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Salvation for lost souls

Who cares for early-career teachers? Tailored support is given to new teachers and programmes abound for middle management, but there is a professional learning gap for those lost souls in their second to fifth years in the job.

There are few professions where someone is called upon to give in such a personal way to up to 30 other people every day. It is this dimension that new teachers find so rewarding and what drew them into the classroom. But it can also seem daunting and a source of considerable stress.

And it still is when staff emerge from the supportive environment of their first year. In primary schools especially, second-year teachers take on extra responsibilities while still coping with a full teaching programme.

Many say how singularly ill-prepared they feel for juggling these competing demands. The mentoring of their first year seems to have evaporated, and guidance is in short supply; experienced colleagues are pre-occupied with their own workloads.

When those responsible for staff training are balancing the needs of colleagues, early-career teachers sadly often miss out. This problem is well researched and clearly understood. A few years ago the Department for Education and Skills tried out initiatives in different local education authorities to show how the needs of this important but neglected group might be best identified. Some authorities, working with the General Teaching Council, developed further good practice. They even proposed an entitlement for continuous professional development for them.

Unfortunately, much of this momentum may have been lost and valuable examples of good practice fallen by the wayside. With funding for CPD devolved directly to schools, early-career teachers are again in danger of not registering on the training radar. Yet this is a group that is crucial to the profession. Retention of teachers in these vital early years remains a concern - it is in their fourth and fifth year in the job that many leave.

We would do well to consider the ingredients of professional learning that should be part of the experience of all teachers at the beginning of their career. These would include:

* thorough analysis of needs, and tailoring of provision;

* an identified mentor;

* regularly observing other staff teaching;

* opportunities to be coached and to coach others;

* time to visit other schools;

* collaborative learning within and beyond their own school; and, most importantly,

* being actively involved in the shaping of their own professional development.

Such dedicated provision will demand time, energy and resources, but neglecting to invest in the future of these teachers will be far more costly in the long run.

The writer is principal adviser for Essex

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