Jenny Griffiths
Jenny Griffiths
Education Research Specialist at Teach First

Research Roundup: Autumn 2021

In this edition, Teach First's research and learning team uncover what contributes to an effective mentoring relationship, its impact, plus more notable studies in the world of education.

Welcome to the first Teach First Research Roundup. Teachers have consistently said they like having access to high-quality research and evidence to support them in their jobs. Each half-term, we intend to publish a blog post that shares findings from our own research alongside links to wider, related studies of interest. Each post will focus on a particular theme in a way that we hope you will find useful and digestible.

In this edition we are focusing on mentoring. There are some insights from our evaluation and research, and a consideration of the implications of this for schools.

What makes an effective mentoring relationship?

We know that trainees and early career teachers have had a massively disrupted start to their teaching careers. As a result, we’ve seen both new and experienced mentors asking for suggestions for how to ensure they get the best support. We also know that the relationship between a mentor and a trainee or early career teacher can be pivotal to their wellbeing and success. But what are the mechanisms that will leverage the greatest impact of both beginner teachers and mentors?

The new core content and early career frameworks recognise the importance of focused professional development for beginner teachers, but we’re also really excited about the opportunities they offer to teachers taking on a mentoring role. We’re also hearing lots of enthusiasm for the new fully funded reformed NPQs, that include a specialist NPQ for leading teacher development. Along with the recommendations in the ITT market review (currently under consultation), there is growing recognition of the importance of school mentors for the development of the teaching profession. However, we also know the demands this can place on resources and time, so we’re keen to keep understanding how best to support teachers and mentors.

Our research and learning team dedicate significant time to evaluating the programmes we run to support improvement. Some of the findings are perhaps what we’d expect, but some revealed more nuance.

7 insights from our mentoring research

1. It is hardly surprising that the top concern for trainees, early career teachers and mentors is having adequate protected time for mentoring activities. Not just regular meeting times, but time for additional reading, and observation and reflection. One of our manifesto priorities is about increasing the amount of protected time for teachers working in the most disadvantaged schools.

2. Really engaged early career teachers have really engaged mentors and feel they have very supportive senior lead mentors. This reflects wider research that emphasises the importance of a school culture that supports professional development of all its staff (Kraft and Papay, 2014).

3. This year we’ve found early career teachers (ECTs) and mentors value their connections and support from peers even more than usual. They gain more from the online learning and seminars when they have additional opportunities to discuss with peers in and outside of school.

4. We have seen an unusual dip in confidence levels around managing behaviour, planning lessons and supporting social and emotional development among trainees and early career teachers. This might be expected for those beginner teachers who have had less time in the classroom to practice and develop these key skills. However, mentors don’t necessarily share this perception, suggesting that perhaps the focus needs to be on helping trainees and ECTs to build confidence in the skills they have already. We know that the long autumn and winter terms are when wellbeing is most likely to suffer, so it is important to frontload support at those times.

5. Many mentors view offering wellbeing support as a significant part of their role. This is clearly an important part of helping new teachers to establish themselves in their career and manage their workload. However, it’s important that the central role of providing subject or phase-specific developmental feedback isn’t lost in the process.

6. Too often mentoring is perceived as an additional responsibility alongside other roles, rather than as an opportunity for development. This can be a bit like the argument of giving something that needs doing to a busy person. Inevitably this leads to greater prominence of concerns around workload and engagement. If we can embed mentoring as part of the professional development of staff and think carefully about how we recruit mentors and the support we provide them, we will get closer to establishing positive and effective mentoring relationships that ultimately benefit the whole profession.

7. One of the challenges facing schools is providing mentors for trainees and early career teachers in ‘smaller’ subjects or areas. We’ve seen this in lower satisfaction levels from early years trainees as well as subjects such as business and IT. There isn’t an easy answer, particularly for smaller schools, but co-mentoring or clear signposting to networks providing additional specialist support might provide part of the answer.

What does this mean for Teach First programmes?

We’re exploring the reasons for variation in satisfaction with mentor relationships, particularly how we can mitigate against the challenges faced in smaller schools and subjects. Another area for focus is trying to increase the flexibility within mentor training, both to reduce the time demand where possible, but also to offer greater differentiation between the needs of mentors with different levels of experience. Steplab has been introduced as a means of supporting our instructional coaching approach and reducing frustrations with demands around recording meetings and progress. We will be looking carefully at how well this is working and inviting feedback from users.

