The Importance of Training Quality Mentors for ITT and Early Career Teachers by Tracey Smith

There has rarely been a more important time to consider the importance of mentoring, particularly for new teachers. The ITT Core Content Framework (2018 p. 3) acknowledges that “Mentoring and support from expert colleagues forms a key element of this multi-year entitlement”. In 2015, the Carter Review of Initial Teacher training which had been commissioned by the DfE, highlighted many shortcomings in the quality of mentoring in ITT, prompting the publication of the National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors (2016). With the implementation of the Early Career Framework approaching and its emphasis on high quality mentoring, the spotlight has once again fallen on mentors.

Mentoring, as distinct from coaching, counselling or teaching, is a unique relational process involving support, encouragement and guidance for another to reach their full potential. The mentor has the experience and skills that need to be acquired by the mentee. The mentor is the conduit of knowledge, information and guidance. It takes place over a longer period of time than coaching, which is more likely to be a fixed-term structured process where the coach enables the other person to gain clarity and solutions to problems. Good quality mentoring therefore requires a range of well-honed interpersonal skills in order to quickly establish a trusting and respectful relationship within which the new teacher flourishes.

Since the subsequent publication of the new Mentor Standards in ITT (2016), there has been a seismic shift in the recognition that “mentoring is a crucial process. The training of teachers drives the quality of the education service, and the mentor is at the very heart of that training” (Wright, 2018 p.1).

So why is it so important to get this right?

1. Teacher Retention and Attrition Data

Between 2010-2019, teacher attrition grew, and retention saw a downward trajectory, as illustrated by the graph below (DfE Workforce Census, 2018).

Graph 1. Retention Rates of teachers who qualified in each of the last 10 years. (DfE, 2018)

In their extensive review based on TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) data, UCL team Ziegler, et al. (2019 p.1) found that “teacher job satisfaction in England was as low, or lower, than all of the 17 comparable countries”. Reasons for this are often cited as being stress, workload-related issues and an unsupportive school culture. In his article for Schools Week, Robertson (2018) reported the worrying statistic that “The same proportion of teachers are now entering the profession as leaving it”. This conclusion was reached as a result of the DfE School Workforce census (2017 p.4), which reports this statistic:

“There were 42,430 FTE new entrants to teaching in state funded schools in 2017…There were 42,830 FTE qualified teachers who left teaching in 2017”.

Whilst these figures might be sustainable in the light of a one-in-one-out pattern, this highlights the need for strong mentoring of early career teachers in order to boost retention of the, both as early teachers and once they become our more experienced teachers.

Despite a raft of workload-reduction measures implemented between 2010 and 2018, the DfE (2018 p.6), concluded that overall, “…greater levels of support and understanding from SLT was needed, for example, in terms of the management of pupil behaviour, and the ability to have open and honest conversations.” So strong mentoring is needed, as early career teachers are not always gifted with the innate ability to support complex behavioural needs or the ability to solve complex problems within the workplace and this is a vital skill that can be grown with excellent mentoring in the first few years.

Lifford, (2020), in a blog written for EDAPT in response to the DFE’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2019), summarises its findings thus: “Broadly, the DfE have suggested the following ideas to improve retention:

  • More supportive school cultures and reduced workload
  • Transforming support for early career teachers
  • Making sure teaching remains an attractive career as lifestyles and aspirations change

2. We care about Educating our Children Well

Extensive reviews of research into teacher effectiveness concur that teacher effectiveness improves over time within a supportive context (Kini and Podolski 2016), (Kraft and Papay, 2014) and that it is therefore crucial that we grow and nurture the talent in our early career teachers in order to retain them as valued and effective teacher practitioners.

The importance of good mentoring is valued in the business environment. McKinsey for example (2020), offer their new employees an extensive mentoring programme, promising

“We will provide you with individual career guidance and insights into how to work effectively and how to avoid mistakes made by many unexperienced employees”. The need to do likewise has never been more pressing for us educators to follow suit.

Early Career Teachers have so many things to navigate and make sense of, all additional to learning the craft of teaching well and ensuring learners learn well. Without the support and guidance of a more experienced teacher, they may be disadvantaged before they start. Negotiating and problem-solving within complex working environments and unfortunately, at times, unconducive school cultures takes a level of skill and maturity of emotional intelligence that we can ill afford to assume of new teachers. Thankfully, schools and most ITT providers are aware of this and have implemented recommendation 11.1 from the Carter Review (2015, p.12), that:

ITT partnerships should ensure all trainees experience effective mentoring by:

i. “selecting and recruiting mentors who are excellent teachers, who are able to explain outstanding practice (as well as demonstrate it)”

Some have gone further and are implementing recommendation 11.11;

ii. “providing rigorous training for mentors that goes beyond briefing about the structure and nature of the course, and focuses on how teachers learn and the skills of effective mentoring”

It is only by providing this level of rigorous training and with explicit teaching of the skills of effective mentoring that we can strengthen the future of the teaching profession, retain our most effective teachers and safeguard the future of our children’s education that, for each child, we only have one chance to get right.

