Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) have arguably always had tough challenges to overcome; two in every five NQTs experience mental health problems (Education Support Network, 2018). Challenges cited include the relatively short duration of some initial teacher education (ITE) routes; high expectations of their planning, teaching and assessment; making new relationships in their role; and balancing work and personal life. The pandemic has added to these challenges (Oberholzer, 2020), including rapid adaptations to ITE content delivery (Barnes et al., 2021; la Velle et al., 2020) and many involved in ITE and NQT support fear that the pandemic has created a ‘lost cohort’.
‘Many NQTs are demonstrating they are far from ‘lost’, despite having taken up positions in schools during the pandemic: they are finding creative ways to navigate a new landscape, and finding new opportunities.’
We want to share with you some good news and bad news from our study on current NQTs in England. We are following primary and secondary NQTs from all over England through their first year of teaching, and the project involves initial interviews, three surveys and final interviews at the end of the school year. At the time of writing this blog, we are into the second survey collection and have one set of survey results (57 participants) and a treasure trove of interview transcripts from nine NQTs.
Sadly you don’t get to pick which type of news you want first: we will start with the fairly bleak outlook. In England, NQTs are having a year unlike any experienced by other cohorts that went before them. ITE programmes in England have their longest and most intensive teaching placement for student teachers in the summer term – when, in 2020, the first lockdown occurred. As a consequence, the 2020/21 cohort of NQTs have taken up their positions in schools with less practical experience in the classroom. Those qualifying in 2020 are also the last cohort to receive just one year of induction support on becoming NQTs; the following cohorts will receive two years.
And now for the good news. The current NQT group could be considered the ‘lost cohort’ of teachers, so we have been surprised by some of the data coming out of our project so far. The majority of NQTs – 77 per cent – agreed or strongly agreed that their ITE prepared them well for their NQT year, with just under 30 per cent reporting that they did not feel confident on entering their NQT year. As one participant, Marie, explained:
I think the PGCE has helped me because we have to do a lot of reasoning and showing evidence and be evidence-based in our reasoning and our approaches, and saying why and what we want to do… Actually the PGCE trains you to always look at something and say, ‘Why not? What else is there?’
Almost 80 per cent of NQTs agreed or strongly agreed that they were being supported well by colleagues to develop their teaching practice, and 81 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that despite Covid-19 they were continuing to develop their skills as a teacher. As Susie elaborated, schools like hers are supporting their NQTs and wider staff.
So one of the things I really like about the school is they seem very wellbeing focussed… And so this entire first term, the school have decided that their only approach to assessment is based on wellbeing. So it makes it a lot easier for all teachers, not just NQTs.
In 2018, 4,000 NQTs – one seventh of the cohort – left their teaching posts (DfE, 2019), and some of the causes of NQT retention issues come through in our data. Workload was discussed as a challenge for our NQTs, as were the difficulties of building new relationships in a time of reduced socialising opportunities. However, new challenges in terms of teaching methods and online learning have been reported by some of our participants as ‘levelling the field’ for them.
I don’t know, I’ve looked around and been like, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing!’, and everybody else is like, ‘Same!’, even though they’re experienced teachers.
Our participants have been recruited online, so it is no surprise that they report social media as a great source of support. However, they also discussed other ways to remain connected through the pandemic.
Everyone on my PGCE course… we’ve still got our little group chat and that’s been great because when something goes completely wrong and you can just throw that in, and somebody else goes, ‘Well actually that’s gone wrong for me as well’.
Alisha, secondary NQT
Our project is ongoing, and we will report full findings in autumn 2021, once we have collected all of the data, to see what themes emerge over the rest of the year. In the meantime, here is a final word from Becca, an NQT in a primary school.
I’m confident that me and all my friends will pass our NQT year. It’s just working out how we can get more support or navigate through this interesting time.
Many of our NQTs are demonstrating they are far from ‘lost’ – they are, with their mentors and colleagues, finding creative ways to navigate a new landscape, and there are opportunities, too (la Velle et al., 2020).
How does this compare with your experiences of supporting NQTs and the wider world of education through the pandemic?
Barnes, J., Greenway, C. & Morgan, C. (2021, February 11). How has Covid-19 affected the way in which teacher educators engage their students with learning? https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/how-has-covid-19-affected-the-way-in-which-teacher-educators-engage-their-students-with-learning
Department for Education [DfE] (2019). School workforce in England: November 2018. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/811622/SWFC_MainText.pdf
Education Support Partnership (2018). Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018. https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/sites/default/files/teacher_wellbeing_index_2018.pdf
la Velle, L., Newman, S., Montgomery, C., & Hyatt, D. (2020). Initial teacher education in England and the Covid-19 pandemic: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Education for Teaching, 46(4), 596–608. https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2020.1803051
Oberholzer, L. (2020, November 9). Reimaging mentoring and coaching for teacher trainees and newly qualified teachers post-Covid-19. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/reimaging-mentoring-and-coaching-for-teacher-trainees-and-newly-qualified-teachers-post-covid-19