Your initiation rights

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Strong support will make all the difference in your first year. Be sure to ask about the type of induction programme you can expect if you accept a post, says Elizabeth Holmes

Few people would deny that the induction of newly qualified teachers into their first post is essential. After the rigours of teaching practice and the demands of initial teacher training (many new teachers say qualifying was their biggest achievement) feeling secure and supported once in post is central to continued professional development and confidence.

The Teaching and Higher Education Bill, due to go through Parliament this year, embodies the formalisation of induction with the proposal for an induction year. This will tie in well with the Teacher Training Agency's (TTA) career entry profile, due to come into effect in June, which enables new teachers to draw together the skills acquired through training, and to look ahead at future professional development, providing a link between training and employment.

The Government's proposed plan for induction, as outlined in the Teacher 2000 document, "will consist of a mixture of support for the new teacher, and assessment of his or her performance. New teachers will be assessed against national standards during the course of their induction period, and the headteacher will be required to make a recommendation as to whether the new teacher has met those standards".

Both the career entry profile and the induction year could prove invaluable to new teachers as they begin a career potentially fraught with difficulties, and which many choose to leave well before their retirement. Latest figures from the Department for Education and Employment put the number of teachers who are out of service but not retired (not having recorded any service in the past 10 years) at just under 300,000 - an outrageous waste of qualified talent.

While there is much to be said for a consolidation period, new teachers still have much to absorb once in post. The most productive way to do this is through a structured induction programme which covers such issues as classroom management, assessment, open evenings, workload management, role of government planning and the administration of learning. With the right support and encouragement, not to mention information (such as where detentions are held, lunchtime procedures, how to complete a register) the induction year could be an extremely positive springboard into a lengthy career in the profession in which skills are built on year after year.

At present, overall responsibility for induction lies with individual schools, with local education authorities having the roles of overseer and in-service training provider, and maintained schools (and many grant maintained schools) buying into the programmes offered by the authority.

Weak links quickly develop when a school chooses not to buy into the LEA programme, trying instead to provide internally. Not only does this isolate new teachers from others in local schools, but it invariably means they don't take part in effective induction. While new teachers may be cheap to employ, the cost of the provision of adequate support for their first year of teaching must be faced. It will be cost-effective in the long run. Solutions to new teacher induction are sought in various ways across the country, and appear to be found where there is co-operation between LEA, school and individual new teacher.

What can you expect from your induction programme? Initially, your school should provide you with all you need to establish you in your new post. As soon as you are appointed, you should be told of the new teacher provision that is referred to in the school's statement on new teachers. Expect to be allocated a mentor; this is almost universal practice, and a positive introduction to teaching in post is virtually dependent on good mentoring.

Your mentor will observe you in action, and provide constructive feedback on your performance. You should also be able to observe your mentor, and other colleagues, to give you a sense of perspective. Your mentor should ensure that you have been issued with relevant documentation relating to your post, including health and safety procedures and staffdepartmental handbooks, and that issues specific to your school (such as special needs policies, rewards and sanctions) and general to teaching (such as class management and curriculum planning) are addressed.

Most schools and LEAs now take the role of mentor very seriously, and virtually every school has a named person with responsibilities for new teachers. The advice, support and feedback you receive from your mentor under the security of confidentiality could make or break your impression of teaching as a career. Some schools proactive in staff development have formalised the concept of mentoring in a dedicated role.

This "chief mentor, or teachertutor has responsibilities for beginning teachers and new teachers as well as other staff new to the school, and will oversee the allocation of suitable, experienced mentors to newcomers.

Leytonstone School in Waltham Forest has had particular success with induction through mentoring, and teachertutor Lindsey Sculfor is enthusiastic about the fact that secure new teachers usually become effective, developing professionals. She believes that through the exchange of ideas and solutions that takes place in meetings between mentors and new teachers, both partners benefit. For this reason, at Leytonstone new teachers are encouraged to become mentors to beginning teachers as part of their induction. Ms Sculfor believes that "the importance of separating beginning teachers from new teachers in induction programmes cannot be over-emphasised. It is vital that new teachers recognise that they have moved on from the initial training stage". The Leytonstone model shows admirable dedication to induction and mentoring.

Sophia Sinclair-Webb, a new teacher at Walthamstow School for Girls, has had very positive experiences from a similar mentoring scheme. "The 'buddy' scheme is set up by the deputy head . . . he organises us so that we always have someone we can confide in if we feel any stresses or strains in our first year." She also has regular meetings with her head of faculty. "These conversations are regularly timetabled and although they are informal, they are very useful. If I show any enthusiasm for any particular areas that interest me she organises me to go on an INSET day where I can build on my interest. Although I am run off my feet, I feel secure and know I am thoroughly supported."

