What have we learned through the COVID 19 Crisis?
Most people who work in education are motivated by the sense they are doing something important, that matters, that makes a difference. This is because we all know that ultimately education in all its forms has the power to transform lives, open gateways, change individuals, the communities they live in, society – the world. Without education we would not have any of the other things our upon which civilised lives depend. Covid times – combine with the tragic events associated with Black Lives Matter have shown us more clearly than ever the importance of this. This means we need to look after our teachers – all of them – but we need to give special and focused attention to our new teachers. They not only represent the future of the profession – they can play a central role in reformulating what happens now.
What does that mean for what we keep and what we change?
The problem of teacher retention existed long before Covid-19. It is one that that is getting worse and earlier in career every year. My time on the Carter Review of ITT a few years ago (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carter-review-of-initial-teacher-training) highlighted one of the key reasons for this – ITE is too short and this combines with an accountability system that can tempt some school leaders into expecting NQTs to be the fully formed product and able to hit the ground running. It is a toxic combination. Stress, workload, and a lack of self-worth inevitably follow. The DfE have recently woken up to this problem and in publishing the recruitment and retention strategy last year came up with a sensible response. As a strategy it includes different moving parts which all need to work together, but it is the ECF and ITT Core Content Frameworks that are uppermost for me (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-teacher-training-itt-core-content-framework and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-career-framework-reforms-overview .
When the two frameworks are up and running and working together, we have something that could make a huge difference – a core entitlement for all trainees and early career teachers, regardless of where they train or where they get their first job. This ‘Velcroed-together’ set of frameworks should provide consistency in the evidence-based training, support and development that new teachers receive across the ITT year and the first two years after they have qualified. This is a great step forward and the system needs to get behind it and support it. We need to change the narrative for new teachers, and we need to support, develop and (if appropriate – as some leaders do this well already) adjust our expectations of them.
What do we do next?
The lens I believe we need to look through from September onwards is one of the role new teachers can play in helping put a premium on relationships and responsive flexibility. As a system we need to emphasise the centrality of positive and mutually respectful relationships with children, staff and parents. The fact we have all been dealing with trauma, bereavement and (for some) economic catastrophe which will be present well into the next academic year, should be our focus. For example, as Deputy Chair of the Doncaster Opportunity Area we are already seeing the massive impact of people losing their jobs on lives, communities and, of course, children. How we develop and re-establish relationships, and how we support new teachers to also nurture those relationships, is probably the most important thing. But actually, if this is the number one thing we are all focusing on – as a collaboration – this is a really strong identity-forming way to come into the profession. Without those relationships, and without understanding of the different factors that impact on children’s ability to learn, we cannot overcome all the barriers that come with them. The fact that new teachers will be entering at a point when this is this front and centre of people’s minds can only be a really positive thing. Hopefully it will help form their professional identity and thereby make them a positive force for good in the system.
By Sam Twiselton