What do schools and teachers need to know about the 2-year Early Career Framework? In our podcast, Helen Woodward talked with Professor Sam Twiselton OBE and Lynsey Hunter from Sheffield Hallam University about building a community of practice, and how we can measure success over the next few years.
Helen Woodward: Sam, you’re the Director the Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University, you’ve also chaired the DfE’s advisory group for the ITT (Initial Teacher Training) core content framework. Lynsey, your career spans 20 years as a primary teacher, a Headteacher, a Local Authority Advisor and an Ofsted inspector, and you’re now part of the Primary Teacher Education Team at Sheffield Hallam University. I understand you’re working on the early rollout of the Early Career Framework (ECF) in partnership with the Education Development Trust and the university. Thank you both for joining us today!
My first question today is: what is the Early Career Framework exactly, and why does it matter?
Sam Twiselton: The framework itself was published two years ago, but it is literally just a framework. What’s happened since then is that a number of organisations have been appointed to turn that framework into a professional development programme for early career teachers, which has been piloted in certain parts of the country this year, and Lynsey’s involved as you said. But then from next September, it will be rolled out for absolutely everybody who’s starting their career in teaching in the English system as a minimum entitlement of support and development which goes over 2 years. It’s got really high quality input, it’s got a big focus on mentoring, it’s got a big focus on peer support, as well. And for me, it’s just a really exciting thing, because it’s recognising that we can’t expect new teachers to be able to hit the ground running in the way that has maybe been the case in the recent past. They’ve had a very short ITE (Initial Teacher Education), there’s still so much to learn, and those first two years are absolutely crucial in terms of helping them build confidence and competence, and feeling like they’re thriving in the profession. We know from quite a lot of research that you can really inject that extra support, that development, and beyond that to change the narrative so that it’s alright to accept that you are still learning, and it’s alright for the system to acknowledge that and do something about it, as opposed to this ‘hitting the ground running’, high-stakes accountability feeling that some NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) in the past have had. What happens with it is that it joins up with the ITT core content framework, which everybody who’s been training in the English system this year has been receiving. That should then latch onto what gets picked up in September. Very similar approach, very similar areas of knowledge and understanding. The two things between them create a minimum entitlement of at least 3 years, it could be longer if you’re on a longer ITT training route, or if you’re lucky enough to carry on with the systematic development after your second year. But for everybody, it’s at least 3 years. And that’s a huge step forward.
HW: That’s helpful, so the key things there are that it’s an entitlement, and actually there’s no escape! Everyone has to do it. All schools are going to have to participate if they’re taking NQTs in September, aren’t they?
ST: Yeah, absolutely. But better not to think of ‘everybody has to do it’, it’s ‘isn’t it brilliant that everyone’s entitled to it, because everybody needs it!’ And it’s going to make a difference, not just to those early career teachers, but to the profession, to the schools they’re working with and the children they’re working with. Ultimately, it will improve the outcomes for those children.
Lynsey Hunter: It’s this idea that you’re never the finished article as a teacher. I think it encourages and promotes that as being the norm. Exactly as you say, in schools the difference is not just going to be with those early career teachers who are just starting out, because there’s going to be a mentoring relationship there, but those discussions can spread throughout the staff. It becomes the norm that we’re constantly looking at our practice, we’re constantly saying ‘what can I get better at?’, ‘which things are working for which children?’, and then that becomes something that is a key part of the school’s development, not just of that one individual teacher. So it’s a really exciting way into professional development for everybody.
HW: So say I’m a new Headteacher at a small primary school and I haven’t had an NQT before, isn’t this a bit scary, and lots of extra work?
