Teachers often work long hours and feel under pressure, making teacher retention an all-too-common issue. Even long before the Covid-19 pandemic, school standards minister Nick Gibb revealed in 2016, in response to a parliamentary question, that between 2012 and 2017 on average 30 percent of Newly Qualified Teachers gave up the profession, and 13 percent did so within the first year of their career.
Fast-forwarding to 2021 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is pinning its hopes on the Early Career Framework (ECF) because as Professor Robert Hulme, Head of School for Teacher Education and Professional Development at Manchester Metropolitan University, notes in his article for Schools Week, ‘How can we support early career teachers?’, of 6th July 2021:
“Within the world of teacher training and education, there is nothing more important than supporting teachers through the early stage of their career. With approximately one quarter of newly qualified teachers leaving the profession after three years, there is a need for schools and universities to work collaboratively to ensure that high quality teachers are retained.”
He adds that evidence emerging from the ECF suggests that it may already be helping to create a significant improvement in the retention of NQTs: “90% of those recruited have remained on the programme, with the majority of ’leavers’ simply changing schools mid-programme.”
The ECF offers a developed curriculum and includes a teacher mentorship programme to support early career teachers. The initiative first rolled out in 2020, and Schools Week reports that “Manchester Metropolitan University was selected to deliver the early roll-out of the ECF in the north of England, in partnership with University College London’s Institute of Education, Newcastle University and a network of research schools.”
Demands remain high
Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of The Chartered College of Teaching, says the demands on teachers are nevertheless still very high in 2021, and this leads to a culture of burn-out. She argues that retention can be increased when “teachers are able to match their own vision with the reality of the classroom.”
Teachers want to think and feel they are making a difference. They don’t want to be stifled by bureaucracy, and she adds that if schools are “able to support early career teachers and not over expect what they can achieve, and make them feel part of the team, they are more likely to stay with it.” However, if they feel isolated and overly burdened, the risk they will leave becomes higher.
Ryan Lockett, Head of Studies at online tutoring provider TLC Live adds: “Given the increased workload, mandatory CPD, Ofsted, poor pay and incentives (without a responsibility), staff in schools are under increasing pressure every day. Even without all the extra pressures of the pandemic!”
He concurs with Peacock, and comments: “Without support, appreciation, or even a pat on the back from time to time, teachers will continue to leave the profession in increasing numbers. Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding career, and there are many happy teachers, but there are also very tough days. It is vital that strong mentorship is in place to celebrate the highs but, more importantly, be there in the tough times. Without an effective support system, trainee teachers can easily start to sink and feel overwhelmed.”
However, Peacock reveals that during the pandemic, teachers haven’t been leaving at the same rate as before it occurred. This may have been because the employment market became so uncertain. Another theory is that teachers – NQTs or otherwise – felt more valued because of their role in society. She nevertheless confesses: “We won’t know why teachers have remained in post, but there could be greater attrition in the coming years as it will rise again.”
ECF: Broadening skills
“The Early Career Framework is the Government’s way of supporting early career teachers, designed to mentor teachers, and it should be a way of continuing support formally beyond teacher training, as well as a way of improving mentoring quality, and so it is a good thing. The ECF looks at a range of different skills that need to be practised over time by the teacher. It also looks at professional knowledge. It’s not a framework to support, enable and be practical in supporting those skills.”
She believes that being in a good school makes such a difference. “So, if you are supported by your colleagues, it’s a more positive and encouraging experience than being left on your own in a classroom and being told to get on with it”, she says. Behaviour management is part of it. This requires watching and learning from other teachers, as well as trying out different strategies to see what works.
“If schools are able to implement policies and practices that work for example, such as parental engagement, better planning support etc, then new teachers are more likely to fit into that and thrive”, she comments before stressing that NQTs must they know they are not on their own.
Lockett adds: “From experience, NQTs that have a strong mentor are far more likely to stay in the profession, strive and, in some cases, take on responsibility. Well-prepared training sessions that are relevant and personal make a huge amount of difference to a new teacher. Arriving at a session where the trainer is poorly prepared, merely talking through materials without any content being relevant, is simply a waste of time.” He also emphasises that mentors must make time, be professional and have realistic expectations whilst maintaining high standards.
A hybrid future
Tammy Woods, a learning advisor at ClickView, a video content resource for primary schools, secondary schools and further education settings, thinks that Education Technology (EdTech) is the way forward to alleviating the pressure and the stress that teachers face – including NQTs: “EdTech may be the key to achieving this when used by schools to strengthen the abilities of their teachers and the effectiveness of their lessons. It is here to support our teaching workforce and to avoid them feeling overwhelmed or undervalued in these unprecedented times.”
Woods adds that the future of teaching will be a hybrid one of real-life face-to-face teaching and online learning. “If teachers received more support to marry the two from the day, they first step foot in the classroom, they would be much more confident, to the benefit of their students”, she argues.
In terms of both the present and the future, Peacock would like the Government should fund mentors’ time more generously, so that mentoring is being done in snatched moments: “This should be a Government priority along with training. This will be evaluated in the Early Career Framework, but [the reforms to it] only really start in September 2021, so let’s see!”
The Department for Education explains what the reforms entail: “From September 2021, statutory induction for new teachers will change as part of the ECF reforms. Subject to parliamentary procedure, all early career teachers in England undergoing statutory induction will be entitled to 2 years of high-quality professional development support based on the ECF.”
“If your school offers statutory induction, you will need to replace your current induction process. There is a range of support available to ensure you can meet this requirement, including a new funded programme of training and support.”
Peacock concludes that if schools are respected and given a higher status, “the more freedom they have to teach”, and to her that is a fundamental part of teacher retention. To her that is extremely important because teaching is in her opinion the best job in the world. So, she believes, “it’s the profession’s responsibility to make new teachers realise that, so that they can stay and remain teachers for a very long time.” NQTs should therefore be encouraged to stay and grow as teachers.