Henry Sauntson

There is rightly lots of focus on catch-up plans for students – not least following the government’s announcement over half-term – but what about trainee teachers?

The recent Ofsted report into the ITE sector’s handling of the pandemic found, unsurprisingly, that ‘trainees have not yet had sufficient time to apply what they have learned in the classroom’ and are ‘particularly behind in their experience of managing behaviour, with limited experience of teaching phonics and using specialist equipment’.

After all, trainee teachers are students too, and they have missed out on a significant amount of vital experience and practice in ‘normal’ classroom settings. NASBTT’s own response to this report was most welcome, but how can this be mitigated? Many trainees have not had the stamina-testing prolonged exposure to classroom practice and, in many cases, will not be ‘fully cooked’ when embarking on their early career teacher programmes in September.

The Matthew Effect was coined in the late 1960s but explored more in education in the early 1980s by Wahlberg & Tsai; the simple outline, drawn from words in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Aligned by Wahlberg & Tsai to reading and literacy, the implication for education is those who have plenty of exposure to reading, and therefore engage more readily with it, interact with words and use them more, have more confidence and will continue to develop. Those whose interactions are limited by status, society, access et al will have less confidence, develop at a far slower rate, and ultimately fall further behind.

There are messages and implications in this type of effect for ITT trainees and those in the early career stages who have qualified and begun their practice amidst the chaos and fluctuating nature of the COVID-19 pandemic; and these messages must be paid heed to.

They are lacking basic hours in the classroom – Berliner (2004) stated that to gain expertise as a teacher takes five to seven years if one works hard, and competence is only achieved a couple of years before that. The COVID situation has interrupted the normally exponential development of teachers in their early career, and this must be mitigated against through professional development, support and mentoring.

This is a very real problem that needs to be addressed. ITT providers can help by establishing robust longer term measures of support – professional and emotional – and the implementation of the Early Career Framework (ECF) will help, but this is very much a problem for now, not later on. A stitch in time and all that.

So what can be done? It is not practicable or indeed right to simply extend everyone on an ITT course as some trainees are more than ready. Indeed, some adapted so readily to online delivery that they became trainers of their colleagues. But, for those that are ‘on track’ to meet QTS, how can we ensure they are supported?

Some of our partnership schools at Teach East SCITT have been able to employ our trainees on smaller timetables from September to allow for more guidance and support, which is admirable, but this is not in the capacity of all settings. The advent of the ECF as a two-year model means we now promote heavily the idea of ITT as the first in a three-year development process – a spiralled curriculum, if you will – where concepts are re-visited. By embedding within our agreement a commitment to support trainees throughout this process we maintain a hand on their improvement tiller. We can align their ECF input to our ITT input, itself guided by the core content framework, and keep that continuity.

So, to return to the catch-up programmes mentioned at the outset; how can these help not only the students but also the less experienced teachers?

Our proposal as a SCITT is to create a form of Summer School support – a ‘Supply Agency’ – of those in the current cohort who will achieve QTS in July and would like to augment their truncated experience. There is no fresher, better or more contextually-informed teacher than one who has just qualified in the environment we are in at present, and none more willing to offer their services to schools than those who want to gain more vital experience prior to starting fully-fledged teaching roles in September.

Our trainees are signing up to be part of a ‘register’ of staff that schools within our partnership can access, employing them on a temporary basis to support with Summer School delivery and tutoring programmes and, in turn, giving them opportunity to hone their classroom craft, build their confidence and acculturate to their settings.

Not only this but, having extended the course dates to their limit to factor in further curriculum opportunities, we have set up optional ‘core’ training days after the official graduation date. Content is guided by the trainees themselves via feedback on aspects of the ITT Core Content entitlement that they feel they wish further input on.

Certain areas were covered in an online environment that would have benefited from that essential face-to-face dialogue, and these can be more sufficiently revisited to ensure there are no gaps. Again, uptake is good, and these ‘intervention’ sessions may help further offset potential damage done by the absence of that prolonged classroom intensity that we come to expect with initial teacher education in ‘normal’ times.

Henry Sauntson is Director at Teach East



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