“Am I the only one that thinks that there is a lot of extra work for ECTs (early career teachers) to do?”, one assistant headteacher recently asked Edu-Twitter.
The number of likes this tweet received – as well as countless other tweets circulating about the new Early Career Framework (ECF) – proved that no, she’s not the only one.
The overwhelming majority of responses to her tweet were negative, which won’t be a huge surprise to most who have been involved with the development of the new framework.
The introduction of the ECF was always going to be a big change for schools: in a bid to improve the quality of teacher training, the NQT period has increased from one year to two, NQTs are now called “Early Career Teachers”, and extensive mentoring is at the heart of the programme.
In many ways, it's a positive step forward for teacher development. But as with any new framework, the implementation on the ground is having teething problems – and when you add these to the current challenges schools are already facing around the pandemic, it is not surprising that teachers are taking to social media to voice their frustrations.
More on the Early Career Framework:
- Six steps to success
So, what’s going wrong? The major concerns for both mentors and mentees are workload related. Teachers on Twitter state that they are already pressed for time with their existing responsibilities and are struggling with the framework’s intense focus on research and theory.
“I’m not surprised schools are finding it challenging because the rollout has been fairly quick and it’s obviously during a very challenging time for schools,” says Dr Mark Hardman, a professor at UCL’s Institute of Education who has been involved in research and piloting of the framework.
“But this system has the potential to raise everybody, not just the ECTs: as mentors develop their own coaching skills they, in turn, can support other staff to do the same.
“The things coming from this programme go beyond ECTs and their mentors: it can enable a research and evidence culture to filter through the whole school. If possible, I’d encourage schools to take a moment to take stock of how they can make the most of the opportunities in the current framework.”
Early career framework: How to iron out the issues
To make the most of those opportunities, schools will need to tackle the challenges faced by the ECTs and their mentors on the ground. So, what can be put in place to help to relieve some of the pressures?
1. Check for duplication
Hardman’s first suggestion falls on the shoulders of the induction lead. He suggests that if they haven’t done so already, they need to get an overview of what was already in place, pre-ECF, around teacher training, and consider its place in the new programme. Where they are duplicates, “de-implementation” needs to take place.
“A lot of school systems are still in place that will eventually be replaced by those systems around the early career framework. In our research, we found that ECTs and mentors were doing two lots of paperwork: the old system for induction as well as the new course,” he explains. “It takes the induction lead to unpick that but it will save everyone time.”
2. Remove NCTs and mentors from unnecessary activities
To alleviate pressures on workload, leaders should look at whole-school activities and consider removing both new teachers and mentors if they aren’t specifically needed, says Hardman.
“For example, there may be ongoing developmental processes within the school around targets and while that’s useful for ECTs to be involved in, induction leads will need to navigate whether the ECTs need to be involved in all of the things that all of the staff body are doing at the same time,” he says.
However, this advice does come with a warning: exclude them from too much, and there’s a risk ECTs won’t feel part of the school culture.
3. Reduce mentors’ other responsibilities
Being a mentor takes up a lot of time – and leaders need to ensure they facilitate this, says Hardman. To save time in a mentor’s timetable, they could be excluded from covering lessons, given fewer classes to teach, or extra PPA to prepare for the coaching.
However, the expectation that this additional time should be dedicated to ECF work needs to be made clear from the start, he says.
“Somebody like the induction lead needs to be able to say to the mentors, this is your responsibility, this is what this time is for, it’s for you to prepare for the mentoring. Because, of course, it’s natural for that time to be focused on the classes that the mentor has to teach, but it’s about the expectations and that comes from the senior leaders as well.”
4. Share mentoring out across staff
While it’s helpful for an ECT to have a dedicated mentor, Hardman suggests sharing the responsibility of training the new teacher. For example, if a new science teacher needs some specific support on physics, they should be able to approach a specialist for that.
Encouraging all staff to support the ECTs can reduce the burden on individuals – as long it’s been discussed and agreed with everyone, he adds.
5. Have a formalised mentor routine
Mentors and ECTs need to have an open and honest discussion about how the support will work best for them, says Hardman – everyone is different, and what works for one pair, may not work for another. As part of this it might be that as well as the formal sessions, informal mentoring happens in the staffroom, or during 10 minutes at lunch, when support is needed immediately.
6. Get the balance between research and practical advice right
In the first term, many ECTs will have very practical questions, says Hardman – and even though the formal sessions do focus on research-based approaches, mentors need to pay attention to these concerns.
“Don’t make the sessions completely abstract: that’s not going to help anybody. ECTs need to know what the procedures are as well as very practical teaching skills. Those things will naturally improve but mentors should try and bring these things together, so the research applies to practical situations,” he says.
To ensure ECTs feel supported with these practical problems, Hardman suggests dedicating 20 minutes at the start of the session to talk through those, before moving on to the research-based content.
7. Monitor wellbeing
The ECF is a step up – for both ECTs and mentors – and Hardman points out that when it does get too much, it’s OK to take a step back.
“There’s a risk that if people feel they're constantly behind the ECF programme, that creates an additional layer of stress – we need to make sure that these are seen as developmental programmes that are an entitlement but not a straitjacket,” he says.
8. Don’t use the ECF as a checklist
Hardman stresses that the ECF isn’t the be-all and end-all of training new teachers: and that time and focus also should be given to aspects not covered in the framework: subject knowledge, professionalism, ethical considerations, for example.
“The worst case scenario is that we replace our understanding of what it is to be a good teacher by this list of things that are in the ECF, and that’s not what teaching is about,” he says.