Common sense has long since fled education. An entire industry has grown up around induction, composed mainly of paper

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
I'm bloody glad I'm not a newly qualified teacher. I was once. In those distant days of the Beatles and Bobby Moore, I was pitched into a Year 3 class in Islington, north London, and the only advice I received came from vague college tutorials, where an ancient lecturer suggested we keep our blackboard writing straight so that the children's heads didn't lean permanently over.

I survived; in fact I lived for the job and loved it, and, 40 years on, I can still remember the names of the children in my first class.

Nevertheless, things have moved on, and undoubtedly new teachers do need support. Since three NQTs had joined my school this year, I was eager to attend the local education authority meeting that would tell me what I'd have to do for them. I assumed it would be basic common sense. After all, if I were an NQT today, I'd only need four things. I'd want the school to be welcoming. I'd want the senior managers to be accessible. I'd want a kindly mentor, who'd support and encourage me, and whose shoulder I could lean on. And, having trained for several years and written tomes of philosophical claptrap, I'd want to be given the chance to get on with the job without committing every waking thought to a piece of paper.

Common sense, however, has long since fled education. An entire industry has grown up around induction, composed mainly of paper. At the meeting, we were given huge folders, each one containing 170 pages. There were forms to fill in, lesson record sheets, action plan templates, review meeting records, tick charts, planning sheets, boxes for recording discussions with mentorsI everything except guidance on what to do when Tommy says you're a miserable old bat and he ain't doin' any more writin'.

You wouldn't have any time for teaching if you tried to comply with every nutty rule and regulation. And, even if you did, there would be scores of people breathing down your neck with clipboards because, apparently, you've got to be monitored by your mentor, senior managers and subject co-ordinators. Aghast, I asked how much of this folder was mandatory. Not much, it appeared. I had to send a short report to the induction co-ordinator every term, and if all was well then the NQT would be designated a real teacher. So why the 170 pages? Ah, well, what if the NQT was in danger of failing? He or she could appeal, and then you'd have to back up your case with mountains of evidence. But surely, if the NQT was walking on quicksand, wouldn't you want to assess your support over an extra probationary term? Nope. It seems they either sink or swim in their first year, and if they sink they drown. They can't get another teaching job in a state school. Ever. (But, would you believe, it's OK if they try for a job in a private school.) Following the meeting, I sat down with my NQTs and the teachers who were going to look after them, and asked them what they wanted. They chose the four essentials I listed above, and they looked relieved that they weren't going to be asked to justify every move they made and write a dissertation on it. I popped in on one of the teachers last week and she was busy, happy, stress free and totally involved with the children. Which is fine, because that's exactly how it should be.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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