Complex rules lead to an unhappy ending
Ruth's experience throws up several key issues. The first is how new teachers who live in areas with few teaching vacancies are disadvantaged, not only in that they have to work hard to get a job, but also because the posts they get are likely to be short-term.
Advertising and media coverage have led people to think that they'll walk into jobs - but they don't. Supply is going to be greater than demand in the primary sector, in particular, for the next few years. Schools that have plenty of applicants for vacancies may not choose newly qualified teachers and those that do may be the ones with less choice because they are less desirable to work in, as Ruth found. This is very important to note because there are places where meeting the standards will be comparatively easy and others where the most talented teachers would be hard-pressed to achieve.
Schools' understanding and fulfilling their responsibilities towards NQTs is still patchy, as Ruth's experience shows. The Teacher Training Agency may well find this "disappointing", but it needs to consider the lack of information about the complex induction regulations, which have been in place since May 1999 but were changed significantly in August 2003.
The induction team at the agency has published many booklets on this matter, but none goes automatically to schools because of the restrictions placed at central and local levels to help reduce the "bureaucratic burden". So what is meant to help actually hinders.
The latest guidance from the Department for Education and Skills is only available on the internet - 77 pages to print off. Even those with the documents could be forgiven for being confused .
Advertising has been poor. The TTA has many adverts for fast track teachers - pound;8 million per year to recruit 550 staff so far - but not for induction, even though there are about 20,000 NQTs a year.
Research (DfES research report 338) that I co-wrote with colleagues at the Institute of Education in 2002 identified that new teachers on supply are a very at-risk group. Ruth got little help from her supply agency and the schools didn't pay her much attention because she was only there for one term - and on supply. Local education authorities need to liaise more.
Ruth says the local authority adviser was not aware of her existence until she was in her final school. "He actually asked me for the phone number of the supply agency I had been with - the adviser should have been in regular contact with all the local supply agencies from day one to ensure that any NQTs on their books weren't being placed into unsuitable situations," she says.
The four-term rule stops NQTs who haven't completed induction from doing short-term supply after four terms. Ruth's four terms during which she could do supply work for less than a term ran out at the end of Spring 2001. However, from August 2003, authorities have been able to extend this period in individual cases. One would have thought that the LEA adviser or supply agency would have told Ruth this but she says: "If I hadn't browsed your part of the TES website a few days ago, I never would have known."
Nothing seems to happen to schools that don't treat NQTs properly. Ruth wasn't sufficiently observed or given access to professional development.
There needs to be tighter monitoring of school provision rather than relying on NQTs to air dissatisfaction at school and LEA level. Ideally, there should be an ombudsman because the relationship between schools and LEAs leaves an individual NQT very vulnerable. Ruth said of her authority adviser: "I felt that he was on the side of the schools."
Ruth's tale does not have a happy ending. Unable to find a term's position in which to undertake her extension and barred from doing short-term supply because of the four-term rule, she is now area manager for a sales company.
"I can honestly say that the training and guidance I have received in my current post has been more useful and relevant than any of the pathetic attempts at 'induction' that I received in the teaching profession," she said.
Don't let anything similar happen to you.
Sara Bubb gives advice for new teachers on the TES website: www.tes.co.ukstaffroom
Her book 'The Insider's Guide for New Teachers:
Succeed in Training and Induction' is published by TESRoutledgeFalmer pound;12.99.Teacher Training Agency: www.tta.gov.ukinduction or Tel: 0845 6060 323