Many headteachers and tutors think that the introduction of a formal induction period for newly-qualified teachers has accelerated their progress, enabling them to get to grips with aspects of teaching earlier than previously.
The induction policy, introduced in England in 1999 (Scottish and Welsh programmes started in 2002 and 2003 respectively) has also raised expectations of what NQTs should achieve in their first year, and how schools should support them.
However, individual new teachers' experience of induction is hugely variable. Peter Earley and I, colleagues at London university's Institute of Education, evaluated the impact of the first two years of the policy in England. We found a fifth of NQTs did not get all of the 10 per cent reduced timetable they are entitled to; a fifth did not think their induction tutor gave useful advice; one in 11 had not observed any other teachers teaching despite having time to do so; three-quarters had some non-teaching responsibility; and half felt they taught classes with challenging behaviour.
It would be nice to think that induction had bedded down since then. But there are widespread contraventions of the NQT induction entitlement (see box, right) reported by teachers in the TES's online new teacher forum (www.tes.co.ukstaffroom).
The most commonly identified area needing improvement is tighter monitoring of school provision. Although there are meant to be procedures for NQTs to air dissatisfaction at both school and local education authority level, they are rarely used. For who is going to complain about their assessors - the head and induction tutor - when these people can recommend a fail which would forever bar an NQT from teaching in a state school?
There are persistent offenders - what we call the "rogue" schools. We have analysed a small number of school leaders who break the law and treat new teachers unprofessionally, wasting public resources and, in some cases, hindering or potentially ruining individuals' careers and causing them to quit the teaching profession.
The common factors centre around the level of management competence and the degree of intent to flout regulations and guidance.
Some schools neglect their NQTs out of ignorance, misunderstanding or incompetence. Schools in difficulties are more likely to have inadequate induction provision. This in turn often leads to new teachers avoiding or leaving the very schools that need them most.
Schools need to be knowledgeable about the rules and procedures, and proactive in organising the reduced timetable and nominating and training an induction tutor. For those in challenging circumstances or with a teacher shortage, induction tutors often have less time to spend with their NQTs. And cover for the 10 per cent reduced timetable is difficult because the demand for supply teachers elsewhere is very high.
The other dimension of induction non-compliance is the deliberate flouting of the induction regulations and guidance. Some school leaders think a "sink or swim" attitude sorts out the good teachers from the bad, typically saying: "I didn't get all this help when I first started and look at me now."
Some people comply with the letter of the law but not the spirit.
Everything is given at a minimum or grudging level and the balance between support, monitoring and assessment is weighted towards the latter, with the result that NQTs get bowed down by pressure.
In others, the emphasis on support to the neglect of the other elements results in new teachers being deceived into thinking that they are more effective than they are.
So what can be done about the rogues? The sanctions for non-compliance are weak and there is little that can be done to counter the activities of unprincipled school leaders.
However, LEAs could use their resources efficiently by proactively checking that new teachers in "at risk" schools are receiving a good induction experience - and to do so early on, before damage is done. Schools that are not complying out of ignorance or poor leadership can be fairly easily supported. Where non-compliance is more deliberate, tougher measures will need to be taken.
Ultimately induction is a matter of professional accountability to students and staff working within schools and to the profession as a whole.
Values-driven leaders or "principled principals" are concerned about the well-being of their staff and strive towards improving the quality of teaching and learning in their schools.
The growth of site-based management, greater school autonomy and the devolution of resources make it important that school leaders develop a culture that supports both student and teacher learning.
Heads are responsible for all arrangements and judgements concerning NQTs, and governors are required to monitor induction arrangements in their schools.
Efforts need to be made through the preparation, training and professional socialisation of school leaders to ensure that they are responsible and accountable for their actions.
We need to ensure that the next generation of teachers is given the best possible start and that they are not lost from the profession.
Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development: Developing People, Developing Schools, by Sara Bubb and Peter Earley, is published this month by SagePaul Chapman.DfES research report 338, see www.dfes.gov.ukresearch JUST FOR STARTERS
NQTs in their induction year are entitled to:
* a 10 per cent reduced teaching timetable;
* a reasonable job ("unreasonable" includes teaching subjects or age groups outside their training, teaching pupils with especially demanding behaviour, and having non-teaching responsibilities);
* regular meetings with the school induction tutor, including half-termly reviews of progress;
* an individual, planned programme of support, monitoring and assessment;
* objectives for their professional development to help them meet the induction standards by the end of the year;
* at least half-termly observations of their teaching with verbal and written feedback;
* a termly assessment meeting with the head and induction tutor;
* an assessment report sent to the local education authority at the end of each term;
* procedures to air grievances if they are not happy with any aspect of their induction provision.