QTS consultation: what does it mean in practice?

The Department for Education’s response to the consultation on ‘Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and Improving Teacher Career Progression’ is both welcome and brings lots of positive discussion points. But what does it mean, and how will it affect recruitment and retention? Emma Hollis investigates

The key thing to note is the Department for Education (DfE) has set these proposals within a wider strategy around recruitment, retention, workload and professional development. This is demonstrative of the joined-up approach that NASBTT has been advocating. We are also pleased that the DfE plans to continue to work with the sector as the proposals set out in this consultation response evolve. As a profession, we have long been asking to be done ‘with’ rather than ‘done to’, and it seems these proposals take this approach.

Under the proposed changes, we are thrilled to note that QTS will remain where it is, at the end of the ITT year, with an extended induction period of two years. To support this, an Early Career Framework (ECF) is to be developed which aims to ensure “consistency of support in this crucial phase of their career”. Semantics are important here. If the changes are to have a positive, rather than detrimental effect on teacher recruitment, it is important that everybody understands the intention behind these reforms.

The extended induction period is not about ‘more hoops to jump through’ or additional scrutiny over a longer period of time. If it perceived to be such, it may dissuade new entrants to the profession – the last thing anybody wants. In fact, the intent is that this is a longer period of support and guidance with clear entitlements (and entitlement is, I think, a key word) to professional development, access to mentoring and coaching and, potentially, reduced timetabling – although the extension of the Newly-Qualified Teacher (NQT) timetable has yet to be agreed.

Crucially, the extended induction will not impact salaries and “teachers in their second year will have the same opportunity to advance through pay scales that they currently have”. There is no intention for the longer induction to create a perverse disincentive to potential teachers and this commitment to maintaining current pay scales is a welcome one.

Early Career Framework

The ECF may well be the key to making these changes a success. By clearly setting out the entitlement to support that every early-career teacher should receive (note again that this is about what teachers should be getting, not yet more which they should be doing), clarity over professional development, coaching and mentoring relationships and guidance should become far more transparent and less dependent on the whims of a particular school leadership team.

There are, of course, potential pitfalls which must be avoided at all costs. The first is that the ECF must not become a political stick with which to beat teachers and schools. By committing to entitle early career teachers to more support, we must not create a system fraught with accountability and data gathering which increases workload and stress, exacerbating the very problem which it is trying to help solve. The language used in the framework must be about guidance, nurture, support and wellbeing and should not create a tick-list of training events which must be sat through for the sake of a paper trail.

Secondly, the temptation to cram in ‘more’ must be avoided at all costs. We would like to see the ECF developed in conjunction with a review of the expectations of the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) curriculum. Over the past few years, more and more has been crammed into those early nine months of training as new initiatives and expectations on teacher training have grown exponentially. When the framework of core content for ITT was created, every pressure group and subject association wanted more of the things that were important to them included – and were highly critical if they felt that things did not go their way. The same dangers could apply here.

What do we want from our teachers?

Every day I read another article which claims that teachers do not have enough training on x or y, and yet at some point it has to be recognised that teachers cannot singlehandedly cure all of society’s ills. What must happen next is an honest and open discussion about what really constitutes ‘initial’ training and which aspects could be picked up in more depth as a career progresses. The ECF gives us the ideal opportunity to rationalise what it is that we want from our teachers – and what it is that they really need to become confident in order to excel in the business of helping children to progress.
Perhaps most importantly, the ECF will need to strike that careful balance between ensuring a fair and equitable common entitlement for all teachers whilst giving enough scope for personalisation to prevent a generation of ‘cookie cutter’ teachers who are prevented from exploring their own interest and areas of expertise. What might work well in one area of the country, indeed – in one school, may not be what is needed in the school down the road.

Some teachers might need to spend a lot of time exploring pedagogies for teaching children with English as an additional language whilst others may need to concentrate on behaviour management techniques, child mental health or specific subject pedagogies. Of course, all of these aspects are important for all teachers – but the balance of priorities will differ according to the children they teach and the communities in which they work. The framework will have the difficult, but important task of identifying what it is that we want teachers to become skilled in, without dictating to what extent and in what order of priority this must be approached.

A shift in thinking

In practice, the ECF is going to require a shift in thinking for some schools. To date, the NQT year has been something of a lottery, with some schools and appropriate bodies providing excellent opportunities for development whilst others might do the bare minimum, sometimes leaving NQTs to flounder with very little support and guidance. Where this does happen, it is almost always down to lack of funding and time to create opportunities and is rarely a wilful act. The focus on early career development will encourage schools to think differently about how their NQTs are supported, with a focus on high-quality mentoring sitting at the heart of the proposals.

There is support included within the proposals which will help schools to re-evaluate the function and position of mentors in schools, including plans for supplementary work once the ECF has been finalised which will review mentor training and the organisations who are best placed to develop and deliver it in light of the requirements of the framework.

Additionally, a new role of mentor in addition to the induction co-ordinator/tutor will be included in the induction guidance, and the role and function of the appropriate body is to be strengthened to provide additional support for schools.

In practical terms, mentors will sit at the heart of successful induction programmes and schools should be encouraged to evaluate the status and time that is given to their in-school mentors. A focus on high-quality training and support for mentors will pay dividends later in terms of retention of staff, quality of outcomes and attractiveness of the career as one which nurtures its talent and grows excellent practice in schools.

Funding

The big elephant sitting none-too-quietly at the back of this room is, of course, this issue of funding. As yet, a firm commitment to the funds that will be allocated to schools to implement these changes has not been made. It is our understanding that this is dependent on the upcoming spending review and we watch with interest to see how the proposals are to be funded. What is obvious is that schools are not in a position to provide the additional support that is required within existing budgets.

We are on the brink of a seismic change in early career development for teachers. It would be devastating to see it fail at the final hurdle for a lack of appropriate funding. Now, more than ever, is the time to put teachers and schools back at the top of the pile again when it comes to allocating central funds, and giving the recruitment, retention, workload and professional development focus the backing it deserves.

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