It's an ugly picture: two young girls threatening in class to make allegations against a new teacher to get rid of him, claiming that they have done it before. It gets uglier. Less than an hour later, the same girls are in the headteacher's office making claims of physical assault. The teacher is suspended.
For Paul Everitt (his name has been changed to protect the children) this scenario became reality last December, just three months after starting at his first school. But while many teachers in this position may have had the confidence to cope and the support of other staff, Mr Everitt, as a newly qualified teacher, was left to struggle on alone and adrift. While suspended, he wasn't allowed to talk to his mentor or any member of staff (see box).
"Through the long, distressing weeks of my suspension I was entirely alone, at a time when any teacher, let alone an NQT, would have felt at his very lowest ebb," says Mr Everitt, who was teaching design and technology in a large secondary school in the Home Counties.
Finally, after six weeks' suspension, his union representatives advised him to resign rather than face an investigation that could lead to summary dismissal and blacklisting. He took the advice and left the school. He was put on the local education authority's supply list, however, and continues to work in schools in its area.
This frustrates him. "Surely this shows that the county doesn't believe it actually happened and that I am not a danger to anyone," he argues.
But while he has work for now, his future is uncertain. All those awarded qualified teacher status after May 1999 must complete an induction period of three terms. For those lucky enough to get a job or a fixed contract, that induction will end this month. Supply doesn't count unless it is with one school for a full term or more, and NQTs are only allowed to do a maximum of four terms of supply without being inducted. An NQT who fails to complete his or her induction will no longer be allowed to teach.
Mr Everitt was deemed by his last school to have failed the first part of his induction, and the past two terms he has done as supply don't count. He must find a job or a fixed contract to allow him to complete his induction or he faces being forced out of the profession.
The induction system was set up to act as a bridge between teacher training and full-time teaching. It is a means of breaking in new teachers gently, but, as the first cohort of NQTs finish their induction year, concerns have been raised about the system. Besides the problem for some NQTs of being unable to find a job or fixed contract (TES, May 5), many young teachers already on their induction year say they are not being given a chance to complete it successfully.
The teachers' helpline, Teacherline, has been taking calls from NQTs anxious they can't demonstrate their potential because they are over-burdened and inadequately supported. And the unions have been fielding complaints from NQTs given difficult classes or refused the 10 per cent reduction in contact time set in government guidelines.
"It depends on the school, but some NQTs are experiencing problems and feel they are being given inadequate support," says Patrick Roach, principal officer for education and equal opportunities at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.
From a headteacher's point of view, NQTs can be expensive. It is not just the cost of less teaching time, but also of releasing the induction tutor, who must be given time for observation and development. The Standards Fund is supposed to cover this, but few believe the amount of cash set aside is enough. A National Union of Teachers survey of local education authorities revealed that 56 per cent believe the funding is insufficient - and an NUT spokesperson says 85 per cent believe the Government should introduce a discrete grant for schools for NQTs.
For many stretched schools, it may be tempting to use an NQT for cover teaching.
Paul Everitt says he was being asked to cover for absent colleagues all the time and that he was not given enough non-contact time to develop his skills. He also feels he was given a class that was renowned for its lack of discipline. One of his colleagues, Colin Becks (his name has also been changed), believes Mr Everitt is innocent of the allegations made against him, and that he should never have been given such a difficult class to teach. Nor should he have been put in charge of any subject area - he was put in charge of a faculty within the design and technology department, even though he was an NQT.
Mr Everitt's situation is exceptional and extreme. Faced with a highly charged situation, and without the knowledge and confidence experience brings, he was put in a vulnerable position. It has almost destroyed his career. But it illustrates how much support an NQT needs on taking up his or her first job.
Despite the concerns, the profession continues to support the idea of an induction year. There have been complaints, but they come from a small number of the 25,000 NQTs who left college last year. One regional office of the NUT has 1,300 NQT members, but fewer than 10 have made serious complaints about induction. The National Association of Head Teachers believes the system has worked quite smoothly.
"We've had a number of calls from our members concerned about the practicalities of an NQT who will not pass his or her induction year. But it's been a small number, which suggests there will not be a tranche failing their induction," says Jeff Holman, the association's assistant secretary for education.
As the end of the school year approaches, the next few weeks will be anxious ones for many NQTs. To fail means having to leave the profession. However, for most, who have had the support of the school and an induction tutor, the year will have given them a good grounding for a successful career. Paul Everitt's first year in teaching has been a disaster. He believes he has been the victim of a group of malicious pupils and there is little he can do about it now. All he can hope for is that he can find a job or a fixed contract that will allow him to complete his induction and stay in the profession.
* IT SHOULDN'T HAPPEN TO AN NQT
Paul Everitt's training was in middle years, but he found his first post in a challenging secondary school in a deprived area of a small town in one of the Home Counties. In his first week, a pupil threatened him with an imitation gun. After that things calmed down until the first rotation of students in December.
His inexperience was evident the minute the class entered the room, when he made the crucial mistake of letting the students sit where they liked instead of making them sit boygirl as the school policy dictates.
"The class immediately became unruly and I had to drop any idea of a demonstration just to get them through the topic," he recalls.
After a disastrous lesson in which some of the girls threatened to get rid of him, claiming they had done it before, there was an incident by the door where he grabbed one of the girl's lapels to stop her leaving the classroom. This contravened another school policy of no touching.
About 20 minutes later the headteacher came down and asked to see him after his next class. "I thought he was responding to the alert button I had pressed but in fact he came to see me because some of the girls had made allegations of assault against me." He was suspended the following day.
Fifteen pupils who claimed to have seen the incident gave statements, although the allegations differed wildly from pushing to slapping round the face. The police were never called in to investigate. The rest of the staff were instructed not to speak to Mr Everitt and he was advised to resign.
COMMON COMPLAINTS FROM NQTS
* Not being given a 10 per cent reduction in contact time and having to cover classes for absent teachers
* Being given classes with known behaviour difficulties and low discipline
* Difficult relationship with managers or induction tutors
* No induction tutor appointed
* Lack of support from managers
* Unable to observe other classes or attend external courses because of heavy workload
* Unable to build confidence and technique because of heavy workload and stress
INDUCTION YEAR: THE RULES
* The head must appoint an induction tutor and ensure he or she is prepared and given adequate time to mentor the NQT
* The duties assigned to an NQT must be reasonable
* Contact time must be 90 per cent of the average allocated to more experienced teachers. The remaining hours must be protected and used for professional development
* NQTs must have a means to raise concerns about the programme
* A targeted and monitored programme must be devised by the induction tutor
* There must be opportunites to gain experience outside school