Many schools help the induction process by allocating a slightly reduced timetable to new teachers. Linked to this is the importance of having teaching responsibilities that are in line with your experience. Unfortunately, some schools are still attracted to the financial temptation to give a full timetable or extra departmental responsibilities to new teachers; a practice that can be extremely short sighted.

Other aspects of induction within schools include the establishment of a forum for discussion among new teachers in the local area. Related schemes, most notably in West Sussex, allow for new teachers to talk to experienced members of staff from other schools. Yet, even if you were fortunate enough to be employed by the most innovative, supportive schooL you should still experience input from your LEA (whether in a GM school or not). LEAs are well placed as overseers of new teacher induction as well as providers. Where both roles are invested in, the results are extremely positive, with new teachers viewing their LEA as a professional resource, and centre of advice, guidance and support.

In Cumbria for example, every new teacher is tracked by the LEA throughout their first year, and beyond if necessary. They are observed by inspectoradvisers at least once, and given a full, constructive debriefing which allows for self-evaluation, and a written report. New teachers attend at least three days of in-service training, held centrally and covering both specialist and generic topics. The Cumbrian model includes a professional development portfolio, which is completed by every new teacher with the assistance of their mentor. This is a forerunner to the TTA's career entry profile.

Several other authorities, including Derbyshire, use such profiles with success, and there is even provision in some areas for work completed in the induction year to be accredited towards higher qualifications at local further education colleges. Be aware of such programmes, but don't over burden yourself with academic aspirations in your induction year; these can be met with more vigour two or three years into your career.

Many other authorities have strong policies on induction, and have expectations as to what individual schools offer their new teachers. In Enfield and Kensington and Chelsea for example, the mentors are included in the induction programmes offered, to help facilitate more effective school-based support, and in recognition of the fact that the role of mentor carries great responsibilities.

The inspectoradviser responsible for new teachers in each LEA provides a good point of reference for problem-solving outside the school. These people generally have empathy with new teachers, and have the skills to integrate the needs of the school with the needs of the individual. As a result of such contact, LEAs are in a position to provide support in response to specific needs. This relatively flexible approach works well in Barnsley and West Sussex, among others. LEA officers are also active in encouraging new teachers to "network", often providing an informal meeting or meal in the first term at which they can meet each other and key members of the LEA. If this is offered to you, attend! The experience will enable you to place yourself in the wider context of the system, and will provide contacts which could prove useful.

Provision appears good, and rightly so. The TTA states that new teachers are beginning professionals, with huge demands placed on them in terms of the creativity, energy and enthusiasm teaching needs, not to mention "the intellectual and managerial skills required of the effective professional". With the career entry profile and the possibility of an official induction year, LEAs and schools will have to review the induction they offer but, fortunately, it looks set to be a high priority for the foreseeable future.


* If induction has not already been discussed at interview, ask what support you can expect once in post. Most interviewers respect this as a question which shows insight and foresight; all new teachers need support and your concern about your own professional development can only be seen as positive.

* Some schools offer a period of teaching in the term before employment begins. If you would benefit from this, ask if it can be arranged.

* You should receive a letter of welcome from your LEA (in the case of maintained schools) which will outline the support available to you over the next year. Contact your LEA if you don't hear from them.

* Induction starts from appointment, and you should be provided with relevant documentation such as the staff and departmental handbooks, and appropriate national curriculum documents before the start of term. Ask for copies if you have not received them.

* An effective mentor will contact new teachers before their first day at school. Find out the contact number of your mentor before your first day so that you can discuss any concerns before they escalate.

* Find out about the role of your school in the community.

* Find out what concessions will be made to your timetable.

* Contact your local union representative to find out if there are any established forums for new teacher support in your area.

* If there is apparently no provision for you as a new teacher in your new job, inform the advisory service of your LEA, the numbers of which are available from the school office, or the Department for Education and Employment.

* If you are not observed teaching, ask to be! Constructive feedback does wonders for your belief in your abilities and can lead to genuine improvements in your performance.

* Make sure you establish your own comfortable cushion of support so you have several ports of call for emergencies. Never leave school at the end of a bad day without sorting out the problem, and off-loading to someone else. Not only does this help you, but it will enable you to be an effective support to others.

* Never feel you are a burden to the school or staff if you have questions to ask. Your school has a moral and professional obligation to settle you into your new post.

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