Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers across the UK have responded with real innovation to the immediate impact of Covid-19. As we begin to face the ‘new normal’, however, it is clear that ITT delivery will continue to require new and different approaches while still having to tackle the same issues that challenged the profession before the coronavirus pandemic, not least trainee and subsequently teacher retention.

Support for more vulnerable trainees, including mentoring and pastoral care, is much more difficult when personal contact is limited and often only on-screen. Strategies which can identify those less robust trainees, and earlier in the training programme, are therefore becoming increasingly important and could make a significant difference to retention, support and performance.

One approach is to gain a valid measure of a trainee’s ‘non-cognitive’ factors or personal styles of behaving. This can help ITT providers target and tailor training and support more accurately, and is the approach which underpins the Cambridge Personal Styles Questionnaire (CPSQ) – – for teachers, designed and developed by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing.

Already used in healthcare and higher education settings, the CPSQ is designed to discover how an individual approaches tasks, relates to others and copes with demands, thereby identifying the behavioural competencies that can impact on their performance and wellbeing. CPSQ for teachers has been developed specifically for use in contexts such as ITT. Not only can it help to identify those more vulnerable trainees who may not complete their training without more support, but it also enable providers to personalise support for all trainees helping them to thrive and achieve their full potential.

Trainees can complete the CPSQ in around 20-40 minutes, online, on-demand and at home (so it is ideally suited to home working). Results are delivered instantly via an online platform and enable immediate feedback reporting on seven competency areas:

  • Caring and compassion
  • Person-centred communication
  • Working well with others
  • Self-management
  • Professional practice
  • Engagement with learning
  • Coping with demands

CPSQ for teachers results from extensive, ongoing research into the ways in which these behavioural competencies contribute to course performance and continuation. As part of this, the Suffolk and Norfolk School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) commissioned the Relationships Foundation to carry out a five-year research study (ending in 2021), delivered in partnership with Admissions Testing and the Open University.

The research is focused on two year groups comprising primary and secondary trainees, and interim findings are proving very interesting. For example, when the CPSQ was used to compare trainee profiles, those who withdrew from the course recorded low scores across most behavioural competency areas, especially ‘coping with demands’. In addition, and again when compared with other trainees, those classified as ‘strongest’ reported significantly higher scores for competencies such as ‘self-management’, ‘person-centred communication’ and ‘caring and compassion’. This study is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK to link personality traits and associated behavioural competencies with teacher retention, and results so far indicate tools such as CPSQ can help identify trainees at risk of course non-completion.

The team at the Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT has been impressed with the trial so far. The CPSQ is being used as part of their trainees’ induction process and has helped deliver greater insight into their styles of behaviour, in turn helping inform ongoing support and allowing the team to make early, targeted interventions. For example, if a trainee’s answers suggest they may have an issue with ‘coping with demands’, the programme team makes sure that the trainee works with a particularly experienced and supportive personal tutor and mentor. This aspect of the CPSQ has always been useful but this year the team expects it to be even more relevant given the intake of new trainees, many of whom were recruited online and so not have yet had face-to-face contact with the course team.

While everyone knows that some people naturally act in ways which are valued and helpful in a professional context, we also know that many of the behavioural competencies demonstrated by the most effective trainees – such as self-management or person-centred communication – can be learned. A tool such as CPSQ can help tutors both identify and formulate coping strategies for trainees at higher risk of withdrawal, and to proactively tailor training programmes and pastoral care. As a result, the CPSQ can act as an early warning system for ITT providers, whilst also helping trainees develop those personal capabilities likely to support course participation and retention.

Anna Richards is Executive Leader of Suffolk and Norfolk School-Centred Initial Teacher Training, and Lyn Dale is Assessment Psychologist and Senior Assessment Manager at Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing



Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing is part of the University of Cambridge and has been working with UK and worldwide universities, governments and employers for more than 15 years. Its tests provide a fair measure of skills and aptitude to help employers make informed decisions and to enhance their selection processes:



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