First step - The only way is up

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Spending your NQT year in a special-measures school is tough. Find out how it got there and pull together in order to improve

As an NQT, the prospect of beginning your career in a school in special measures is extremely intimidating. With frequent observation and feedback, however, those challenging circumstances could end up working in your favour.

When Roger DeWitt, a recently qualified teacher from north London, found out that he would be spending his NQT year in a special-measures school, he was both scared and excited.

"I was excited at the prospect of working in a challenging school," he remembers. "But it did shock me when I found out that lots of staff had left when the school was put in special measures."

Not all schools in special measures are allowed to recruit NQTs: some are judged unable to provide appropriate supervision and training, but if they are considered suitable to run an induction programme, they can continue to recruit new teachers.

In order to survive your first year of teaching in a special-measures school, it is important to understand your school's situation. Read the Ofsted report that led to it being placed in special measures so that you understand the wider context. What are its particular challenges? How do they relate to your teaching? Is there anything that you feel you need to know more about?

In a challenging school, it is important to become part of the school community. Schools in challenging circumstances vary enormously. In some, members of staff are mutually supportive and work as a team, and are open about sharing frustrations and difficulties.

"This is enormously helpful in reducing anxiety and stress and in making you feel you are not alone," says Debra Myhill, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Exeter.

"If you find yourself in a school where you feel isolated, try to find three or four members of staff with whom you can create a supportive group."

Know your pupils - find out about the community the school serves, and about the children you teach. Avoid stereotyping on grounds of gender, ethnicity or class, and learn about each child as an individual.

"Try to find ways to listen to them - this can help you understand them and why they may be challenging you," says Anna Carlile, lecturer in inclusive education at Goldsmiths, University of London. "Be prepared to change how you do things to meet their needs."

As an NQT, you are entitled to structured support and reduced teaching time. Make sure that you know what these rights are in your induction year - get to know your tutor and be proactive in requesting regular, formally scheduled meetings. Keep a record of meetings and recommended actions.

"It's normal to need help in your NQT year; it's not a sign of weakness," says Miss Myhill. "Be critical and reflective about your teaching, and if you are having problems, always try first to analyse what's wrong and consider what you could do to put it right. Talk to others in the school about it."

If the difficulties persist, be quick to seek help, probably from your induction tutor or another relevant senior member of staff such as the head of department or the literacy co-ordinator. If this does not help, get in touch with the local authority officer responsible for NQTs and find out if there is a source of further support there.

"Have high expectations of yourself as a professional, balanced by realism about what you can achieve," says Miss Myhill.

"Have high expectations of the children you teach. There may well be very significant social reasons why children have not succeeded in the past - do not allow yourself to use that as an excuse for under-achievement in the future."

In your classrooms, you are the person who can make a difference to each child's educational outcome. Isn't that why you wanted to teach in the first place?

Things To Think About

- Read the Ofsted report that placed your school in special measures so that you understand the context of your school's problems.

- Become part of the school community - try to find three or four members of staff with whom you can create a supportive group.

- Know your children - find out about the community that the school serves.

- Listening to your pupils can help you understand them.

- Get to know your induction tutor and be proactive in requesting regular meetings.

- If difficulties persist, be quick to seek help, probably from your induction tutor or another senior member of staff.

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