How can we align our Early Career Teachers offers across groups of schools?
Crossing the boundary from being a school leader to working in teacher training in a Higher Education Institution has challenged my perspective on many things including how we train our teachers and who trains them.
Throughout my career I have volunteered to mentor and coach others, for free. Throughout my career I have invested time, energy and resource into the development of others, for free. It’s what we do isn’t it? We give ourselves, our skills our experience to others to help them on their paths.
When I moved into a system leadership role in a MAT to lead on our Teaching Schools’ activity and align it with our SCITT I scrutinised the consistency of our offer to staff. When you join a family of schools you expect there to be some equity in experience and opportunity across the schools. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because people talk! People share and compare their context, their contract to others.
We had 200+ trainee teachers each year, and the same again as NQTs and then as RQTs. Across our 42 schools we had at least 500 Early Career Teachers each academic year. Working with my colleagues who led each part of our professional learning provision we summarised our offer:
- The ITT Entitlement
- The NQT Entitlement
- The RQT Entitlement
Each were a simple one page overview of the consistent offer each group of trainees would receive, ranging from contact time, to mentoring time, to lesson observations and peer observations, CPD opportunities. Alongside this we set out the support on other such as technological devices, socials and welfare packages. It all existed, it just needed writing down, tweaking and a few inconsistencies ironing. Each document then went to the Headteachers’ Board for approval and all of our schools committed to the agreement.
When I moved from one large MAT to a medium size one, also with a Teaching School and a SCITT, I repeated the process again. It made sense to make things coherent, cohesive and consistent across a group of schools with shared values and practices.
On reflection, on both occasions I neglected to initiate the same parity, the same attention, for the mentors. I had hundreds of early career teachers on my mind, as my focus. I was forgetting that this number doubles when you take into consideration the needs of the mentors who are the ones nurturing them.
It wasn’t until I co-led the mentoring training for our PGCE and fielded questions from the floor about how much time they, the mentors, needed a week to support our trainee teachers through our distance learning course that I realised my mistake. I had 200 pairs of eyes on me. I had 200 sets of ears listening to me. They had come to the training, some willingly, some begrudgingly. They knew what was expected of them and their trainees. But what about them? What did they get for their efforts? Who was going to inform their Headteachers and SLTs of what their needs were?
I put out a series of tweets that night as I reflected on this to explore the common experience to probe further:
- How many mentors are given extra time to mentor?
- How many mentors are given extra money to mentor?
- How many mentors are given extra training to mentor?
- How many mentors volunteer to mentor?
- How many mentors are told they have to mentor?
The responses were quite stark. The school system is not looking after our mentors.
In my role as Head of Secondary Teacher Training I am often invited to speak at educational events. A recurring theme is to talk about how schools can support the mental health and wellbeing of our early career teachers. I can talk passionately about this, but I have started to flip how I frame it to amplify the message that:
If we look after our mentors, then they will look after our trainees.
Schools should not have a focus on our early career teachers at the expenses of our mentors, who are often juggling leadership positions and remits, team management and their own families too.
So, as we plan for the next academic year, I invite you to consider the following question:
What is the incentive to be a mentor in your school?
I would propose you need to consider the following as part of your Mentoring Entitlement:
- Time – mentors need to meet their trainee for 1 hour a week, they need to observe their trainee once a week, they therefore need a timetable reduction.
- Training – mentoring and coaching is an art, if your provider offers training they need to be released to attend it, or they need to source their own training which the school needs to fund.
- Meetings – the weekly mentoring meeting needs to be protected so that both the mentor and the mentee know it will happen weekly.
- Cover – the mentor needs to see the trainee teach in a range of classes, they will need some cover of some of their lessons in order to be released to do this.
- Observations – the bulk of observations need to be done by the mentor, but other colleagues in that subject, specialists such as EAL/ SENCO and Senior Leaders could and should share this load too.
- CPD – schools who have centralised professional learning effectively and efficiently align the training needs of early career teachers, a weekly training slot with a rotating facilitator will save time and energy but will also align messages.
- Devices – don’t assume that everyone has access to a laptop, to be more time and energy efficient if the mentor has a school device they can type observations as they go and draft termly reports on the trainee’s progress from home.
- Admin – being a mentor is admin heavy, whether the documents are hard copies or virtual they need time to read, type and verify evidence – this takes time!
- Deadlines – schools are deadline heavy places, be mindful that mentoring incurs additional external deadlines too – add them all on the school calendar so SLT are aware of external deadlines when setting internal ones.
- Workload – being a mentor is one more thing to juggle, and depending on your trainee’s temperament, performance and progress, the amount of support needed can be significant.
- Wellbeing – increase in workload, affects the wellbeing of colleagues, no matter how experienced they are, keep oversight of how the role affects the mentor as well as the mentee.
- Supervision – often the mentor is the first port of call for disclosures when trainees are experiencing personal issues or their mental health deteriorates, who is checking in on their mental health and wellbeing?
- TLR – most whole school responsibilities have a financial incentive attached to them, some providers pay for school placements, mentors should be recompensed for this important role with a fixed term TLR for the year.
- HR – as an organisation you need Job Descriptions and Person Specifications to state your expectations of your mentors, this will enable you mentors to have clarity about their role and they can then be held to account.
- Line Management – when schools have multiple trainees from multiple providers and pathways, it can get really complicated, the mentors need to be a team who come together under a professional learning leader who oversees all activity and who is a conduit to SLT.
- Network – connecting mentors across a school or across a MAT enables them to peer support and share what is working with each other.
- Progression – for staff aspiring to become Lead Practitioners, Specialist Leaders of Education or be trained as a coach, mentoring is a great stepping stone. Consider building mentoring opportunities into your progression map for staff progression.
As we move into our summer term and plan staffing for next year, as we review our budgets and confirm our allocation of trainees, as we draft our timetables please also consider the entitlement of our mentors.
As a system we know we have a recruitment issue, moreover we have a retention issue, perhaps we can mend the leaky pipeline of early career teacher attrition if we invest more in our mentors.