3. The Value to the Mentor of being a Great Mentor

We know that peer-to-peer teaching benefits the teacher as much, if not more, than the learner. “To teach is to learn twice” (Whitman, 1998 p.1). Social constructivist theorists such as Dewey, Bruner and Vygotsky argue that learning is a social process and that new behaviours can be constructed by observing others. Vygotsky, (Abhati, 2017), refers to a “more knowledgeable other”, who also benefits and learns through the mentoring process, as knowledge is socially co-constructed and through collaboration and the articulation of ideas by both mentor and mentee, pedagogical thinking and discussion is more likely to be remembered. Dialogical and dialectical thinking is an important aspect of professional development, as it involves more than one line of thinking to be considered. Through the learning conversations between mentor and mentee therefore, the pedagogical thinking of both parties is enhanced.

Mr A: A Case History

Mr A was a Year 3 teacher in a school where I was Headteacher. He had moved from another school and arrived lacking in confidence but as a soundly good teacher and a good listener, was given a student to mentor. The relationship was successful, and the student flourished under his guidance, so he was asked to mentor another student. Over the course of three years of mentoring, Mr A grew in confidence and became a very effective teacher. This was as a result of him taking the time to have long conversations with his trainees, steeped in pedagogy and professional development and as he had the emotional intelligence to reflect upon his own practice as a result of these conversations, his own teaching strengthened. All of his trainees were subsequently offered teaching positions in the school and he is now responsible for transforming early ITT trainees into permanent teachers in the school. The benefits for Mr A, for his trainees and for the school have been huge.

Tracey Smith, Head of Primary School Teacher Training

Faculty of Education, University of Buckingham

December 2020

Buckingham University offers a unique and relevant Post-Graduate Diploma in Mentoring. If you are interested in finding out more about this, please click here.


Abhati, Y. (2017), The ‘More Knowledgeable Other’: A Necessity in the Zone of Proximal Development? For the Learning of Mathematics 31(1): 35 pp1-3)

Carter, A. (2015) ‘Carter review of initial teacher training (ITT)’.  DfE. Available at: [Accessed 7 November, 2020]

DfE. (2018) ‘Factors affecting teacher retention: qualitative investigation Research Report’. Available at: [Accessed 7 November, 2020]

DFE. (2017) ‘School Workforce in England’

Available at: [Accessed: 7 November, 2020]

DfE. (2019) ‘School Workforce in England November 2018′

Available at: [Accessed: 7 November, 2020]

DfE (2016) ‘National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors’. Available at: [Accessed 7 November 2020]

DfE. (2018) ‘ITT Core Content Framework’. Available at: [Accessed 18 November 2020]

Johnson, S., Kraft, M., Papay, J., (2015) ‘How context matters in high-need schools: The effects of teachers’ working conditions on their professional satisfaction and their students’ achievement’. Harvard. Available at: [Accessed 7 November 2020]

Kini, D. and Podolski, A. (2016) ‘Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research’. Learning Policy Institute. Available at:,gains%20throughout%20a%20teacher’s%20career.&text=Teachers’%20effectiveness%20increases%20at%20a,level%2C%20subject%2C%20or%20district. [Accessed 18 November, 2020]

Kraft, M, Papay, J, (2014) Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Education and Policy Analysis 36(4)

Lifford, A. (2020) ‘How to practically solve the teacher retention problem?’ Available online at: [Accessed 7 November, 2020]

McKinsey (2020) ‘Try Yourself: Be Your Best’. Available online at: [Accessed 7 November, 2020]

Robertson, A (2018) “Teachers are entering and leaving the job at the same rate – and other school workforce findings”, Schoolsweek. Available online at: (Accessed 3 December, 2020)

Vygotsky, L., S. (1980) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Whitman et al. (1998) ‘Ed. Peer Teaching: To Teach Is To Learn Twice.’ ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report. No. 4

Wright, T (ed), (2019) How to be a Brilliant Mentor, London, Routledge.

Ziegler, L, Sims, S, Jerrim, J, (2018) ‘Comparing Teachers’ Job Satisfaction across Countries: A Multiple‐Pairwise Measurement Invariance Approach’, University College London Institute of Education.

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