Initiation rights

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Ruth McGuire on an American scheme that discourages new teachers from quitting early

Every year thousands of newly-qualified teachers quit the profession after a brief, bitter taste of classroom life. The problem is not unique to Britain: schools in the US are trying to stem this haemorrhage by spending millions of dollars on induction and support for new teachers, as well as advertising heavily to attract staff.

Nearly 21 per cent of new American teachers leave their jobs within the first three years. In the UK the National Union of Teachers estimates 1,400 of the 20,000 who started teaching in Britain in September 1999 had quit by August 2000.

The Green Paper on teachers' pay and conditions issued in 1998 revealed that only 66 per cent of those starting training make it into the primary classroom, or 64 per cent in the case of secondary trainees.

In America, 28 states now require or encourage school districts - the US equivalent of education authorities - to create induction and support programmes.

Statistics suggest that teachers who have not participated in such programmes are nearly twice as likely to leave the profession. Between 1995-98 one scheme in California retained 90 per cent of new staff.

This scheme in San Diego - a better funded, extended version of the induction programme for teachers in England - started in 1992. It aims to increase collaboration between staff and thus reduce the feeling of isolation experienced by many teachers fresh out of college.

Each new teacher gets a "support provider" or mentor who teaches a similar subject and age-group. The mentor offers classroom observations, demonstrations and discussion of teaching methods. Mentors - who all have at least three years' teaching experience - attend a seven-day training programme that covers topics such as how to conduct classroom observations, and strategies for providing effective feedback.

The new teachers are invited to develop individual induction plans heped by their mentor. They also target areas for personal development.

As in England, new teachers are released from lessons to spend time with their mentors. But new teachers and their mentors also meet each other monthly in local groups to exchange ideas and to network.

They are given an allowance of $250 (pound;175) to spend on books to back up their pedagogy. If they need money for courses relevant to their work, they can get an advance on salary. And they are given advice on developing a programme of courses to extend themselves as teachers.

According to Mariam True, who runs it, the programme "reduces the problem of teacher isolation that seems to plague our profession".

Funding comes from the state and school district.The scheme receives $2,500 from California for each new teacher and the school district contributes $1,000 in kind.

San Diego contrasts sharply with the situation in Britain where induction tutors are mostly untrained, receive no extra money and generally feel put upon - especially if the new teacher is struggling.

Sara Bubb, who teaches postgraduate students at the University of London's Institute of Education, argues that the English system offers a lot of support to new teachers.

But she thinks the emphasis on strict, regular assessments may put some of them off. The success of the San Diego scheme suggests that it may be wise to focus less on testing recruits and more on actively helping them to improve and settle in.

Ruth McGuire is editor of the teachers' newsletter CPD Update. E-mail:


Maintained schools

Total of teachers in England amp; Wales 429,230

More than 20 years' service 126,000

Full-time over-60 3,100

Non-QTS 3,560

Agency 4,540

Occasional 11,290

Part-time 31,210

Full-time FE lecturers 48,740

Compiled by John Howson Source: DFEE Volume of Statistics of Education Teachers - 2000 Edition. Various tables.

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