Professor Samantha Twiselton, Director of the Sheffield Institute of Education and fierce advocate of strong initial teacher training and support for enhanced retention, reflects on the lessons learned during the Covid-19 Crisis and what this means for teacher training beyond the pandemic.
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 upon which civilised lives depend. Covid times have shown us more clearly than ever the importance of this. We have not only seen how hard it is when teachers and their pupils cannot be together, and how much it matters that the disruption to learning this has sometimes created are addressed. We have also been constantly reminded that an excellent education is the foundation for everything else. We would not have been able to navigate our way through this global crisis without the scientists and many other experts whose own education has helped them to rise to the challenges so magnificently. This means the world is clearer than ever about the importance of schools and hopefully also recognises the importance of teachers. This means we need to look after them – 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 how we should support new teachers?
The problem of teacher retention - experienced in a number of parts the world - existed long before Covid-19. My time on the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) (Carter Review of ITT ) in the English system a few years ago, highlighted one of the key reasons for this – in England ITT is too short and this combined with an accountability system that can tempt some school leaders into expecting new teachers 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 English government have recently woken up to this problem and in publishing the recruitment and retention strategy (Recruitment and Retention Strategy) came up with a sensible response. As a strategy it includes different moving parts which all need to work together, but it is the Early Career Framework (ECF) and ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) that are uppermost for me.
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?
Regardless of the system, wherever in the world, 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 global 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. 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 positive thing. 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.
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 most new teachers. They had a disrupted ITT 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.
Now more than ever we need to support our new teachers and ensure the profession – wherever in the world – has a bright and secure future.
This topic will be discussed further in the Workforce & CPD Stream at the upcoming flagship Outstanding Schools Middle East Conference in October 2021. Click below to find out more...