The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

The early career framework – so far so good?

As we draw towards the end of its first year of implementation, Elizabeth Holmes reviews how the early career framework has been received and experienced. Can it provide a positive, sustainable base to a teaching career? 

In a shake up of the induction period for newly qualified teachers, the early career framework (ECF) was designed to secure more support for new teachers over a longer period. Instead of taking one (full-time) year to complete their induction, new teachers are now specifically supported for two years in their transition from trainee to fully fledged teacher.

The ECF has been designed to build on initial teacher education and training and underpins what new teachers are 'entitled to learn about and learn how to do based on expert guidance and the best available research evidence'.  

The ECF supports early career teachers (ECTs) in their development in five key areas:

  • behaviour management
  • pedagogy
  • curriculum
  • assessment
  • professional behaviours.

The aim is to ensure congruence with the eight teachers’ standards, hence the splitting of the ECF into eight sections. To be clear, the ECF is not an assessment framework, so early career teachers should not be collecting evidence against the ECF. Assessment is against the teachers’ standards only.

Mixed reviews

So how is the ECF being received? In her blog post What we’ve learned from the Early Career Framework, Faye Craster, Director of Teacher Development at Teach First, points to reasonable levels of satisfaction with the ECF, with many positive points to emerge from their survey. For example, 94% of the 2,400 ECTs who responded to their mid-point survey in January 2022 rated their mentoring positively. Mentors are clearly doing a great job! In addition, 82% were satisfied with the experience of the ECF so far. The report is well worth a read, not least for the improvement points for going forwards.

However, as reported by Schools Week in Early career framework risks heads snubbing new teachers, a survey of 1,400 teachers by Teacher Tapp revealed that just 14% of early career teachers and nine per cent of mentors think the training is a good use of time, with many describing it as too prescriptive.

Will adequate resources be forthcoming or will schools become increasingly reluctant to take on early career teachers?

Anecdotally, the evidence regarding the roll out of the ECF is not looking great. Several early career teachers, who wish to remain anonymous for very obvious reasons, have spoken to me about their experiences being rather less than positive. Many consider their initial teacher education to be solid and sound, yet the repetition they have experienced in the ECF has not necessarily led to the greater depth intended. ('As is the case for other professions, areas covered in initial training will be covered in greater depth as part of induction as teachers continue on their journey to becoming experts.')

Another issue that seems to be emerging, perhaps not unexpectedly, is that the quality of early career experiences can be provider dependent. Some also point to the ECF being too loaded to manage properly while also teaching a reduced timetable. Lack of sufficient funds in the system is also frequently brought up by those trying to make it work on a daily basis.  

Mentor workload

Workload for mentors remains a sizeable issue. Again anecdotally, this is an issue that comes up repeatedly. I have heard from mentors who work with initial trainees as well as early career teachers who would like there to be a more unified approach across the two stages of development to enable mentors to more seamlessly carry out their work.

Many are working extensively in their own time and too many have not been given time to work with early career teachers. We know this is entirely unsustainable, so what will give? Will adequate resources be forthcoming or will schools become increasingly reluctant to take on early career teachers?

Sadly, it looks like the latter is more likely, with as many as a third of secondary heads and 46% of primary heads saying they may take on fewer early career teachers in the future, according to Schools Week. This is potentially devastating for the profession and, as several have pointed out, not entirely unpredictable.

The case for career-long development

Perhaps the wider acknowledgement that even fantastically inspiring initial teacher education followed by wonderfully supportive and motivating early career years will not be enough to produce fully prepared teachers. There will always be a need for on-going professional development throughout a teacher’s career so that they may grow and mature.

Longer support in the early years of teaching can help to establish an appropriate career pathway and suitable continuing professional development. This is crucial if we are to help all teachers to become the best they can be, and therefore to thrive in their chosen careers. Striving for a consistently high level of support continues to be vital if we are to achieve anything like what we aim to achieve.

There is so much potential to be gleaned from getting the early years in the profession right

If we can see threads of consistency running through initial teacher education, the early career years and then beyond into the National Professional Qualifications, and truly embed the idea of career-long development based not only on research but also on practical experience and the collective insights and perceptions of colleagues, we may find it possible to iron out these issues.

The blindingly obvious fact that the more engaged an early career teacher is, the more they will get out of the induction available to them, should not be overlooked. But at present more needs to be done to make these years a positive and sustainable time in a teacher’s and mentor’s career. As one early career teacher told me, 'This is meant to be helping me, but it isn’t. It is hindering.'

On balance, support for early career teachers is not there yet, but that isn’t for the want of commitment and excellent work that is already going on. There is so much potential to be gleaned from getting the early years in the profession right. Let’s hope that as the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way.

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