It is widely reported that the teacher supply crisis in the UK impacts greatly on the development of learners in schools right across England (Worth, Rennie, & Lynch, 2018). This issue is not an isolated one, and it is fair to say that not having a stable workforce will also impact negatively on any school in any international context. However, what is the impact of this crisis on teacher training when teachers, and experienced mentors in particular, are no longer available in school to support future teachers?
With the emphasis in future school inspections shifted onto the curriculum – with a requirement for teacher trainees’ subject knowledge to be ‘good’ or ‘better’ – concerns regarding the impact of teacher supply on mentor capacity and quality of mentoring become more amplified. If there are no experienced teachers in post, who will be supporting the mentee to develop a ‘good’ subject and curriculum base in their teacher training (TT) year? In an education landscape in which a ‘school-based’ approach to TT is encouraged, the question remains: if TT needs to sit predominantly within schools, and schools lack the necessary mentor capacity due to the teacher supply crisis, how will this impact on the quality of the provision?
Learning to teach is a cumulative process, and subject knowledge is often layered over time. Is it reasonable to expect teacher trainees to acquire ‘good’ or ‘better’ subject knowledge and curriculum knowledge within a very short space of time? Or do we need to be more realistic in that TT provides the initial first steps in a long career?
Current practice in TT is that the TT provider and mentor’s role is to provide the curriculum framework for the trainee’s development in a nurturing and supportive way (Hobson, Ashby, Malderez, & Tomlinson, 2009). However, further development is required within the first five years to ensure that the recently qualified teacher (RQT) will continue to flourish.
Where teacher trainees are now in a position in which they are mentored by less experienced staff – often teachers in their second year of teaching or newly qualified teachers (NQTs) – how effective is that mentoring, and how is the mentor equipped to develop the teacher trainee’s subject knowledge in depth while they remain engaged in a training year themselves? The strategy for teacher retention, and the Early Career Framework (ECF), outline the importance of mentoring and how it can help to develop future teachers and their confidence.
‘If a school is depleted of high-quality staff, who will take on the mentorship of recently qualified teachers and teacher trainees?’
However, even when the ECF promises funding for all the provisions needed for early-career teachers to succeed, the issue still remains: if a school is depleted of high-quality staff, who will take on the mentorship of the RQT or the teacher trainee? It is already a great challenge to provide high-quality mentoring for teacher trainees: how will the ECF (DfE, 2019) drive impact on mentor availability?
At a time when teacher workload is highlighted as unmanageable (NFER, 2018), the question remains: how will mentoring be accommodated in regard to timetable requirements? And if this is adjusted, how will it impact on depleted school budgets? If teachers leave before they can be developed as mentors, how will a skilled mentor workforce be developed to address both TT and RQT needs? With such an unstable training ground, what might the impact be? We need to recognise that there are schools with strong teams in place to develop future teachers extremely well; however, even these committed schools are not unaffected by the current challenges regarding teacher supply.
Schools’ budget challenges impact on key choices in staffing and recruitment too. Experienced staff are often expensive staff, and are often not recruited in order to make crucial budget savings. The sad reality is that these teachers are the ones who have a vast amount of experience, and a depth of subject expertise required to train the next generation of teachers. Not having these colleagues in school will have a great impact on the development of future teachers.
Experienced, knowledgeable mentors are invaluable, and it is important to reflect on how these colleagues can be retained, to ensure that mentees have a mixed diet of expertise supporting them when they train in schools. Working with RQTs as well as more experienced colleagues is key to provide trainee teachers with the range of skills they will need to engage well in their school contexts and help children to gain the life skills they need for their future.
Department for Education [DfE] (2019). Supporting early career teachers. London. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-early-career-teachers
Hobson, A. J., Ashby, P., Malderez, A., & Tomlinson, P. D. (2009). Mentoring beginning teachers: What we know and what we don’t know. Teaching and teacher education, 25(1), 207–216.
Worth, J. Rennie, C., & Lynch, S. (2018). Teacher Supply, Retention and Mobility in London. London: NFER. Retrieved from: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/teacher-supply-retention-and-mobility-in-london