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Recruitment is one of the most costly overheads for any organisation, including trusts and individual schools. But once you've recruited new staff – whether they are fresh out of university, newly-qualified, experienced teachers, middle leaders or support staff – how they are introduced to the school and how it operates is key if that investment in finding the right staff is to show a proper return.
Everyone wants their new recruits to hit the ground running, especially at the start of a new academic year. Staff new to the profession will be expecting a formal induction and the more self-confident among them will ask questions. Experienced staff will have fewer questions to ask about basics but they will need introducing to the systems and processes of a particular school. And in both groups, there are those who won't necessarily ask for fear of seeming helpless or losing some authority.
'Built on the everyday actions and statements made by one party – and how they are perceived and interpreted by the other . . .
'It emphasises that the relationship between employers and employee is more than just a transaction regulated by a legal contract. As in any relationship, both parties have informal expectations of each other that – although unwritten – can significantly affect the length and quality of their relationship.
'To manage the psychological contract effectively, regardless of the expectations of an individual worker, employers should be transparent about what they offer, and consult with the current and future workforce on the employee value proposition.'
Clearly, what you want to avoid as leader is a scenario where your new staff are as bewildered by the organisation as new pupils! It's stressful for them but it can cause you major problems as the year gets underway if a key duty or deadline has not been conveyed clearly to the member of staff concerned at the start of the year.
What is induction?
Induction is not an event, it's a process. This is true for all staff – it takes time to acclimatise to a new schools system and culture.
'Induction has been defined as the entire system of policy, resources, professional development opportunities, guidance, and support provided to anyone starting in a new role' (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011 cited in Challenges for principled induction and mentoring of new teachers – lessons from New Zealand and Wales, 2019)
This is especially true for NQTs, as the Early Careers Framework makes explicit.
The leader's role
The Langdon Induction and Mentoring Survey, conducted with new teachers in New Zealand and Wales, suggested that leadership was key in shaping how schools applied national policy on induction. It also found that if there was no link between induction and mentoring of new arrivals by leaders and other staff, then that was likely to cause problems.
In his book, Future-proof Your School: Steering culture, driving school improvement, developing excellence, David Hughes, a former senior leader, notes that the induction process is a neglected aspect of leadership and 'underdeveloped in most schools' with the attention often on paperwork, rather than the person:
'You may be lucky enough to be part of a school with excellent induction processes, but often there can be too much focus on administrative procedures and policies and too little concentration on mentoring, communication, collaboration or conflict resolution.'
The new member of staff may be passive in the process and their ideas or questions ignored:
'There can be the unwritten assumption that the new teacher has nothing to contribute to the induction process. Seemingly, induction is a one-way street in which the new teacher becomes 'inducted' to the professional standards and cultural norms of the particular school in which they were lucky, or unlucky, enough to be employed.'
Hughes recommends leaders reflect on their own experiences of induction and whether they benefited from it, using a four-point process:
- Was the induction process an event you went through or an iterative process of reconciling you to the priorities of your school?
- If you were to design the procedure from first principles, which elements would you prioritise?
- Who were the most influential teachers in helping you develop your personal approach to pupils and the learning process?
- What elements of your teaching and learning interests/expertise would you like to have shared with your new school but were never given an opportunity?
Effective induction in practice
A recent workshop, organised jointly by BlueSky and Stone King, considered the issues raised by induction and what effective induction looks like in practice. Many of the experiences shared echoed the findings above, in particular the need to recognise that induction doesn't begin on the day the new member of staff arrives at school but as soon as the person is appointed or before deriving from the psychological contract, and how schools use that period between appointment and arrival is important.
During the workshop there were discussions about how the psychological contract or the 'job-seeker' perception of an organisation can begin before the person starts looking for a job. Preconceived ideas shaped by 'what they've heard', the influence of social media or even how the advert is worded may deter them from applying. It works both ways, as employers also have expectations and when those expectations are not met there is a need to follow through.
