How have new teachers been affected by their disrupted teacher training?

By Jack Worth, NFER School Workforce Lead

Friday 25 June 2021

The third in a series of blogs on Covid-19 and the teacher workforce, sees NFER School Workforce Lead Jack Worth look at the support for new teachers, whose teacher training was disrupted by the pandemic.

On Monday, the Department for Education announced new funding for teacher induction aimed at the cohort of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) whose initial teacher training (ITT) was so disrupted in 2020 due to Covid-19. Teacher training courses were moved online and, most significantly, trainees had their school-based placements curtailed due to schools closing at short notice in March 2020.

Specifically, the new funding enables an additional five per cent of time off timetable in NQTs’ second year. This is a welcome addition, as it gives time for reflection, training and development, and brings their experience into line with subsequent cohorts who will benefit from the same dedicated time as part of the Early Career Framework (ECF).

Data from our autumn 2020 survey of senior leaders, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, demonstrates the need to support this cohort of trainees due to the perception that their disrupted training experience has negatively impacted on their skills. However, encouragingly, it also shows that most NQTs have already received additional support from their school. This newly-announced funding may enable this additional support to continue, furthering their development as new teachers and hopefully contributing to retaining them in the profession for the long term.

Some senior leaders perceived that disruption to ITT had led to NQTs having skill gaps

In our survey, we asked senior leaders about the extent to which they perceived that the disruption to ITT had adversely impacted on NQTs’ skills. Senior leaders had mixed perceptions across all the areas of teacher practice that we asked them about, but some senior leaders perceived the disruption had had an adverse impact on a range of skills.

There was a slightly greater perception of negative impacts on behaviour management (more strongly by secondary senior leaders), assessment knowledge/skills (more strongly by primary senior leaders) and lesson planning. Both primary and secondary senior leaders were less likely to perceive an adverse impact on subject knowledge, but this is perhaps unsurprising given that most trainees tend to possess a lot of subject knowledge already and bring it to be applied through their training, particularly at secondary level.

Despite these perceptions of adverse impacts, most senior leaders expressed little reluctance to employing NQTs because of their having had less experience in school. However, a notable minority of senior leaders did express a substantial degree of reluctance, particularly among primary senior leaders compared to secondary. This suggests that the NQTs of 2020 may have found job searching challenging because of perceptions about their lack of skills. Indeed, the teacher job market in 2020 was already challenging due to lower-than-expected retention of existing teachers and fewer vacancies making it more competitive, coupled with the difficulty senior leaders faced in assessing applicant quality, due to recruiting remotely.

Additional support has been put in place to assist NQTs’ induction

Given the disruption to their ITT and practical experience, it is reassuring to find that many senior leaders who employed NQTs in September 2020 had put additional support in place for them. Overall, 55 per cent of primary schools that employed NQTs and 60 per cent of secondaries had put additional support in place. Some schools had plans to put additional support in place, meaning that 67 per cent of primaries and 71 per cent of secondaries had, or had plans to, put additional support in place for NQTs.

The chart below shows the types of additional support that senior leaders were putting in place. A majority of both primary and secondary senior leaders had put additional in-school mentoring, training and observation opportunities in place for NQTs. Around a fifth of these schools had their NQTs enrolled in the ECF early roll-out, but this is unsurprisingly low due to the specific areas that are participating in the early roll-out (and the expansion of the programme announced last year).

However, only around a third of senior leaders had put additional time off timetable in place for NQTs. This may have been because senior leaders perceived that NQTs’ existing entitlement to 10 per cent time off timetable in their first year to be sufficient for supporting their induction. However, it could also have been due to a lack of funding to be able to allocate more time and/or the difficulty of finding cover to enable NQTs to take additional time away from the classroom.

Either way, additional funding to enable NQTs to spend additional time on induction activities in their second year is likely to be beneficial to teachers from the 2020 ITT cohort. Indeed, it may enable some of the additional support that has been put in place for them in their NQT year (e.g. mentoring, training and opportunities to observe other teachers) to continue.

This in turn may support more new teachers to stay in the profession. While the latest DfE data on teacher retention we wrote about last week suggests that more new teachers are staying in the profession, most likely to due to the impact of wider economic trends, it remains the case that teachers are more likely to leave in their first year or two than later in their careers. The early years of experience gained by teachers can be both pivotal for decisions about whether to stay for the long term and crucial for developing their practice and climbing the steep learning curve. Therefore, support provided at this early stage could be vital for retaining teachers deeper into their careers.

The national ECF rollout from September 2021 means that all future cohorts of early career teachers will be entitled to five per cent time off timetable in their second year. There is great hope in the sector that this will prove a game-changing policy by giving new teachers much-needed time for training and mentor support. However, there is also some nervousness that translating high hopes at a policy level into real change across the country may be challenging.

National policy implementation is indeed challenging and won’t necessarily be perfect straight away. To play our part, NFER is evaluating the ECF early roll-out, with the aim of assessing its impact on teacher retention and exploring the effectiveness of delivery. We aim to feed the insights from this research back into the policy’s evolution and give it the best chance of ultimately succeeding in delivering its promise.