Nearly a quarter of teachers leave the profession in their first three years. Cat Scutt believes a focused programme of professional development can stem that tide
We know that new teachers’ expertise develops extremely rapidly. As Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims point out in The Teacher Gap, the learning curve for teachers is at its steepest in their first few years in the classroom.
We know, too, that the quality of teaching a student receives makes a huge impact on their outcomes. According to the Sutton Trust, the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective teacher for students from disadvantaged backgrounds over a school year is a whole year’s learning.
But with nearly a quarter of new teachers leaving the profession within their first three years, many never fully develop their knowledge and practice. There is clearly a moral imperative to provide new teachers with high-quality support, drawing on everything we know about effective teacher development. But given the cost of recruitment and retention in the sector, there is also a practical one.
Recognising this, the DfE has committed to boosting the provision for early-career teachers in their recent ‘Strengthening QTS’ consultation. The chartered college sees this a vitally important move for the profession, and I’m delighted to have been part of the advisory group looking at these developments. But what should schools actually be doing to support new teachers?
Introduce instructional coaching…
Instructional coaching, where a teacher is supported to develop their classroom practices by a trained coach, has one of the strongest evidence bases for improving teaching quality.
Instructional coaching can be effective both when external specialists act as coaches, and when teachers at the school are trained to take on the role – so there are also opportunities here for meaningful development for more experienced teachers. Those who act as coaches often gain a huge amount.
…and deliberate practice
Closely linked with the idea of instructional coaching is the model of “deliberate practice”, where teachers engage in cycles of practice, observation, and receiving feedback before further their practice refining. To be most effective, teachers need multiple cycles over a sustained period with regular input from their coach.
The approach also works when a video coaching approach is used – allowing greater flexibility for both parties. A video library of clips can be effective, where teachers can see specific skills in action – and it’s a powerful way for a teacher to witness new approaches.
Make professional development collaborative and subject-specific
Ensuring new teachers feel part of a community of practice is a good way to avoid the cliff edge of support at the end of ITT. Collaboration opportunities are also associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, and collaborative professional development can lead to improved outcomes for students, too. Pairing teachers with complementary skills and areas for development can work particularly well.
Wherever possible, professional development should also be tailored to their subject or phase. Engagement in subject-specific professional development can improve teacher retention; subject associations are a great source of subject-specific CPD.
Use technology, critically
While online learning approaches for adults do not typically have significantly different outcomes to face-to-face, they can provide flexibility of access, consistency of content and cost-effectiveness.
Teachers often think of online learning as a rather inflexible “click next” model, but the video coaching and library above are great examples of how technology can be used more thoughtfully. Social media and MOOCs can play an important role here too, and should be recognised as valuable forms of professional development.
Set a school-wide culture of development
The ideas above are unlikely to work in isolation. They need whole-school buy-in as part of a culture of ongoing development – but luckily, they’ll have benefits for more experienced teachers too.
And where teachers have excellent preparation during initial training, and then receive excellent provision as NQTs, they will develop high expectations for professional development for the rest of their career – raising the bar for us all.
Cat Scutt will chair a panel about how schools can support early career teachers at the Festival of Education at Wellington College on June 21