Some schools see the time as an opportunity to 'paper dump' and send the new person a stack of documents – contract of employment, of course, and employee handbook, but also a sheaf of policies, other handbooks, even schemes of work to read ahead of their formal start date. It can be useful but it can also be needless work-creation on both sides. Senior staff should already be familiar with standard school policies while brand new entrants to the profession may feel overwhelmed.
In terms of formal induction before the start of term, workshop participants identified a number of issues for leaders to consider:
•The process and structure to ensure that it is not 'content dumping' and new staff are not 'left to get on with it', because others are so busy.
•Providing the time and availability for staff at all levels of the organisation to support the formal induction day.
•Opportunities for a buddy/mentor to guide and support someone new.
•How information is presented to new staff whether it is generic, specific to the job or to the individual – or all three. Are there more effective and efficient ways of disseminating information?
•Messaging that the new person receives – on culture, ethos and values as well as on policies and procedures – is consistent across the organisation.
•New arrivals are genuinely supported and they feel able to ask for help or share their concerns.
•Support staff receive the same content, level of detail and clearly stated organisation expectations as teachers.
The workshop also considered what happens when staff arrive mid-year or mid-term. It's relatively easy to organise an induction day for new September starters but less so at other times of the year. Do those new starters receive the same level of support and information – what does their 'day one' look like?
Interestingly, the workshop attendees identified a range of induction timescales from a week through to the whole of the first year. It raises questions such as how often the process is reviewed and how issues identified are dealt with, what mechanisms are available for new recruits to raise concerns or ask for support, peer support for new recruits, and at what point can induction be said to have ended and the member of staff be properly embedded in the school (this may happen sooner or later and may be different from the duration of the induction process).
A poor induction experience can leave new starters feeling a variety of negative emotions – overwhelmed at the scale of the information they are being asked to take on board, lost or insecure in a new job, disengaged from the start, alienated from other staff and therefore possibly left questioning their career choices.
As Hughes notes, reflecting on the induction process, including seeking feedback from new recruits, is key to improving it and preventing the same mistakes being repeated year after year.
Getting the right balance is never going to be easy and getting feedback from new recruits is a great way to see how your process is perceived so that you can reflect and improve upon it.
Employers have expectations, too, and if induction fails to go as planned and the new employee is struggling or even failing, for whatever reason, early intervention is key if more formal procedures are to be avoided later. Colleagues at the workshop recommended:
- Don't shy away from having the conversation.
- Use mentor/buddy to address informally.
- Monitor processes/procedures covered, asking for feedback on whether the member of staff has understood and make a point of asking whether further support needed.
- Follow up!
A good induction process matters to the school/trust and individual. Key elements include:
- Plan the process in advance.
- 'Brand' awareness – ensure what is portrayed, is experienced.
- Have a clear induction plan for the individual.
- Make messages consistent.
- Identify key staff who will be involved in the process.
- Identify mentor(s)/buddy(ies).
- Encourage new staff to meet, collaborate and share experiences.
- Let employee know it is OK to ask for help.
- Regular reflection and feedback on the process by new staff and leaders.
In terms of the specific content of an induction plan there are a number of best practice and statutory requirements as well as school specific needs. To help ensure you have all aspects covered, we have created a Staff Induction Checklist which can be downloaded for free here URL to PDF
CIPD – The psychological contract – Louise BacZor, Research Adviser, CIPD, 2019 www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/employees/psychological-factsheet
Early Career Framework: everything you need to know – article by 2 teachers involved in the formation of the ECF (TES, January 28 2019) www.tes.com/news/early-career-framework-everything-you-need-know
Early Career Framework – Department for Education, January 2019, www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-early-career-teachers
Challenges for principled induction and mentoring of new teachers – lessons from New Zealand and Wales. London Review of Education. Langdon, F., Daly, C., Milton, E., Jones, K. and Palmer, M 2019, http://orca.cf.ac.uk/120999/
Future-proof Your School: Steering culture, driving school improvement, developing excellence – David Hughes, 2019 www.criticalpublishing.com/future-proof-your-school
'We'll transform support for new teachers' – article by Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, (TES, January 28 2019) www.tes.com/news/damian-hinds-well-transform-support-new-teachers