In principle, we fully support the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review recommendation for high-quality mentoring to ensure that mentors both know and understand the training curriculum. We also fully support the aim for high-quality mentor training programmes which create a skilled mentoring workforce with the system.
In terms of the specific recommendations, the majority of ITT providers currently mandate a minimum of between one and two hours per week (an average of 1.5 hours – NASBTT member survey, July 2021) for mentoring each week under general school placements, and the review recommendations suggest two hours.
Whilst we support the increased focus on mentoring support in principle, financial arrangements between providers and schools will be predicated on the current level of support required. It seems inevitable that an increase in the time needed from in-school mentors will need to be recompensed with additional funding.
Even if additional funding were to be available, we have grave concerns about the mentoring capacity that exists within schools which is already challenging to source. With the additional pressures and demands placed on mentors and schools by the requirements of the Early Career Framework (ECF), the Core Content Framework and now these further demands suggested in the review, we fundamentally do not believe that sufficient capacity currently exists within the system.
An unintended consequence of these recommendations could be that schools are forced to cease involvement in ITT because they simply do not have sufficient capacity to provide the level of mentoring support that is required of them. Whilst additional funding could go some way to alleviate pressures, where there is not sufficient capacity in schools to back-fill mentor time, money alone does not solve the problem. Only with sustained investment which builds capacity across the system will the level and intensity of mentoring support envisaged across these recommendations alongside the ECF be achievable.
The review also suggests a minimum 24 hours initial training time for general mentors. On average, providers currently offer 8.7 hours of mentor training for new mentors and 7.2 hours for returning mentors (NASBTT member survey, July 2021). Whilst we fully support the intentions behind these recommendations, and fully support the need for a highly trained mentor workforce, achieving these levels of training will be extremely challenging for the sector without significant additional investment.
We have also yet to understand the capacity within the National Professional Qualification (NPQ) delivery structure to meet the requirement for ALL lead mentors to undertake one of these qualifications and, therefore, have some reservations about the deliverability of this.
Whilst funding arrangements are confirmed for teachers employed in state schools, we are concerned about the capacity for schools to release mentors for training (or to incentivise them to undertake training in their own time). We are also unclear about the timescales suggested for all lead mentors to achieve the NPQ: providers with multiple lead mentors, some of whom may not be employed directly by schools and, therefore, not eligible for funding, may find the financial implications of this (as well as the capacity issues caused by multiple staff members undertaking any intensive training programme of this nature) to be a barrier.
We strongly recommend the funding eligibility for the NPQ Leading Teacher Development is updated to state “all teachers employed in state schools or by accredited ITT providers” if this requirement is taken forward in the final analysis. We must also recognise that the NPQs themselves are, as yet, untested for quality purposes and have not been written with ITT provision in mind. They may, therefore, not prove to be fit for purpose without significant development which could create delays and barriers for providers to meet this requirement. Many providers already offer high-quality programmes which have undergone rigorous quality assurance processes and have proven impact on the quality of mentoring. We would urge that sufficient piloting and testing of the NPQ is undertaken before these high-quality programmes are made redundant in favour of an untested alternative.
A final point is that whilst we see high-quality mentoring being fundamental, of course, we do find the following wording quite strange: “…and have a sufficient level of influence over the progress of trainees”. In school-led initial teacher education we have long understood the truth of this: they are key players and influencers and, in our part of the sector, we have striven to train and equip mentors with the necessary skills to do this.
Emma Hollis is Executive Director of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)