Most of the discussion on the impact of school closures has focussed on pupils, rightly so. But there is another group of learners in school who have been disrupted. Teachers.
Every year there are almost 30,000 new entrants into teacher training programmes. Most of these eventually go on to become Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs). For new trainees and NQTs, this school year has been very different to what they ever could have imagined in September.
Despite the already testing times, the biggest challenges for all teachers may still lie ahead. When all pupils can (safely) come through the school gates again, teachers will be handed the substantial challenge of plugging the learning loss – which could be as much as 6 months for the most disadvantaged - and supporting pupils who may have experienced trauma or loss.
Early career teachers and trainees could find themselves facing these challenges with only one full term of classroom teaching under their belt. How can we support them?
Through the RSA Academies’ Teaching Schools Alliance, we spoke to people training to be teachers in schools and new teachers in their first two years about how Covid-19 has impacted them.
They told us that despite the huge difficulties they faced, lockdown was helping them build resilience and creativity. These are key skills that could help them stay in teaching longer.
How will Covid-19 affect teacher training and newly qualified teachers this year?
For teacher trainees, the summer term represents a sprint to the finish line after juggling academic study and in-school teaching experience to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
This is then followed by an intensive induction programme of further development and mentoring (normally three full terms of classroom teaching) as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT).
The Department for Education has announced teacher trainees will still be recommended for Qualified Teaching Status and Newly Qualified Teachers currently undertaking induction will still pass – “provided they meet the expected Teaching Standards”.
Trainees, NQTs and accrediting bodies will somehow have to show how they meet these standards, including the need to “plan and teach well-structured lessons” and “promote good progress and outcomes”, with patchy knowledge of how every family is getting on with home-learning.
Other standards might be even harder to prove. “Managing behaviour effectively to ensure a good learning environment” is a challenge lots of parents and carers have had to come to grips with in the last few weeks.
Despite school closures, new teachers should still be able to qualify. But the last leg of the race will look very different.
We need more teachers to stay in education
It’s important to remember that we need more teachers. Data released last summer shows that the UK teacher retention crisis is at an all-time high.
One in three teachers leave the profession after 5 years and one in seven newly qualified teachers leave during, or at the end of, their first-year teaching. Teachers report job-related stress and heavy workload as the main reasons for leaving the profession.
We don’t know what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on teacher retention. The Gatsby Foundation and TeacherTapp’s recent paper suggests that in the short-term teacher retention may improve slightly as fewer teachers decide to leave the profession during a period of economic insecurity.
What we do know is that building resilience (the ability to persist in the face of challenge) and a creative mindset (openness to new ideas and innovation) in all teachers - but especially early career teachers - will be more important than ever. Resilience and creativity are key to teachers staying in education and will be key to meeting the challenge of teaching through the aftermath of global pandemic head on.
How has Covid-19 affected new teachers’ resilience and creativity? Here’s what they told us.
Teachers have been forced to adapt and build resilience
As a profession, teachers have had to improvise their response to Covid-19. There was little notice to plan for a huge shift in how and what schools do. Despite this, teachers have shown themselves to be remarkably resilient and adaptable.
This has been hard for all teachers. New teachers have stepped up to the plate alongside their experienced colleagues.
Some have taken on additional responsibilities to coordinate subjects across whole-year groups - sometimes even in subjects that aren’t their specialist area to support colleagues and pull together as a school community.
They’ve used this as an opportunity to work with mentors and subject leads to deepen their own knowledge and challenge themselves to be more autonomous ahead of next year.
Meanwhile, the usual challenges for early career teachers have not gone away. Often, they’ve been amplified.
They are still juggling many of the pressures associated with in-school teaching including long hours and heavy workloads as they continue to plan work, provide pupil feedback and be a constant online presence to respond to pupils’ needs. This year has also presented a series of new challenges, from having to predict exam grades, to taking on front-line childcare responsibilities for vulnerable and key workers’ children - with no personal protective equipment.
There are huge challenges, but for some this time has also provided welcome breathing space. A recent TeacherTapp survey showed 64% of teachers said they were working shorter hours during school closures. This should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt as the same data shows that during typical term time the majority of teachers report working 9 – 11 hours per day or more.
Early career teachers have also made the most of working from home to seek out additional profession development opportunities and start lesson planning for next year. This extra time might even help prevent workload burnout which is often the cause of teachers leaving the profession or reporting poor mental health and wellbeing.
The resilience of new teachers is impressive. Instead of their learning coming to a stand-still, they’ve found appropriate opportunities to stretch themselves and a supportive network in colleagues that has enabled their learning to keep going.
Lockdown is enabling more creativity by teachers
The lockdown is creating more creative teachers.
