Vicki given the freedom to breathe

Mike Kent

As last year drew to a close, I wrote the end-of-term report on Vicki, the newly qualified teacher who joined us in September. I like having NQTs on the staff. I love the freshness and enthusiasm they bring to the job, although I'm astonished at how much bureaucratic baggage they have to handle these days.

It was very different back in the Sixties when I was given my first job. I visited the school during the summer term, eager-eyed and raring to inspire the young. I looked forward to a friendly interview with the head and a rundown on what I would be expected to do.

I knocked on his door, pushed it open, and interrupted him furtively downing a bottle of school milk intended for the children. Embarrassed, he pumped my hand briefly, took me to the classroom that would be mine in September, and told me I would find textbooks in the cupboard, plus pencils, a blackboard rubber and a box of chalk.

If I wanted exercise books for the children, I would have to see Mrs Floyd in September, but only on a Monday, mind - because Mondays were her stock days.

And that was that. But after a hesitant start and steep learning curve, I had a wonderful year, and so, I think, did my children. Plowden techniques were in full force and the freedom I had was exhilarating. When there was something I couldn't do, I sought help. And I studied how the best teachers organised their rooms and their lessons.

Non-contact time didn't exist - I often did playground and lunch duty on the same day, but at least nobody looked over my shoulder every five minutes.

And that's the trouble today, I think. The staggering workload heaped on a trainee teacher's shoulders makes me wonder how NQTs get through it, especially those, like Vicki, with children of their own.

If the training doesn't cripple them, once they arrive in the classroom they're presented with the induction regulations and an enormous folder of stuff at their first meeting with the local authority.

There are 41... yes, 41 core standards to be mastered, such as showing "a commitment to ensure children reach their full potential" and the necessity for "creating a safe learning environment". I bet that last one surprised you. Who would have thought that children should be educated in a safe environment?

Then there will be classroom observations by senior staff, objectives for meeting core standards, half-termly progress reviews, assessment meetings... Which brings me back to my opening sentence, because the termly report is about all I do.

But before you throw up your hands in horror, let me qualify that. NQTs at my school are assigned a mentor, a thoroughly experienced, friendly colleague who meets them regularly. Not to talk about standards, targets, or all the other mind-numbing paraphernalia, but to chat through issues, problems, classroom organisation.

I pop into their classrooms frequently to see how things are going. Every member of my staff will offer them day-to-day encouragement.

But most importantly, they will be given space to breathe. Invariably, after a very short time they'll be the first at school in the mornings, loaded down with exciting bits and pieces, and they'll often be the last to leave. Once that stage is reached, they're well on their way. If they need help or guidance, they'll ask for it.

It worked well for me 40 years ago, and NQTs still come to me at the end of the year to say thank you... for leaving them alone.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London,

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