We’re also keen to understand what incentivises mentors. We hear from many mentors about how much they enjoy mentoring new teachers. They talk about the benefits of being exposed to up-to-date research and new approaches. Integrating and embedding mentoring as a central element of professional development is valuable for all staff at different stages of their career. There are now even greater opportunities offered by the specialist National Professional Qualifications (NPQ) in leading teacher development. We are also considering different forms of accreditation and recognition.

At the same time we will be watching the impact of the national roll out of the Early Career Framework (ECF), changes to ITE, and the introduction of the reformed NPQs closely. As always, we welcome feedback and input from programme members and partners as to what is working and what needs work. Just email

What does this mean for schools?

We believe it’s really important to recruit mentors who are excited about the role and see the benefit for their own professional development and progression. Integrating and embedding mentoring into CPD programmes for all staff enable wider sharing and learning as well as recognising the time required to deliver effective mentoring. Mentoring, and in particular a focus on instructional coaching, is valuable to staff at all stages of their teaching career and we would encourage schools to consider making it part of their overall approach to professional development.

Teachers and leaders at all stages of their career can benefit with engaging in wider networks. These can offer both subject and wellbeing support and are a valuable means of widening professional development opportunities in a cost-effective manner.

Selected research on mentoring

CollectivED, based at Leeds Beckett University, is a community of professionals and academics with a shared interest in mentoring, coaching and professional development. They produce collections of working papers exploring different areas of interest. A special edition in 2018-19 looked particularly at advancing mentoring practices and includes both research and practical experience.

Hobson and Maxwell (2020) explored empirical support for the features of effective mentoring first identified by Cunningham (2007). They highlighted the importance of organisational commitment with mentors being recognised, valued and rewarded, and the skill set required for mentoring above and beyond that provided by experience alone. They also drew attending to the importance of specificity of phrase / subject, and the absence of rigorous selection methods leading to perceived variability in quality.

The Carter Review (2015) identified four characteristics of effective mentoring:

  1. Outstanding teachers who are skilled in deconstructing and explaining their practice.
  2. Subject and phase experts, aware of the latest developments (should be members of subject networks and associations).
  3. Secure understanding of Teacher Standards and a range of methods for assessing against those standards.
  4. Strong role-models of all the teacher standards and in their engagement with research.


Further research news

Free school meals and measure of disadvantage 
  • FFT education datalab have explored changes in free school meal eligibility and what impact this might have for identifying the long-term disadvantaged group. They suggest that the measure will become less meaningful over time as pupils remain eligible for FSM due to protection rather than financial circumstances.
  • Whilst we've heard lots about the impact of COVID on learning, this report highlights the importance of addressing the loss of non-formal learning activities and opportunities, both in and out of school. Lack of access to extra-curricular activities is particularly acute for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. These activities are positively correlated with outcomes from employment to mental health.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) have released their new guidance report for effective professional development. In it they focus on the importance of the mechanisms that support 4 different areas: building knowledge; motivating staff; developing teaching techniques; and embedding practice. There is a useful summary, as well as a far lengthier systematic review and meta-analysis. You can listen to Sam Sims discussing the findings here.
  • For those of us who missed out on ResearchED Surrey, Mike Hobbiss kindly shared his presentation looking at productive classroom habits. He makes links between habit formation and effectiveness and how the things that might be helpful as a beginner teacher can become a hindrance later on.
  • Two further specialist NPQs have been announced, one for leading literacy and the other for early years leadership.
Social mobility
  • Sammy Wright reflects on his 3 years on the Social Mobility Commission. He says we are in a moment of 'generational crisis' with a disadvantage gap that has been widening for the last 5 years, even before the pandemic. He argues that we spent too much time arguing over the mechanics of the school, when the real debate is about the structure of the society outside the gates.
  • Policy Exchange have responded to the 'levelling up' agenda with a report that focuses on the need for a broad based approach that benefits the many and not the few. Importantly, they question whether enough attention is given to the actual aspirations and ambitions of real people.
  • The Centre for Muslim Policy Research has studied disparities in educational performance amongst Muslim children. They looked at socio-economic factors, policies of marginalisation and culture and capital. 


We’d love to hear any feedback on our research series moving forward. To get in touch, please email

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