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In recent years, the education sector has struggled to recruit and retain new teachers, and this year, perhaps more than ever, schools need strategies to preserve early career teachers from suffering the multiple burdens of workload, isolation and inexperience with classroom teaching.
With the introduction of the Early Career Framework this term, we are entering a new and exciting phase in the provision of training for new teachers. This undoubtedly presents a great opportunity to enhance practical skills, knowledge and confidence during teachers' first years in the job.
It goes without saying that teachers play a critical part in maximising the life chances of young people, so recruiting and retaining the best is a vital moral imperative for schools. For some time now, the retention of teachers has been a considerable concern, particularly as a large proportion of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of qualifying. In May 2018 the Government issued 'Strengthening QTS and improving career progression for teachers', which acknowledged the need to ensure all new teachers have the right support in place at the beginning of their career. The DfE committed to the development of the Early Career Framework (ECF) which increases the Induction period from one, to two years.
How Continued Professional Development supports retention
The ECF was influenced by the 'Early Career CPD: Exploratory Research' carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), which reviewed existing UK research alongside in-depth case studies of 20 schools identified as having higher than average rates of retention of early career teachers (where teachers remain in the job into their second and third year). The review highlighted the following findings:
- New teachers commonly experience 'practice shock' when beginning to teach and need collegial support to help them acclimatise to the reality of work in schools. A supportive school culture is critical to the success of early career teachers' professional development.
- Early career teachers commonly report that informal conversations with colleagues in school meet their professional development needs more than formal CPD. While mentoring emerges in a positive light, there is some evidence of a perception that formal conversations with mentors are primarily evaluative, with a lesser or absent developmental function.
- Effective professional development should start from a clear appreciation of the objective of the development activity, benefits from collaborative learning opportunities, such as coaching and mentoring, and needs appropriate conditions, such as the right climate and culture, professional responsibility, and sufficient time and resources.
- Early career CPD: exploratory research, National Foundation for Educational Research, November 2018
NFER's case studies found that ECTs saw core skillset training (behaviour management, understanding assessment, pedagogical knowledge) as a priority during their induction, but there were also lessons to be learned that relate much more specifically to school culture and practices, which fall outside the provision of the ECF itself. Several 'enabling factors' were identified as contributing to an effective early induction, including:
- A balanced package of support involving standardised training alongside more personalised teacher-led opportunities
- A supportive whole school culture, where induction was viewed as the start of a lifelong journey of training and support
- Having a range of support options available, including informal support from a variety of colleagues.
It is clear that ongoing professional development is a key factor in teachers' job satisfaction throughout their career. It is therefore crucial that we recognise the early induction period is just the start.
The impact of school culture on long-term success
While the ECF represents a hugely constructive step forward in the support for ECTs, it does have its limitations. The framework doesn't specify what happens after the first two years during the transition to Mid-Career Teacher, and this could mean that the problem of retention is simply pushed further down the line. Schools still need a strategy that prevents teachers leaving the profession within the first five years.
The culture of the organisation will itself have a significant impact on the retention of ECTs. We are seeing increasing evidence of the importance of relationships, as well as working conditions, in determining the risk of staff leaving. The dynamic between the leadership team and staff is particularly important.
Here are a few factors that might be worth considering in relation to your own offer to ECTs and their transition to MCT:
- Is the ECF seen in isolation in your schools, or is it part of a succession planning policy?
- How will you support ECTs as the transition to MCT? Do you offer a continuing professional development programme that will continue to provide 'bespoke' support for your individual teachers as they move into their third, fourth or fifth years of teaching?
- Do you have a clear and transparent support programme for your teachers, whether this is a more formal Performance Management structure or a more dialogistic coaching approach? How will you progressively integrate your ECTs to these processes?
- Does your school have a culture of continuing professional development and mutual support for teachers at all stages of their career?
It is also worth considering how your school processes and practices will meet the expectations of ECT - for example, how your organisation uses technology. This generation of emerging ECTs are digital natives, and may find a degree of incongruence between their own expectations and the experience they have in school, which may still be heavily reliant on paper systems.
Aside from technology, this generation of ECTs will have quite different expectations of working life compared with older staff, as recorded in the Gallup report 'How Millennials Want to Work and Live', illustrated below:
So, if you are welcoming ECTs into your school this Autumn, take a moment to reflect on the truly diverse nature of the demographic you will likely have in your staff room, and the influence that can have on their perception of the working environment they are entering. What is your school doing to square this circle and support the retention of a dynamic and diverse emerging workforce beyond the offer of the ECF itself?
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