Primed to avoid the sword of Damocles

29th October 1999 at 01:00
Now more than ever induction provides NQTs with a solid grounding. And, says Phil Revell, they are unfazed by the possibility of failure

The senior teacher was green with envy and admitted it. "When I came into the profession in 1979, we had nothing like this," he said. "I was observed once in my probationary year. Once. And that was because the head of department happened to be wandering past.

"My advisers never visited, there was no support, certainly no extra free periods. The decision to pass me, to let me into the profession, was made over the phone in a chat between the deputy head and the adviser."

Whatever else is understood about induction, one thing stands out: it is not the probationary year rebadged and reissued. This is one education initiative which has been piloted. "People have wanted to do this properly," said Hazel Rendle, Staffordshire's adviser with responsibility for NQT induction.

Staffordshire has 256 NQTs this autumn, 80 per cent of whom have been to the authority's initial meetings. Preparation started early with slots on headteacher updates and courses for induction tutors.

Essex was involved in the Teacher Training Agency pilot scheme, possibly because the county already had a strong induction programme for new teachers. Geography teacher Anne Wimpenny is in her third year at Sweyn Park School in Rayleigh. In her first year, she was one of the NQTs to go through the pilot programme. "We had a 90 per cent timetable, mentoring every fortnight, in-service training evenings once every half term," she remembers. "I was observed on numerous occasions, and we had two weeks of training just before we entered into the school."

And it was that two weeks in the summer which Anne picked out as the most useful part of the whole year. "It was invaluable," she said. "It wasn't an extension of teaching practice. It was a way of integrating you into the department, giving you time and space to get used to the staff and the school."

Another of the schools piloting induction was Bitterne Park in Southampton. Susanna Borgwart devised the programme which eased NQTs into the school. "It's front-ended," she said. "Most of the support and training takes place in the first term."

The school's NQTs valued the peer group sessions where horror stories could be exchanged and support offered. Maths teacher Louis Perry explained why. "It made us all feel a lot better just to talk about it, knowing that other people were going through the same difficulties that we were."

The school's current NQTs are equally positive about the programme's benefits. "That was one of my reasons for choosing this school," said Eamonn Keating, who switched to teaching after 17 years in industry, a decision which involved five years of training. "I was concerned that I wanted a very firm background to my induction year, and that's what I got."

In common with most other NQTs around the country, the group has a 90 per cent timetable, a personal mentor - usually their head of department - and targeted in-service training.

Sarah Reynolds, an NQT at Barnes Farm primary outside Chelmsford, Essex, ought to be familiar with induction. In her previous job with Ford UK, she helped to organise their induction programme for information technology graduates. "The induction year I'm following this year seems to have the right structure," she said.

"But it's not only the NQTs who are new to this - the mentors and schools are beginners as well. I imagine that would cause some teething problems in some schools."

Sarah's induction is going well. "We're getting half a day a week non-contact time," she said. "There are two NQTs and we are sharing it between us. The school has brought in the same supply teacher for the entire year, which is excellent for us and for the class."

There have been concerns about induction. One is how the free time is used. Some of the NQTs contacted by The TES had been asked to cover lessons, when it is implicit in the DFEE guidance that the 10 per cent of free time is for training and development, not for covering the classes of teachers who are absent. Staffordshire has advised schools that NQTs should not be used to provide cover except in exceptional circumstances.

There have been imaginative uses of the time. Some schools have organised tours of the catchment area to familiarise NQTs with the local geography. Others have spent the first few sessions making sure that NQTs were familiar with all aspects of the organisation they had just joined.

Hanging over the whole exercise is the possibility of failure at the end of it. Yet the new teachers seem to be the ones least bothered by the sword of Damocles over their heads. "To be honest, I think that's it's probably not a bad thing," said Sarah Reynolds. "I've seen at Ford that people can come into a career and it's not what they are cut out for. Far better for someone to point that out to you a year into the job, than for you to be slogging your guts away for 10 years, never making it as a confident classroom teacher."

In Southampton there was a similar pragmatic view of the new arrangements. "I've never thought about failing," said Eamonn Keating. "It was always in the background on TP: if you failed it, you were out. It happened to a friend of mine. But I'm not going to worry about it."

And the extra free time? Were other teachers envious of the gold-plated route into the profession that new teachers enjoy? "No," said languages teacher Amanda Thain. "Because they're all aware of the extra hoops we have to jump through."

However, the decision to route the funding through the main grant to LEAs has caused concern, because NQTs are not evenly spread across the country. A bigger issue for schools was the decision to fund the 10 per cent of the NQTs' "training and development" time outside the school timetable, without parallel funding for the mentors who have the task of supporting the new teacher's progress.

Hazel Rendle, in Staffordshire, agrees that the most common cry is to give the mentor more time. The view is that the Government should have financed the scheme by allowing the funding to follow each individual NQT - as, in fact, the Teacher Training Agency's pilot scheme was organised. "Most people would agree that the best method would be direct funding," she said. "I'd like to see funding for half-day release for NQT and tutor."

Investigations by The TES have revealed large differences in the amounts of funding provided by local authorities for induction. Some paid more than pound;3,000 for each NQT and others pound;1,000 or less. In some areas schools received funding regardless of the number of NQTs - or none. Cover for 10 per cent of a full timetable is likely to cost around pound;1,500 and there are also additional costs for training courses, visits and induction tutors' work time.

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