question suggests your judgments may be clouded.

But there is one thing you can do which will silence any critic: do everything in your power to become a really good teacher. The best way to answer criticism is with positive achievement.

NQT line manager, north Yorkshire

Something must be done - now

By now you should know if you've passed your first term or not; you may even be going through a second assessment. But if a senior member of staff is acting inappropriately, then something needs to be done now. If you can't go to your head of department and you don't feel up to approaching your mentor, then you really should talk to a trusted senior colleague who can speak on your behalf.

Remember you can no longer repeat your induction period - although you can apply for an extension if you're having problems - so you have to get it right. Take the initiative and talk to someone tomorrow. You'll be surprised how helpful they will be.

Anonymous, email

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