In 2019, in response to concerns in England regarding teacher recruitment and retention, the Education Secretary announced a two-year centrally funded Early Career Framework (ECF), designed to provide support for recently qualified teachers in the critical first years of teaching (DfE, 2019). As part of the ECF, schools can choose from six training providers known as ‘lead providers’ to access funded training for both mentors and early career teachers (ECTs). Such a focus on mentoring and mentor training is to be welcomed, especially as research underlines the lack of formalised mentoring programmes in schools, which results in inconsistent mentoring opportunities and support for new teachers (Murtagh & Dawes, 2020; Lofthouse, 2018).
However, a recent article in Schools Week (see Booth, 2022) reported damning results in response to a Teacher Tapp survey, with half of the respondents claiming that the ECF does not meet individual teacher needs. We suggest that this is due to the generic nature of the ECF training, which often repeats what has occurred in many initial teacher training (ITT) programmes and fails to appreciate the value of learning through and from experience. This one-size-fits-all approach fails to take into account the biographies, histories and experiences within specific training environments that would typically blend evidence-based knowledge with socially constructed practical learning. As such, pedagogic reasoning (where thinking is developed through the processes of planning, teaching, adapting and reflecting on practice) as a way of developing professional knowledge comes from the understanding of these complexities in specific contexts, the ‘swampy lowlands of practice’ (Schön, 1983, p. 3) that cannot be fulfilled by a generic training provision.
‘ECF training’s one-size-fits-all approach fails to take into account the biographies, histories and experiences within specific training environments that would typically blend evidence-based knowledge with socially constructed practical learning.’
As part of a cross-institutional (un-funded) project involving three institutions exploring the experiences of ECTs, we have interviewed 10 mentors with experience ranging from 1 to 10 years who have engaged with the ECF this academic year. Mentors have highlighted that there is little room for them to draw on their own ‘practical knowledge and wisdom’ to provide bespoke and nuanced experiences for the ECTs under their guidance. The framework has been described as ‘regimented’ with mentors expressing frustration at having to attend modules and being ‘forced to go through [them] all’.
It is alarming – especially given the anticipated annual cost of £130 million of the ECF – that mentors are expressing concerns and experiencing significant workload demands, not least because some are providing additional contextualised support for ECTs outside the demands of the framework. Mentors explained that lack of context and linear progression through the framework means they are providing additional, un-funded school-based training relevant to their setting and conducting additional support in relation to trainees’ specific needs at a specific time to compensate for the deficiencies of the ECF. One mentor, for example, noted:
‘The feedback I’ve had from some of the ECTs is that they have got more out of the contextual sessions that we run in school than the [ECF] sessions that they’ve been attending.’
We argue that the ECF in its current format fails to provide mentoring that is specific to individual trainees and to the settings in which they are based. Similarly, the ECF in its present guise offers few opportunities for trainees to develop their subject-specific expertise, with one mentor stating, for example:
‘It’s all about the teaching rather than subject specific teaching.’
In the absence of a ‘tailored’ ECF that draws on practical knowledge, both mentors and mentees are being short-changed. The emphasis on online, prescriptive and generic training materials comes at the expense of contextually based professional learning, as exemplified by a mentor who commented:
‘It’s a very impersonal process, and the thing is I feel like the more content they want to add for training both ECTs and mentors, the more generic and useless it becomes.’
The reliance on such an approach diminishes opportunities for alternative models of mentoring, such as where both mentor and mentee create new knowledge and meaning together in a learning community focused on reciprocal learning relationships (Ellis et al., 2020).
Booth, S. (2022, April 22). Early career framework risks heads snubbing new teachers. Schools Week. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/early-career-framework-risks-heads-snubbing-new-teachers/
Department for Education [DfE]. (2019). Early Career Framework. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-career-framework
Ellis, N. J., Alonzo, D., & Nguyen, H. T. M. (2020). Elements of a quality pre-service teacher mentor: A literature review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2020.103072
Lofthouse, R. M. (2018). Re-imagining mentoring as a dynamic hub in the transformation of initial teacher education: The role of mentors and teacher educators. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 7(3), 248–260. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-04-2017-0033
Murtagh, L., & Dawes, L. (2020). National standards for school-based mentors: The potential to recognise the ‘Cinderella’ role of mentoring?. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 10(1), 31–45. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-05-2020-0025
Schön D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. Basic Books.