Are we Setting up NQTs for success?
NQTs need more support if we are to solve the teacher recruitment crisis
The education sector spends millions attracting newcomers to the teaching profession and then training them ready to teach. But once qualified, many NQTs report being left to flounder. With low morale in schools, little support, heavy workloads, and no hint of a work-life balance, the reality of teaching is often a big shock to those newly qualified teachers who had looked forward to getting their teeth stuck into their first teaching role.
Figures vary wildly from report to report and depending on which research you read, anywhere from 10 per cent up to 40 per cent of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within a year of qualifying.
From May to July 2016, the National College for Teaching and Leadership surveyed a sample of newly qualified teachers. Their findings highlight concerns over workload and inconsistent levels of support. They also found that an NQT’s experience of the first year in teaching is greatly affected by their mentors.
In addition, record numbers of teachers are leaving mid-career and this exodus is having an impact on newer recruits.
We spoke to several experienced teachers who had decided to leave teaching completely or had left the UK to teach abroad. The majority said that they had felt undervalued, over-worked and underpaid while a significant number wanted a better work-life balance that they could fit around their family.
Freya Anderson*, a teacher who was consistently graded as outstanding told us: “I regularly saw teachers crying and breaking down. I felt there wasn’t enough support for struggling teachers and there wasn’t enough recognition for good teachers. I wanted a better work-life balance for myself. I now teach abroad and my pay far exceeds that of the UK. I have accommodation and travel paid for and the work load is less.”
NQTs need the support of experienced teachers
For NQTs to succeed we need a great support network and that means holding on to more experienced teachers.
A recent report by the Education Policy Institute found that England has one of the highest proportions of teachers under 30 and one of the fastest reductions in the proportion of teachers aged over 50. Of teachers who were leaving the profession – 50,000, equal to 11 per cent of the profession, left before retirement age. This is causing a myriad of problems, leaving newer, more inexperienced teachers to take on additional responsibilities and workloads, without the support and guidance of their more experienced colleagues.
With high workloads and inconsistent levels of support, it’s no surprise that so many NQTs leave the profession early, battered, bruised and demoralised.
The benefits of NQTs and why we need to look after them
Far from simply being ‘the cheaper option’, NQTs offer several benefits for schools.
New teachers bring with them fresh schemes of works and ideas. They are aware of the latest Ofsted criteria and are in tune with digital technologies. But first and foremost, they come into teaching with passion and ambition.
These qualities, when harnessed effectively by schools, help develop quality teachers for the future. Just as new teachers can learn from experienced members of staff, experienced members can also learn from NQTs. Rather than fostering a ‘them and us’ culture; schools should look to share good practice between their whole staff.
Of course, there will always be teachers who decide the job is not for them but we need to do more to reduce the numbers that are leaving and harness the talent and potential of new teachers.
NQTs can thrive in schools that support them, schools that recognise the importance of training and development. Schools where NQTs are given manageable workloads and can benefit from the experience of good mentors. Schools where leaders recognise the tell-tale signs that a teacher is struggling and has procedures in place to help them.
We spoke to Alex Russell, head teacher of Epsom and Ewell High School who explained how NQTs are looked after at his school.
“NQTs are given reduced timetables and the best mentors. Each one has a classroom located next to an experienced practitioner; their timetables are carefully planned to avoid the most challenging classes and to give the teacher a fair balance of free lessons across the fortnight.
“Staff training is short and sharp and is organised so that it always involves additional marking and preparation time – or recovery time, if that is what is needed. NQT paperwork is kept to an absolute minimum and involvement in extra-curricular activities is discouraged for the first year at least. The NQT year is absolutely exhausting so why increase it?”
By investing in newly qualified teachers, we are investing in the future of education. If we are to solve the recruitment crisis, we need to focus on retention and where better to start than with NQTs. These are the teachers of tomorrow. Let’s help them make it to tomorrow.
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