Teacher retention after the pandemic
When submitting my Fellowship Report in March 2020, I had no idea that the world of education was about to face one of its greatest ever challenges. My project, which focused on the retention of early-career teachers, identified examples of best practice from Singapore, Norway, and Switzerland.
"As the dust begins to settle on the pandemic, it is important that formal interventions are now put in place to support teachers entering the profession." - Paul Middleton, Fellow
I concluded that as well as reducing workload, new teachers needed to receive greater support in their first five years in the profession. These recommendations became even more apparent during the pandemic, and I believe their implementation in the future will help to tackle any new challenges faced by early career teachers.
As a full-time Head of Department and mentor to a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), I witnessed these challenges first-hand when the pandemic began. Trainees saw their PGCE courses being cut short, placements were abandoned, and NQTs had to deliver remote teaching after being in the classroom for just one term. Georgia, the NQT I mentor, explained:
“When I began my NQT, I hadn’t seen a classroom or had any interactions with pupils for six months. The biggest challenge in this was my confidence. Normal return-to-school jitters were magnified, and I was all too aware that I was very much out of practice on aspects of my pedagogy that mainly develop through classroom time, such as behaviour management and differentiation.”
Clearly, it was more important than ever that teachers had access to a stable support system, so that we could avoid this cohort of teachers falling by the wayside. For our school, this involved promoting closer relationships between mentors and trainees, as well as supporting colleagues with accessible Continual Professional Development (CPD) opportunities. Weekly pedagogical summaries gleaned from my six-week Fellowship, as well as regular webinars, provided practical ideas and resources for our staff members. For many teachers working from home for the first time, the support of schools, alongside the wider educator community on social media, was an essential academic lifeline.
As the dust begins to settle on the pandemic, it is important that formal interventions are now put in place to support teachers entering the profession. The changes to initial teacher training (ITT) that I proposed in my Fellowship Report are now doubly important – longer periods of training, formalised induction processes and stronger mentor relationships will ensure that trainees are better prepared. It is pleasing that the Government has recently attempted to strengthen the future delivery of teacher training in their ITT Market Review Report. However, recent criticism from training providers suggests that these recommendations will require further reflection. A spokesperson from the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers stated that “a wide-scale, expensive and disruptive re-accreditation process poses a huge risk to teacher supply”, and many universities have also criticised the strict formalisation being proposed. Nevertheless, it is positive that these conversations are taking place and we are hopefully moving towards a more rigorous system of teacher training, similar to that of our foreign neighbours.
Another opportunity to support newly-qualified teachers will be in the application of the Early Career Framework, which is being rolled out nationwide from September 2021. New teachers and their mentors will now be provided with a sequenced two-year induction programme, complete with training materials, to better support their transition into the classroom. This two-year induction is similar to that being employed in Switzerland and Singapore, so it will hopefully bring equally positive results regarding retention. From September, I hope to use my Fellowship to support my school in strengthening our own induction process, perhaps using the NQT-led seminars that I saw being used to great effect by the Zürich University of Teacher Education. These provided a space for new teachers to learn, collaborate and reflect on their classroom experiences, and were instrumental in tackling the main causes of attrition.
One final aspect of support that is required, going forward, is the availability of affordable, research-informed CPD. A real highlight of the last 18 months was the readiness of institutions to offer webinars and online courses for free: these provided opportunities for teachers to strengthen their practice at home. One of the strongest parts of the Singaporean education system that I came across was the free professional development opportunities available to all teachers. So, as events and courses across the UK begin to open again, I hope that providers consider the needs of early-career teachers, from both a cost and accessibility perspective.
It is still unclear how the teaching profession will change in light of the pandemic, and it will be several years until the impact of recent government initiatives can be evaluated. For now, it remains the responsibility of mentors, schools and the wider community of educators to provide support for early-career teachers. Through school-wide relationships, grassroots initiatives via social media, and accessible CPD opportunities, we can continue to support those who are navigating this changing profession for the first time.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.