Everyone who has worked in schools and in initial teacher education (ITE) will remember 2020–21 as one of significant disruption and challenge, and none more so than those whose professional journeys as teachers began during this academic year. In their recent BERA Blog post, Aimee Quickfall, Emma Clarke and Phil Wood highlight the creativity and adaptability of newly qualified teachers during this most unusual period. The global pandemic comes at a time when, in the UK, the retention of secondary school teachers continues to be an area of concern for policymakers, school leaders and ITE providers (Worth & Van der Brande, 2019). Despite the recent increase in applications to ITE, research suggests that teacher supply gaps are unlikely to close (Worth & McLean, 2020). Furthermore, the pandemic comes at the same time of significant change in ITE, with the implementation of the new early career framework (ECF). The intention of the ECF is to provide early career teachers with mentoring and support over the first two years of their careers following their pre-service period to ‘ensure they have dedicated time set aside to focus on their development’ (DfE 2020, p. 4). However, it remains to be seen whether the ECF is sufficiently adaptable and responsive to meet the needs of those who have trained during the pandemic period.
Over the last year, I and a team of researchers from King’s College London have been exploring the experiences of those who have completed a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) to qualify as secondary teachers in London during 2020–21. We have worked with trainee teachers across a variety of subject specialisms including biology, chemistry, computing, English, geography, Latin with classics, mathematics, modern foreign languages and physics. Through interviews with trainee teachers, mentors, school leaders and ITE staff (at the time of writing this includes 90 interviews) we have sought to understand both the opportunities as well as the challenges that the pandemic period has presented for this cohort of trainee teachers. This is the first phase of an 18-month study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and our complete findings will be published in September 2022. This will allow us to consider the experiences of those who trained during 2020–21 over the course of their first year as qualified teachers, having engaged with professional development opportunities provided by the new early career framework. At this stage in our research, we can share some early findings.
‘The diversity of learning experience will require ongoing professional development for early career teachers that is personalised and sensitive to the needs of the individual teacher.’
First, there is an overwhelming sense from mentors, school leaders and university tutors, that those who have trained during the pandemic period have shown huge commitment, dedication and adaptability. However, there is also clear recognition that there has been significant variability in the experiences of individuals completing their ITE during the pandemic period. This is because schools have had to respond to Covid-19 in different ways, including the use of ‘bubbles’, the restriction of movement around the school site and the use of online teaching. Covid-19 has also had differential impacts on the lives and wellbeing of individual trainee teachers. For example, some may have had their learning experience disrupted by periods of self-isolation or through contracting Covid-19, or from additional caring responsibilities such as home schooling their own children. This diversity of experience will require ongoing professional development for early career teachers that is personalised and sensitive to the needs of the individual teacher.
Through our research we have found that trainees have developed significant strengths in key areas including pastoral work, online teaching and learning and subject knowledge development. Trainee teachers and their mentors also identified areas where early career teachers would benefit from further support during the first year:
- adapting teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils, especially those with SEND
- developing experience of varied approaches to assessment for learning
- implementing effective behaviour for learning strategies, including working with parents and carers
- building expertise in specific subject teaching and learning, for example practical work in science and fieldwork in geography.
What is clear from our research is that this cohort of trainee teachers have, with the support of their mentors, made a real difference in the lives of the young people that they teach and that going forward, they will have much to continue to offer the profession. It is crucial that they are given the time and space in the first few years of their career to build on these experiences so that they can navigate flourishing and long-lasting professional lives in teaching.
Drawing on insights from this first phase (September 2020–July 2021) we have just published a short, freely available guide for schools to support early career teachers to thrive as they continue their new careers (Rushton et al., 2021).
Department for Education [DfE]. (2020). Early career framework reforms: Overview. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-career-framework-reforms-overview/early-career-framework-reforms-overview
Rushton, E. A. C., Gibbons, S., Brock, R., Cao, Y., Finesilver, C., Hesketh, R., Jones, J., Manning, A., Marshall, B., Richardson, C., Steadman, S., Suh, S., & Towers, E. (2021). Supporting early career teachers to thrive in their first year: A guide for schools. King’s College London. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ecs/assets/guide-for-schools-august2021.pdf
Worth, J., & McLean, D. (2020). The impact of Covid-19 on initial teacher training: Implications for teacher supply in England. National Foundation for Educational Research.
Worth, J., & Van der Brande, J. (2019). Teacher labour market in England. Annual report 2019. National Foundation for Educational Research.