ST: On the face of it I can see why, if you don’t know anything about it and suddenly you’re aware of it, it might seem that way. But actually, as a Headteacher you’ve always needed to support your early career teachers. There’s always been an entitlement for NQTs, all this is doing is extending for a year and putting a bit more formality and a bit more structure around it. So actually, the system is helping you to do what you would have had to do anyway! You have choices about how you can do it, if I’m honest, if I was a Headteacher in that situation I would take the easiest choice, certainly at this stage, which is to send my NQT on one of the national programmes. In which case, it’s a fairly straightforward thing. The biggest thing you have to think about is the mentoring support that your early career teacher will need, which as I say has always been a requirement. It’s not new. Choose the right person, and think about it as part of the whole school’s development; there’s a potential for everybody to benefit.
LH: Having a framework gives you a backbone for providing the support. As Sam says, we’ve always had to provide this support for NQTs, and I think rather than having to come up with something yourself to do that, the framework gives you the hooks on which to hang it. Obviously, it’s about teachers meeting the teachers’ standard, so it can be used for whole school development. Everybody’s working towards those all of the time. I think one of the benefits of the national programmes is that the materials to do that are there. So if anything, when I think back to being a new Headteacher, I would have loved something like this to be able to give me a guide. Particularly in a smaller school where perhaps you’ve not got the manpower or the number of people to be able to do that! So I can see why people at first might think that, but actually I think it will provide a lot of additional resources and additional materials that can be used, certainly. And the whole idea is this community of practice, so those discussions, particularly in small schools who might not have bigger networks, will be a way into that as well. And that’s for both the ECTs (early career teachers) and the mentors. So it’s kind of a win-win!
HW: That’s really helpful! And actually some really key messages there: yes it’s 2 years, yes it’s more structured, but actually it’s lots more support in a whole variety of ways. You can use one of the providers to support you with that in the circumstances that we were talking about, and there’s a community of practice. So actually it sounds like there’s much more coherent, structured support than we’ve had before.
ST: Absolutely. And actually, when you think about how that ties into other things, that are coming on stream like the revision to the NPQs (National Professional Qualifications) and the new NPQ of particular relevance to this discussion is the Leading Teacher Development NPQ, which is really targeted at people who are really thriving in that mentoring role, and maybe want to turn that into a bit of a career pathway for themselves. That’s going to really support the system as well. So coherent is a really good way of describing it, I think.
HW: You’re leading me nicely onto our next question actually, Sam. My last question is: can you tell us about the role of mentors, and how they can access good professional development for their role? Because we can’t assume that because you’re a teacher, you know how to be a mentor; the roles are different, aren’t they?
LH: The mentoring role is pivotal to this succeeding. I think what is important is that people understand that, actually, support is there for the mentors as well as the ECTs, to support them in their role. And it recognises that in our sector we’ve got mentors who are brand new, we’ve got mentors who’ve been doing it a long time, so it’s about personalising that as much as personalising the support for the ECT, and giving mentors the tools that they need to be able to contextualise any of the national resources into something that’s appropriate for their phase, their setting and their context.
HW: I’m going to be cheeky and go for a bonus question: if we were talking again in 2 years’ time, what would be the evidence that what’s being put in place is working well?
ST: I’ll put one of the other hats I wear on for a minute, which is being on the advisory group for teacher recruitment and retention strategy. The strategy was set up because of a problem in the system. Schools were constantly needing to recruit new teachers, and the reason they were constantly having to do that is because we weren’t holding on to the ones we already had. So it’s a kind of recruitment problem, really as a result of a retention problem. The statistics show that over the recent past, every year more people have been leaving the profession earlier. I think we’re beginning to see, potentially, a reversal in that trend now. And I’m really hoping that the Early Career Framework will have an even bigger impact on that, because it’s really important that we hold on to our teachers. Not only because they’ve invested a lot of their time and effort and money, but the system has as well. So it’s a huge waste to see those people leaving so early on in their career. The pupils – that’s at the end of the day what all of this is about – they’re having a constant conveyer belt of new, green teachers in front of them. We want the best for our children, and we need our teachers to stay in the classroom, but we need them to be supported and developed. So in 2 years’ time, hopefully that’s what we’ll see! We’ll see data that shows we’re holding onto teachers better, but the outcome of that will be better outcomes for pupils and a more satisfied workforce.