First-year shock absorbers

Pay for newly qualified teachers differs little from post to post and so the job hunter's decisions tend to be based on geography and perceptions about what individual schools have got to offer. One thing applicants should look for is the level of support they will be offered once they have started their new career.

In the past new teachers were often pitched straight into a full timetable with little support other than the occasional chat around the coffee table in the staffroom. New teachers with problem classes or concerns about their performance often felt that to raise these issues was to risk their professional competence coming under question.

The situation now is very different. Many areas offer comprehensive induction and support schemes to ease the new teacher into the job with minimum stress. In the London borough of Redbridge the support starts with the appointments process. Barry Hancocks is Redbridge's teacher recruitment officer. His working year begins in the autumn term when he tours universities, lecturing student teachers about the practicalities of getting a job. Redbridge then organises a number of recruitment days for applicants.

During the day applicants are interviewed, but they also have a chance to meet Redbridge staff and see literature about schools in the area. Successful teachers are then considered by schools in the borough for available posts. Heads and applicants have the benefit of a "highly vetted process".

Once newly qualified teachers are appointed, Redbridge recommends that schools offer them employment in the summer term. This helps on three fronts. It provides some much-needed cash, it helps the NQT to plan ahead for the new school term and, as Barry Hancocks explained, "The kids get the opportunity to know your face in advance. You're not seen as a new teacher in September". Each Redbridge NQT is assisted by a trained mentor in their first year and assistance with rent and accommodation is available.

In Essex the education authority co-ordinates a comprehensive system of support for new staff which includes financial help, mentoring and targeted in-service training. Helen Springett is in her second year as a teacher at Holy Cross Primary School and benefited from the programme when she was an NQT.

The support started in July when she went on a one-day course which covered essentials such as what to do on the first day and classroom management. This was followed by nine days of in-service training in her first year which covered issues like reading management, curriculum areas, behaviour management and classroom organisation.

The INSET course gave Helen "Lots and lots of good ideas". She had a personal mentor for her first year which she welcomed. "There was somebody to go to at the end of a bad day." The LEA also organised cluster groups where NQTs from local schools would meet half termly to exchange experience and discuss practice.

The groups chose their own agenda: "Reading was one thing which we all wanted to discuss straight away." Asked to imagine what her first year would have been like without the support, Helen says: "It would not have been as easy, I found the first term stressful enough as it was. At the end of it I felt more confident about going into my second year." The support Holy Cross gave Helen is all the more impressive considering that she was one of three NQTs, all of whom were offered the same support over the year.

In Suffolk a similar programme is run for NQTs with two days' residential INSET as part of the training offered. Bernadette Culkin moved to the area after qualifying. The Suffolk scheme offered her an interest free loan of #163;1, 000 which was paid to her on her first day: "It was very welcome, I had rent to pay." Bernadette was also offered a #163;300 pounds contribution towards removal expenses. "The INSET has been helpful and the financial package was a bonus, it made the first term much less stressful."

Two years ago schemes like these were GEST-funded by the Government, but LEAs no longer receive GEST funding for NQTs and many have had to cut back on their levels of support. Authorities like Leeds have felt the need to continue to support NQTs, but as Leeds adviser Brian Hogg explains: "It has put tremendous pressure on our budgets."

The reality is that in some areas NQTs can expect excellent levels of support with financial assistance and targeted INSET and in other areas no formal support is offered at all.

For a student teacher looking for work this year it would be worth checking at application stage precisely what support an employer plans to offer.

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