Every month Harry Fletcher-Wood reviews the evidence on a school-related theme. This week, he looks at the research into how to support early career teachers.

The government recently published its Early Career Framework, which sets out what teachers should know and be able to do in five areas: behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours. In assessment, for example, they should know that “high-quality feedback can be written or verbal; it is likely to be accurate and clear, encourage further effort, and provide specific guidance on how to improve”. They should be able to provide high-quality feedback by “focusing on specific actions for pupils and providing time for pupils to respond to feedback”, among other things. The framework comes with commitments of support to ensure teachers can master these skills and knowledge, including a timetable reduction for second-year teachers, training materials and support for mentors.

Department for Education (2019). Early Career Framework

Having established what teachers should know, and be able to do, what does the evidence suggest about how best to support early careers teachers? A recent review found that early career teachers have “specific needs that experienced teachers do not have” and identified several features that seemed to help, including a mentor from the same subject, time to plan with other teachers, scheduled opportunities for collaboration and an external network. Surprisingly, the review found mixed evidence on the impact of reduced timetables: some studies found it improved retention, others suggested that it slowed the growth of teaching skills. Overall, they concluded that as “the number of components in the induction programmes [increases] the probability of [early career teacher] turnover decreases”.

Mandaag, D., Helms-Lorenz, M., Lugthart, E., Verkade, A., and Van Veen, K. (2017). Features of effective professional development interventions in different stages of teacher’s careers: A review of empirical evidence and underlying theory. University of Groningen.

An American study quantified the impact that sustained mentoring can have on new teachers. Researchers compared induction programmes across three American school districts. All three offered a dedicated mentor during their teachers’ first year: each mentor worked with 15 new teachers. In the second year, the districts diverged:

  • Support from a colleague in school, who received no additional time
  • A dedicated mentor, but the mentor now worked with 35 teachers
  • The same support as in the teachers’ first year.

The teachers in the third district achieved far better results, despite working with more students receiving free school meals than in the other districts. Moreover, in this district new teachers were disproportionately assigned to classes with lower-performing students, yet their results were better than those of mid-career teachers, and almost as good as those taught by experienced staff: “Comprehensive induction support for two years” led to results “similar to those achieved by veteran teachers”.

Strong, M. (2006). Does New Teacher Support Affect Student Achievement? Some Early Research Findings. New Teacher Centre.

Finally, an attractive study asked teachers who had been nominated as state or national teacher of the year what had made a difference to them. They considered good mentoring key, particularly valuing mentors who had been trained for the role, had at least five years’ teaching experience and taught the same subject as them. They also mentioned school leaders’ support and common planning time. In later years, these “exemplary” teachers particularly valued the opportunity to mentor others.

Behrstock-Sherrat, E., Bassett, K., Olson, D., Jacques, C. (2014) From Good to Great: Exemplary Teachers Share Perspectives on Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Across the Career Continuum. Center on Great Teachers and Leaders: American Institutes of Research.

While there is some evidence for particular ways to support new teachers therefore, overall Mandaag et al. (2017) found little evidence for “differential effectiveness of [professional development] programmes across distinctive stages of the teaching careers. Effective features seem to be quite universal, even though teacher needs change over time.” The Early Career Framework offers guidance in what early career teachers need to know; its implementation provides a good opportunity to learn more about how best to support them.