Why we need to look after new teachers: now more than ever

In the Doncaster Opportunity Area, of which I am deputy chair, we have seen large numbers  of people losing their jobs because of Covid-19. This is having a huge impact on lives, communities and, of course, children.

So what has been the effect of this on new teachers starting this year?

As you would expect, there are probably as many different answers to this question as there are new teachers. There has always been much variation in what it’s like for new teachers, and Covid 19 has amplified this in the same way it has amplified so many of the variables in all our lives.

But I believe the trauma with which this generation of teachers has been faced in its first year will make its members stronger in the future.

Hopefully it will help form their professional identity and thereby make them a positive force for good in the system.

At Sheffield Hallam we have been focusing on how we support these new teachers: to help them to develop and re-establish and to nurture relationships with the children they teach.

For many, this is proving to be 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.

We have all been dealing with trauma, bereavement and (for some) economic catastrophe which will be present well into the future. At its best the school system has been able to embrace the role new teachers can play in helping put a premium on relationships and responsive flexibility. As a system we have needed to emphasise the centrality of positive and mutually respectful relationships with children, staff and parents.

Having said all this, it would of course be wrong to say it has been an easy time or that the stress of starting a new and demanding career has not been made so much harder for the majority of new teachers. They had a disrupted ITE year and they have come into schools at a time when teaching and learning are far from normal and when there are many things that add to the usual stress.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many have risen to the challenge brilliantly and have maybe even enjoyed some of the ‘stripped back’ nature of having to really focus on the basics of what is achievable in these constrained circumstances. This does not, however, mean they do not need our current and ongoing support.

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 – combined 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 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 its 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 Framework that are uppermost for me.

When the two frameworks are up and running and working together as a national entitlement from September, 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 – in some schools – adjust our expectations of them. The last year has given us a cohort of new teachers with special insights and strengths – we must work hard not to lose them as we have lost previous generations.

Written by Professor Sam Twiselton, Director of the Sheffield Institute of Education







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