In the UK context, as per worldwide, we need teachers and doctors more than ever. We face the challenge of attracting the right candidates, ensuring they complete training programmes, and enter the workforce. But even more importantly, we need them to stay, given an oft-cited ‘leaky pipeline’ within publicly funded education and medicine (see for example Doherty, 2020; Nuffield Trust, 2019).
Equally imperative is teacher and doctor wellbeing – in addition to the personal costs of ‘burnout’, there are additional burdens to society in terms of reduced capacity to conduct professional roles, loss of experience from systems which rely upon accumulation of knowledge, and wastage in training costs (NAO, 2017; Walsh, 2015). We know that both teachers and doctors have to ‘hit the ground running’ post-qualification – orienting themselves to new environments, understanding their roles in context, and applying theoretical and experiential knowledge in practice – all accompanied by a heightened sense of professional responsibility. It is therefore essential that these new professionals are supported through this transition.
My PhD research asked the question: Who supports newly qualified doctors and teachers in their new roles, what types of support do they provide, and which contextual and individual factors influence their ability to benefit from workplace support? The study was particularly focused on the informal (often unmeasured or underappreciated) aspects of workplace support, as narrated by junior doctors and teachers during interviews, focus groups and audio diaries. It also took a dual approach of first ‘zooming in’ on the specifics of each workplace context, and then ‘panning out’ by making cross-professional comparisons to identify broader commonalities. Here, I focus on the findings for new teachers (for the full report, see Foster-Collins et al., 2023).
Many instances of informal support were noted in the data, including observations accompanied by feedback, requests for advice, and information-sharing on teachers’ job roles and specific workplace contexts. There were also many instances of socio-emotional support, such as sharing experiences and gaining reassurance, and practical support – for example, teachers sharing subject-specific teaching resources, within departments or via social media.
Some key findings of this analysis were that:
- A wide range of people supported teachers beyond formal mentors, including staff specialising in behaviour support, SEN or student wellbeing, meal assistants, attendance officers, teaching unions, staff from initial teacher training bodies, a speech and language therapist, educational psychologists and a mindfulness coach. Increasing newly trained teachers’ awareness of the varied roles other staff play and the support they can provide – during inductions, cross-professional training events or shadowing schemes – could facilitate future help-seeking behaviours.
- Peers and near-peers (those in the same job roles or one ‘year ahead’) may be particularly well placed to help new teachers orient to new roles and local environments, provide non-judgemental social support, and deliver advice ‘at the right level’ – due to perceptions of peers as more approachable than senior staff (who may influence career progression) and having better appreciation of the issues trainees face. This finding suggests that initiatives such as peer mentoring and ‘buddy schemes’ may be helpful.
- The formation of positive social connections can be facilitated through provision of shared facilities such as office or break rooms, and social or training events across teams, departments and organisations. For example, conferences aimed at newly qualified teachers were cited as a good way for these novice professionals to share ideas for teaching practice, but also help build professional networks within and beyond their workplaces.
- The ‘microclimates’ within departments and faculties represent key environments for new teachers’ learning and support, and may exhibit widely differing ‘local’ social and cultural norms, even within the same school. Therefore, supportiveness for new teachers might be assessed at this local as well as school level, and the role of leadership in ‘setting the tone’ of such microclimates, to build environments of safety and trust, has previously been noted.
- Although participants in this research often talked about proactively seeking support, this was best achieved given the right balance of support and challenge – for example, one teacher related being given the opportunity to organise a school trip alone, but were supported throughout the process, building their confidence for future activities. Such ‘scaffolded’ support may aid novices to develop professionally, without placing them under undue stress.
‘The “microclimates” within departments and faculties represent key environments for new teachers’ learning and support, and may exhibit widely differing “local” social and cultural norms, even within the same school.’
In conclusion, workplace support for new professionals could be enhanced through breaking down barriers, building positive relationships, and creating environments of trust in which support can be requested and professional agency cultivated. Insights from this work have been used to inform a self-assessment tool for schools developed in collaboration with Alison Pearson. This free-to-use open access document is aimed at generating conversations about the supportiveness of school environments and producing small practical actions to improve this, and we would welcome any feedback from practitioners on its usefulness.
Doherty, J. (2020). A systematic review of literature on teacher attrition and school-related factors that affect it. Teacher Education Advancement Network Journal, 12(1), 75–84. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1276033
Foster-Collins, H., Mattick, K., & Baumfield V. (2023). Workplace support for newly qualified doctors and secondary school teachers: A comparative analysis. British Educational Research Journal, 49(5), 1005–1043. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3879
National Audit Office [NAO]. (2017). Retaining and developing the teaching workforce. https://www.nao.org.uk/reports/supporting-and-improving-the-teaching-workforce/
Nuffield Trust. (2019). The NHS workforce in numbers: Facts on staffing and staff shortages in England 2017. www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/the-nhs-workforce-in-numbers
Walsh, K. (2015). Medical education: Return on investment. Ulster Medical Journal, 84(2), 111–112. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488915/