Ask the Experts

We asked our Subject Specialist Associate Consultants one question. “What does mentoring a trainee/ECT look like through the lens of your subject?”

Here is what they told us;


Jose Oliveria – Secondary Chemistry

“Mentoring a trainee in Chemistry (or any one of the three sciences) requires the understanding that general information given to trainees ought to be considered in various different angles – an understanding which may not be relevant for other subjects. As an example, a trainee may be able to master cognitive science aspects of their practice well enough for most of their lessons but find it hard to incorporate and explore these in the context of a class practical. The nuances and intricacies that the subject brings (and its inherent links to other subjects whose topics are also explored in Chemistry lessons to a degree) mean that a Chemistry mentor may need to explicitly consider the skills necessary for a Chemistry trainee to apply and how to explore these in effective, but still meaningful, weekly action steps. It is also crucial that the mentor allows enough time to discuss the rationale behind each of these targets with the trainee. It is not the doing that is the most important for one’s training and education; it’s the understanding which allows the scaffolding behind the doing to be erected over time. ”


Lynn Welsh – Secondary Art and Design

“Mentoring a new teacher in Art, be it an ITT or ECT can be an extremely rewarding experience. The mentor plays a pivotal role in developing the novice teachers knowledge and understanding and it is wonderful to watch beginners blossom as they gradually gain confidence with classroom techniques and strategies.

This process in Art is a symbiotic one however, no Art and Design specialist is conversant in every area of the subject, it is just too large and constantly changes and evolves. The novice teacher will often bring fresh ideas, new skills, methods of working and a different outlook to the subject and the creative dialogue between these ‘artist teachers’ is incredibly useful and insightful.”


Helen Ostell – Primary and Secondary Physical Education

“I believe that all mentors, irrespective of subject, should have a strong skill set if they are going to impact on mentee progress.  They should be able to build rapport and trust, observe without bias, provide high quality feedback, ask appropriate questions and set precise targets.  They should believe in their mentee and want them to succeed, this involves understanding that not all mentees develop at the same rate and mentors therefore need to adapt their approach accordingly.

In terms of PE specificity, mentors need to have an understanding of the PE curriculum that their mentees are following as well as an acknowledgement that PE teaching is split into two quite distinct areas; Core PE (Practical) and Exam PE (Theory), and that teaching outside or in a sportshall brings with it different challenges to teaching in the classroom.”


Kit Rackley – Secondary Geography

“Subject knowledge audits are absolutely key given the interdisciplinary and intersectional nature of Geography. This is not to say that a Geography trainee must become an expect of all things, nor even a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Rather, the mentor can support trainees to take their areas and strength and use that to improve their background knowledge in areas of weakness. When I was a trainee, I had just come out of an Environmental Science degree and felt I knew next to nothing about e.g. global development. But when framed through the impacts of extreme weather and how that exacerbates poverty and inequality, I was able become comfortable teaching it.”


Kirsty Wilcockson – Secondary Music

“I think that it is vital to engage trainees/ECTs to use their own musical experiences to ensure that all learning experiences are musical ones. A mentor needs to allow the trainee space to explore how to embed opportunities to share their musical skills with learners; be it through performing, improvising, listening or composing. A mentor needs to encourage trainees to be curious about areas of their own musical experiences that might need further development. For example, development in improvisation or by understanding how to play the basics of another instrument they may not be familiar with. ”


Helen Snelson – Secondary History

“This is a huge question to tackle in a few lines, so I will give some headlines and then point you in the direction of an excellent resource for mentors where there is so much more support. The history trainee needs a lot of support to think about the subject that they love and want to teach and how it is taught in schools. They are experts in the subject, and they need to learn how to induct novices (aka students), many of whom need persuading that they should bother, into the ways that historians create knowledge about the past.

There is a tremendous challenge for trainees in having enough substantive subject knowledge. They may be an expert in 20th century history and be teaching a medieval unit at GCSE. It is not enough to read the textbook. Instead, trainees need time and support to build their wider knowledge of period and place using popular history books, podcasts etc. They need to know the bigger picture so that the specific topic can be taught coherently.

Trainees also need to focus on the disciplinary nature of history and how it is theorised in schools. There is so much wisdom developed by the community over many years about how to teach causation, change, to work with sources as evidence and to understand interpretations. All of this needs to be taught to trainees, including how students make progress in their disciplinary knowledge (not by separating it from the substantive!) and how we can assess their progress.

Over many years the history teaching community has developed the historical enquiry as a superb way to integrate the substantive and the disciplinary and to teach students that history is an ongoing debate. The historical enquiry also solves problems re assessment for teachers. ”

These are but a few headlines. The Historical Association (the history teaching community’s subject association) has a whole section for beginning teachers and their mentors. If you go to this part of the HA website you will find guidance about how to structure learning for beginning history teachers and lots of resources and activities to help you in your role.


Gillian Georgiou – Secondary Religious Education

“Mentoring colleagues in RE (or RS or Philosophy and Ethics or whatever you call it in your school or academy…!) can be great fun, incredibly rewarding and can support your own professional growth in unexpected ways. However, it can also present some unique challenges: the trainee/ECT teachers we mentor may have reached RE through a variety of different routes – as you know, there is no single subject qualification that prepares you to teach RE. This means that you may be supporting colleagues with a range of subject specialisms and your mentoring (especially in relation to standard 3 on the CCF) will need to adapt to this. The legal and structural complexities of RE also mean that it can sometimes be challenging to provide clarity on things like assessment (particularly at KS3) and student progress. It is definitely an exiting time as our subject begins to explore evolving ways often coaching about religious and non-religious worldviews in the secondary classroom – I hope you find the resources and reflection on the Secondary RE Subject Resources site useful as you mentor in your school or academy.”


Kate Percival – Primary Languages

“Trainee teachers and ECTs may either have a specific language qualification, some knowledge of a foreign language or none at all.  Often, teachers think that their own personal language level is the limiting factor on their ability to teach a language. However, the pedagogy behind teaching a language at primary level is on a parr if not more crucial to being able to effectively deliver foreign languages provision.   Whatever a trainee/ECT’s confidence level, there is a wealth of CPD and resources available to support them, wherever their starting point such as the Primary Languages Network ITT dashboard for NASBTT members.  Once teachers get to grips with key elements of MFL subject knowledge and with a robust scheme of work behind them, they can successfully deliver an ambitious primary languages curriculum which builds on prior learning, allows opportunities for recall and retrieval and demonstrates substantial progress for all children.  The most fundamental element to being able to teach languages effectively at KS1 and KS2 is having a positive belief in yourself as facilitator and your pupils as learners, a growth mindset when it comes to being able to learn and remember language and not being afraid to ‘have a go’ and learn alongside the children, modelling the idea of lifelong learning and sharing in the fun, joy and laughter with them. ”


Steve Willshaw – Secondary English

“Very varied depending on the existing subject knowledge of the trainee. Some have very solid first degree in English and Masters, while others have degrees in a variety of other subjects that are more or less related. This has a major impact on their relative confidence. If they haven’t got an English degree, they have an awful lot of catching up to do no matter how good their SKE.”


If you have any questions you would like to ask our experts, then please contact us.

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