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The Early Career Framework is exceptional support for NQTs

A blog by John Stainer, Assistant Head at Great Torrington School

To ensure the best possible support for his early career teachers, Assistant Head John participated in the emergency rollout of the Early Career Framework.

As we are a small, rural, secondary standalone academy trust, we are very mindful that we may not have the in-house expertise to support new teachers coming into the profession. We have been fortunate to have recruited well in recent years, but we are constantly aware of our vulnerability in this area. Young teachers are simply less likely to want to work in North Devon compared to the pulsing metropolises of Exeter and Plymouth.

To ensure our offer to potential new recruits is as attractive as possible, and to ensure we keep hold of the strong new teachers that we have managed to recruit, it is essential that we can offer the best support to teachers in the first few years of their career. This was even more essential considering COVID-19. The training of our Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) was severely curtailed by the first lockdown – achieving Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) with only a few weeks actual teaching experience.

This all made engaging in the emergency rollout of the Teach First Early Career Framework very attractive. It provides a complete course of support and material that could fill any gaps in our NQT’s training, while also developing them in their first year on the job. It had the added benefit of being delivered online, outside of teaching hours. This relieved some strain on our cover arrangements when other members of staff had to self-isolate. The online delivery made the training easy to access for our teachers, living in the remotest parts of Devon.

The benefits of the Early Career Framework

We think that the training and support of mentors for NQTs is a real strength of the programme. At Great Torrington School, it seems we operate slightly differently to other schools, with a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) acting as a mentor for new teachers. This doesn’t seem sustainable, so the offer of high-quality Continuing Professional Development (CPD) will help encourage other members of staff to act as mentors next year.

[The Early Career Framework] provides a complete course of support and material that could fill any gaps in our NQT’s training, while also developing them in their first year on the job.

By a happy coincidence, we introduced instructional coaching across our school at the same time as the Early Career Framework. This method is very effective, but it involves the (sometimes awkward) process of speaking direct truths about a lesson, with role-playing elements to address its weaknesses. This is so contrary to traditional methods of observation and feedback, that this double-helping of training really helped us to get over the initial awkwardness to really make it work. As the mentor to two NQTs at my school, I now have instructional coaching meetings with each of them for about 15 minutes a week, on top of a 50-minute meeting per fortnight. This isn’t quite the commitment outlined in the ECF, but these little, frequent points of contact are having far more impact than a longer fortnightly meeting.

I was also very pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of the online course that the Teach First Early Career Framework provides. There is input from all the big names in education – Tom Bennet, Rob Coe et al. The content is really the most cutting-edge, evidence-based strategies and techniques there are. There are also lots and lots of helpful videos of best practice teaching to illustrate the content, which my NQTS have said has been invaluable to them. The content is concise and easy to work through for both them and their mentors. Neither of my NQTs see the online content as a burden but a helpful additional resource to help them. If I am honest, one of them is very studious and works through the content at the suggested pace and completes all exercises. My other NQT prefers to binge the content from time-to-time, but neither say it is a needless addition to their workload.

A holistic approach to early teacher development

Engaging in the Early Career Framework has really made me reflect on the weakness of our NQT provision in previous years. We would enrol our NQTs on an externally provided course and, completely separately, offer them a series of meetings and observations in school. These would be unstructured and depend on an individual teacher's strengths or weaknesses. It provides a holistic approach to early teacher development, and a clear programme of study and development - which runs in tandem to a framework of observation and discussion with mentors. The NQT now gets a professional, joined-up package. I hope it gives them the sense that they are entering a profession where they are really valued.

The content is really the most cutting-edge, evidence-based strategies and techniques there are.

I did have a little difficulty persuading some of my SLT colleagues that we should use a programme provided by Teach First. In rural Devon, they are seen as an urban brand – fast-tracking city types into teaching. They were reassured by the fact that the programme would in fact be delivered by TSSW. The programme lead is someone who works locally and has run programmes for our NQTs before. They really know our context. Any issues that we have are dealt with in a quick and friendly way by TSSW. This aside, it must be said that the quality of the Teach First training materials is exceptional, whatever the negative connotations some may have with the brand.

"An exceptional package of support"

Being involved in the emergency roll-out of the Early Career Framework has made me redesign our entitlement for NQTs next year. I shall ensure that I appoint mentors for our NQTs, and that they have daily interaction with them. I know that the quality of training and support from the ECF will help me to recruit suitable people for this. I will also ensure that time is set aside at the same points in the mentors and NQTs' timetables, to ensure regular instructional coaching sessions. Beyond this, by simply enrolling our early career teachers into the programme next year, I know that they will be receiving and exceptional package of support to ensure they have the best start to a long career in teaching.