A firm grip on the path of induction

14th January 2000 at 00:00

In this text, Kevan Bleach dates the birth of the concept of mentoring to 1972. The James Report on Teacher Education of that year recommended a system of professional tutors - senior teachers with a mentoring role for student and newly qualified teachers.

And for a concise explanation of what mentoring is, from a time before management jargon entered education, it would be difficult to better the James Report's "genial and expert supervision".

It was, though, an idea ahead of its time, and there was little money made available for it. Some authorities and schools made professional tutoring work, others did not.

Now, mentoring is back on the agenda, put there by the new requirements for the induction of NQTs.

The key task for a mentor is to take the NQT or student teacher forward. This sounds obvious, but there is plenty of evidence - not least from a series of HMI surveys through the Eighties and Nineties - that, in the absence of a forward impetus that follows and builds on the college or university course, the young teacher may be drawn into more negative attitudes.

Bleach cals it, "the phenomenon of 'slippage' by which new teachers tend to discard much of what they have learned on their ITT courses and adapt to the dominant ethos and ways of working of their first school".

In other words, formal mentoring is a way of keeping new teachers out of the hands of those old stagers - and we have all met them - who greet new teachers with the words: "You can forget everything you learned at college. This is the real thing."

However, although it is right to steer new entrants away from that kind of anti-intellectualism, there is, as Bleach points out, a genuine tension between the NQT's overwhelming desire to be given tips simply to get them through the school day on the one hand, and the need for them to develop theoretical insights on the other.

One of the "activities" which punctuate this book (and show that to some extent it can be used as a training manual) asks: "How can mentors strike a balance between what Eric Hoyle called an 'extended professional' view and strategies for coping or even survival."

This is a book of great clarity, which neatly and readably explains the nuts and bolts of mentoring, as well as the academic underpinning.

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