Freedom on a firm footing

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Well-designed induction programmes give new teachers a solid basis for individual development, says Gerald Haigh

Today's teachers are accustomed to the demands of the national curriculum, its assessment and recording procedures. Not surprisingly, therefore, it comes as a shock when newcomers talk about experiencing a feeling of freedom.

Significantly, the ones who mention this have usually come from other jobs. Nick Smith, for example, now in his second year at President Kennedy School in Coventry, came from a financial office "where colleagues knew in detail everything that I was doing". And Nick Nelson, who left the executive board of the Post Office in charge of a workforce of 12,000, to become a teacher, says much the same thing in his interview in The TES last autumn: "Not many teachers understand that even today, with all the pressures, they have a lot of freedom in what they can do and how they do it. I find that freedom exhilarating, and there are not many jobs where you get it, even in the kind of lofty position I had."

Not that there is freedom to teach nonsense, or to preach non-compliance with school rules. Importantly, though, there is freedom to develop an individual teaching style, to build areas of expertise and to find personal ways of making good classroom relationships. It is still far from being a job about which any school can say: "This is how we do it, and you must do the same."

The other side of this coin, though, is that the induction and support of new teachers becomes a difficult and challenging business. The aim is to give leadership and guidance and at the same time to provide space for independent professional development.

The task, typically, is shared between the local authority and the individual school. Funds for induction are delegated out to schools but the experience is that where there is a tradition of good practice, the schools will buy back into the authority's induction programme.

In Birmingham, for example, which claims to have more newly qualified teachers than any other authority (500 this year, out of a total teaching force of 8,000) there are authority-wide sessions on what senior adviser Frank Robinson describes as "things they are not likely to have covered in college, such as meeting parents, and relationships with mentors".

Many other authorities have similar patterns. In Coventry, there is a series of authority-led sessions spread through the year. In Norfolk, NQTs can choose from an extensive menu of workshops and in-service sessions for mentors as well as new teachers, while Surrey runs a successful programme that includes a competency profile, which enables the new teacher and mentor to measure progress against a set of objectives. This scheme is being used increasingly, sometimes with adaptations, by other authorities.

The advantage to the NQT of whole-authority induction, of course, is that it provides an opportunity not only to meet authority people, but to compare notes with colleagues in other schools. It also opens up an avenue for finding outside help at times of dispute and difficulty.

However, the main focus will always be within the individual school, where the NQT will have the best opportunity to work with people who are doing the same job in the same surroundings.

It seems likely that not every school is good at looking after its NQTs - a young teacher told me of meeting more than one colleague from another school who did not know who their mentor was. However, examples of good practice - and, therefore, indicators of what a new teacher may feel entitled to expect - are thankfully not difficult to find.

At Brooke Primary in Norfolk, for example, Gemma Baker, now into her second year, feels that she has been very well looked after. The 20 days of non-contact time which she had in her first year has been extended into her second year. "I still feel on a learning curve - it really goes on for two years. This year it's more of an overview, but I still have the support and the back up."

Supply cover for non-contact time, of course, costs money. This underlines the fact that although taking on an NQT to replace an experienced teacher may save some of the salary budget, there will, if the school does the job well, be some compensating training cost. The approach in Surrey, for example, according to Tony Pannell, the county's training consultant, is that "an NQT is not a cheaper teacher. It's important for governors to understand that and we make provision for it in governor training workshops".

At Brooke Primary, too, head teacher Keith Egleton resisted the idea of seeing Gemma Baker as a money saver. "Although we were replacing a highly-paid, experienced teacher we used the saving for her professional development and release time."

I had the same message at President Kennedy School, which has 10 NQTs this year and where Edwin Langdale insisted that "we genuinely have no financial interest in appointing new teachers".

President Kennedy's new teachers also have additional non-contact time, and each is carefully mentored by a member of his or her own faculty. Edwin Langdale is also heavily involved in looking at lesson planning, and observes NQTs in class. "Frequency depends on need, and I'm there to support rather than to inspect."

NQTs at President Kennedy have two written reports each year, one at Christmas and one in the summer, when there is also a letter of congratulation from the head. "It's a hard year," commented Mr Langdale, "and although the notion of passing the probationary year has gone, it's good to have some formal recognition."

What, though, do NQTs want from their induction? In a sense, this is an easy question to answer - the most insistent demand is still for help with classroom management and discipline. There are, though, other, less obvious needs. Gemma Baker at Brooke Primary, for example, found herself - as do many others - in a school with interested and sometimes demanding parents. "I hadn't had a lot of preparation for contact with parents, and in this school there's a lot of parental involvement."

The school helped her with this. "I had the deputy head sitting with me on parents' evening, for example. Most of the time she just sat quietly, but it was good to have that support."

At President Kennedy, Andrew Sheridan found himself in his first year teaching physical education in a school with a substantial number of Asian pupils. "I hadn't worked with ethnic minority students, and I was interested in their language needs, and in how their religious beliefs - fasting, dress and so on - affected my work with them." In the same school, Hilary Weaving, now in her second year, recalled trying to find the right approach to a class of A-level students: "They were quite close to my age really, and I found it hard to know just how to treat them."

Both these young teachers found immediate help within their departments, and ethnic minority questions were also covered in a session for all the school's NQTs, run by a specialist teacher.

But perhaps the most effective part of training for any NQT is to fasten on to a personal project and push it through to success. Sue Gifford, senior lecturer in education at Roehampton Institute, London, spoke of the importance of not dwelling too long on weaknesses but of building on the new teacher's strengths. "Most people learn by building on strengths. You have to be quite mature to build on your weaknesses."

Gemma Baker offers an excellent example of this. Keith Egleton gave her the task of developing and refurbishing the school library. "She gained lots of congratulations for taking this on during her first year," he says, and Gemma herself was aware of the way it had helped her in relationships not only with the head and the staff but with the PTA, which was involved in fund raising. "It was really nice to have that kind of project in my first year of teaching. "

What can you expect?

Based on what many schools and authorities manage to provide, here is a reasonable set of expectations:

* A welcome event - and a welcome pack - for all NQTs in the local authority.

* Talks and workshops provided out of school by a local authority, with the opportunity to meet with other NQTs in other schools. A good programme will involve some choice and will include an element of response to the wishes of the NQTs (grant-maintained schools will typically buy into this programme).

* A named and trained mentor in school, and effective mentoring programme. (Mentors were at first invariably very senior teachers. Increasingly, however, they are likely to be colleagues whose experience is nearer that of the NQT.)

* Some extra non-contact time, even at a token level.

* Regular discussions about planning, recording and assessment. * Some lessons observed by a colleague, with the opportunity for follow-up discussion. The chance to observe lessons in other areas of the school.

* Immediate support for any NQT who gets into difficulty.

* Generally supportive staffroom climate, with the clear message that an NQT can turn to any member of the teaching or support staff for advice.

* The opportunity for the NQT to use their own skills and interests in a positive way. And, not yet common but increasingly possible - the opportunity to extend the NQT induction into an accredited course, perhaps in conjunction with higher education. Norfolk is looking at this, and Newcastle University's New Teacher in School scheme offers an induction course that can be carried forward into the University's MEd programme.

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