New research from the University of Exeter and The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) shows that teachers delivering lessons remotely during school closures report are feeling ‘more creative and inventive when it comes to lesson planning and problem-solving’.
This has been mirrored in the response from our early career teachers, who report using new digital platforms to set and mark work which has helped streamline processes and engaged students in new ways.
Of course, not all students can access online learning. In those cases, teachers are adapting and reinventing paper-based resources to suit their needs, again flexing their problem-solving skills.
Classrooms have moved from being teacher-led to requiring more independent learning. Teachers are now having to pre-empt every question that could have come up in the classroom and build this into their lesson instructions.
The transferable problem-solving skills and reflective practice of analysing home-learning in the eye of a pupils could in fact strengthen in-class teaching and lesson planning skills.
Teachers are also prioritising creative tasks within subjects to keep students engaged. Many of the early career teachers we spoke to expressed that they may not have prioritised these tasks during lesson-time due to time pressure to get through the syllabus. Crucially, they told us they plan to make this a greater part of their teaching practice in future.
In fact, the recent study from the University of Exeter and The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) found that 55% of teachers agreed that distance teaching would have a positive impact on their future practice – something that is still very much being shaped during the early years of teaching.
It may be that early career teachers are the champions for not rushing back to old systems but embracing all of the creativity and potential e-tech innovation has to offer in the classroom.
Covid-19 has highlighted social justice issues and given teachers more pride
Speaking to teacher trainees and early career teachers, two other things stood out.
First, they felt that school closures have also a shone a light on social justice issues in teaching.
Educational inequalities have been exposed and exacerbated as we see disadvantaged students and their families hit the hardest by school closures.
All of the early career teachers we spoke to work in schools with above average numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals (an indicator that the school is located in an area of high deprivation).
All reflected that during this period there was a heighted awareness of the additional barriers these pupils face, including fewer family resources to access and support learning.
Being more conscious of these barriers is helping to challenge assumptions and shape how our teachers support the most disadvantaged pupils now, and in the future.
Second, the trainee and new teachers we spoke to felt a renewed sense of pride.
They understood how important their role was in keeping vulnerable children safe, enabling key workers to carry on working and providing some stability to children’s learning over this period of uncertainty.
A 2019 survey from the Chartered College of Teaching found 61% of the public thought the work of teachers is valued less by society compared to five years ago. Covid-19 has seemly sparked a renewed respect for educators from parents and carers as they are guided by teacher’s curriculum expertise and knowledge of children’s learning.
We’ve even heard from a trainee going above and beyond by also working as an auxiliary nurse at the weekends to order to support the NHS.
All our teachers deserve to be recognised and valued for the contribution they make to society every day. They will be an essential part of how we all recover from this period.
How can we help them in the task ahead?
What will ensure that early career teachers thrive during and after Covid-19?
We spoke to Matthew Purslow and Teresa Wilson, Directors of RSA Academies Teaching Schools Alliance for CPD and initial teacher training, to share how schools and training providers can support early career teachers going forwards. Here are 3 key actions:
- Provide clear guidance: NQTs and trainees need clear guidance from the Department for Education’s on awarding Qualified Teaching Status and statutory induction periods. This should include examples of how they can evidence they are meeting Teaching Standards during school closures as well as information on how NQT inductions and schools-direct teacher training will be managed next year
- Prioritise wellbeing: 46% of teachers report feeling anxious about what may happen in next academic year according to a YouGov. It will be more important than ever to ensure that early career teachers are supported to stay in the profession despite the additional stresses and pressures of a normal school year. Key to this is creating a network of support with regular wellbeing check-ins and ongoing support from personal mentors
- Offer additional development: Early career teachers will need robust additional development if they are not to be disadvantaged by the loss of in-school experience. To ensure they are fully equipped for when school re-open, training providers should identify potential gaps in classroom experience, knowledge and skills post-Covid 19. Provisions should be made to address these needs through specific training and targeted coaching over the Summer term and into next year (making use of technology to deliver this where necessary).
At the RSA, we believe that crisis can be an opportunity for positive change. New teachers have faced a crisis this year, one that has severely affected their learning and start in education. But with the right support, it can also be an opportunity for new teachers to build resilience and creativity, and to stay teaching for longer.
TheRSA Academies’ Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA) recruits and develops new entrants to the teaching profession and provides support for schools across the West Midlands.
Thank you to all our colleagues across the TSA for helping to shape and inform this blog. We’re especially grateful to those trainees and early career teachers from Ipsley CE RSA Academy, Arrow Vale RSA Academy and Holyhead School who shared their personal experiences during Covid-19 school closures.