Why all eyes need to be on trainee teachers

The current cohort of trainee teachers have had an introduction to the profession like no other – and they need our support more than ever, writes Jonny Kay

Jonny Kay

Teacher training: all eyes must be on trainees

As a new half term begins, there appear to be mixed feelings about the coming months. On the one hand, there is concern about Boris Johnson’s proposed return to schools and colleges for all students on 8 March (or the “Big Bang” as it is being labelled). On the other, as the number of those vaccinated continues to increase, and hope that teachers may soon be added to the priority list, there is at least some light at the end of a very, very long tunnel. 

And what a tunnel it has been. It seems like so long ago that any of us experienced anything approaching “normal”. With vocabulary such as “lockdown”, “bubbles” and “centre-assessed grading” entering the teaching lexicon, life has been very different for some time.

But what about those who have known nothing but Covid-impacted education? What about the teachers who have spent nearly the entirety of the beginning of their career delivering remotely, in lockdown or following strict Covid-related procedures? What about trainee teachers?

All teachers have struggled at different points during the last year, but (no matter the route) trainee teachers completing any portion of their training during 2020 have had an especially challenging and worrying time.

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Most remember their training year as a year of extreme fatigue, punctuated by spells of extreme stress as lesson observations, challenging classes and long hours become the norm. With Covid changing nearly every measure of how lessons are delivered within a few short days from March 2020, what next for trainee teachers?

Trainee teachers: how can we support them?

Though proposed to mixed reactions, extending the duration of the NQT year from one to two years would reduce timetabled teaching hours and provide opportunities for additional training. However, this is unlikely to be enough, and more must be done to support trainee teachers and NQTs.

Whether through additional funding for training (whether internal, external or through a national government training service) or the formalisation of mentoring programmes, more is needed. Mental health and wellbeing has also been a cause for concern for many trainee teachers and NQTs. As job adverts asking that those who trained in 2020 need not apply going viral over social media, many new teachers suffered the same concerns that had been mirrored by students gaining GCSE, A level and other qualifications in 2020.

With a 35 per cent surge in teacher training applications compared to previous years, more is certainly needed. But what does/ should this look like? We could do a lot worse than establishing some form of government funded agency to support trainee teachers and NQTs. Though there is currently the Teacher Training Agency (responsible for the “Get into teaching” advertising campaign), there is the need for a supplementary body or provision to support those recently qualified or in training.

Yes, there is obvious existing provision within existing teacher training and schools and colleges, but more is needed. The impact the last year has had on teacher mental health alone should lead to the foundation of additional services and funding to support staff (not just trainee teachers and NQTs). With many NQTs and trainee teachers asked to complete catch up sessions or staff schools during holidays for those with key workers as parents, many have been overworked and are exhausted. 

In some quarters, it has also been proposed that NQTs could be asked to complete intervention sessions as part of a nationwide “catch-up” over Easter or summer holidays. With the benefits of this very much open to debate, this would likely do more harm than good to new teachers, and they are in need of time to reflect on their practice and continue their own development so they can better support students. 

It is also easy to forget that there is a silver lining to this rather large, Covid shaped cloud. Training or completing an NQT during lockdown (and delivering through remote/ online learning) will have given new teachers the tools, skills and knowledge that will be invaluable for whatever comes next. Whatever 2021-22 looks like, some elements of online/ remote learning will stay with us, and they will be extremely well placed to make sure this is implemented successfully.

No matter what comes next, the trainee teachers and NQTs of 2019-20 and 2020-21 have done exceptional work to support learners during the most difficult time in recent memory.

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Jonny Kay

Jonny Kay is the head of teaching and learning at a college in the North East. He tweets at @jonnykayteacher.

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