Dear Ted

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I'm an NQT at a school in special measures where I have a superb HoD as my mentor. But she is leaving, with 25 other staff, including the rest of my department. Any suggestions?

Ted says

You seem to have joined a ship which is not exactly a luxury cruiser, aboard which the crew are mutinying. This is known in the trade as a "challenge".

It is not only rats who leave a sinking ship, so don't hold anything against your head of department for moving on. Taking another post is a normal and healthy feature of the teaching profession, even if the circumstances are often happier than those you face.

Your two choices are simple to describe, devilishly difficult to decide: you can leave, or stay and work hard to turn the school round. Your biggest problem is that newly qualified secondary teachers need a good mentor in their own subject, someone who can advise on subject content, exams and teaching strategies. Other senior people can offer general advice and support, but your needs will often be subject-specific.

Talk to the head or deputy about your predicament. The school is obliged to support new teachers; it is not an optional extra. If it is in special measures it should receive extra support, though this is not guaranteed.

There might be a helpful, experienced head of department in your subject, teaching in a nearby school, or a local authority adviser, an advanced skills teacher, or a good private consultant, but make sure you are not saddled with a dud.

You may feel you owe it to the children to stay. There are many examples of schools that have gone from zero to hero in a short time. Think of the satisfaction you would feel, and the valuable experience you would acquire so early in your career, if you were instrumental in picking the place up by its bootstraps. After a year, if it has not worked out, you can always move on, with some useful experience in your portfolio.

You say

Stay put and build on success

Don't panic. Despite your school being in special measures and many staff leaving, I would be tempted to stay in the post for another academic year.

Use the knowledge you have acquired from your first year to consolidate your skills and build on the successes you have achieved in your post. Your replacement head of department could well be just as supportive as your present one. A good HoD will value all his or her staff, whatever their experiences, you included.

Who knows, you may well find yourself guiding new staff members in the first few weeks of September.

V Kelly, teacher trainer, email

Turn it to your advantage

It may sound a bit of a cliche, but you should try to think of this as an opportunity rather than a crisis. It's fairly unusual for an NQT to leave his or her first school after just a year, and if you did decide to do so your motives may well be considered questionable by some. For this reason alone, you should probably stay put for at least another year.

It can be daunting working in a school in special measures, but as a teacher who has only recently gained QTS you are undoubtedly used to having your work closely monitored and will, in all likelihood, cope with this better than many more experienced staff.

As for being the only one who isn't new, this means you have an ideal opportunity for assuming extra responsibilities within the department to support your new head of department and other colleagues. Meeting and working with new people is always valuable experience and you can put this to good use professionally. Give it another 12 months and you may well be glad you stayed; if not, two years into your career is a better time to start looking for a new post.

Bill Green, senior lecturer, ITT, University of Wolverhampton

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