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Understanding and mitigating the impact of Covid-19 disruption on trainee and early career teachers in secondary schools

Sarah Steadman, Lecturer and researcher at Kings College London Elizabeth Rushton, Associate Professor at Institute of Education

Covid-19 has led to significant disruption in the established systems and practices of preparing new teachers. This blog post reports on the findings and recommendations from an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project at King’s College London in partnership with the Policy Institute investigating the impact of the pandemic on trainees and early career teachers (ECTs) during 2019–21. The project’s final policy brief details the findings alongside practical recommendations for policymakers, school leaders and initial teacher education (ITE) providers across the UK.

The project’s focus on teacher quality and retention draws upon theoretical frameworks that consider personal performance and the growth of professional identities (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2011), the development of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and classroom readiness (Churchward & Willis, 2019). Project outcomes were informed by an assessment of the impact of substantial changes and adverse effects caused by Covid-19 affecting secondary schools and initial teacher education (Ellis et al., 2020).

More than 110 interviews were conducted with trainees, ECTs, university-based ITE staff, school-based mentors and school senior leaders over an 18-month period. In 2021, interim findings generated from the first phase of the project were published in a briefing for policymakers, along with a guide for secondary schools to support early career teachers.

Despite the challenges of training to teach during a global pandemic, the positive impact of the unavoidable changes to training have been a key finding from the project. ECTs reported a heightened sense of professional community and enjoyed opportunities to develop and use IT skills. School staff also noted the resilience of trainees and ECTs, captured in this comment from a senior leader:

I think actually the interesting thing is that they are exceptionally resilient. You know I’ve really noticed, and I’ve been doing this job for twenty years so you know I have quite some experience. They’re very good at pitching in and blooming well getting on with it.

A broader sense of global citizenship in the classroom was also reported, with project findings revealing how some trainees and ECTs felt able to use the impact of Covid-19 to address such issues as sustainability and global responsibility in their classrooms.

‘A broader sense of global citizenship in the classroom was also reported … some trainees and ECTs felt able to use the impact of Covid-19 to address such issues as sustainability and global responsibility in their classrooms.’

Elsewhere there was more disquiet. For many ECTs, there was a perceived disconnect between the need for personalised support in response to their varied training experience and the prescribed content of induction programmes. While time with mentors was welcomed, the generic nature of training materials was frequently cited as a source of frustration. As one ECT commented:

It felt like a tick-box exercise. The time allocated to spend with my mentor is good, but I guess what’s less good is that a lot of that time it’s mandated to be made up of talking about the reading, which isn’t always directly applicable.

Moreover, some staff saw a link between the lack of bespoke professional development and retention, predicting that ECTs will leave a profession that does not allow them to develop their own identity:

The ECTs who are a bit quirky and creative, and who are very emotionally intelligent and smart, they can actually see [themselves] becoming a bit like everybody else … they don’t want that because they want to remain who they are and you know that the ECF framework does not allow you to be different.

The publication of the findings and recommendations from the project are set against a backdrop of continued poor recruitment into the teaching profession. Now more than ever it is vital that the profession retains the teachers who have persevered through pandemic times and have given so much to support school communities.

You can find out more about the project here.


References

Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2011). New teachers’ identity shifts at the boundary of teacher education and initial practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 50(1), 6–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2011.04.003

Churchward, P., & Willis, J. (2019). The pursuit of teacher quality: Identifying some of the multiple discourses of quality that impact the work of teacher educators. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47(3), 251–264. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2018.1555792

Ellis, V., Steadman, S., & Mao, Q. (2020). ‘Come to a screeching halt’: Can change in teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic be seen as innovation? European Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4), 559–572. https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2020.1821186

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press.