What school leaders should know about the Early Career Framework
Teach First is proud to be a lead provider of the ECF. Drawing on our expertise with the programme, we are sharing 8 key things school leaders need to know.
Training teachers is really hard. I’ve spent the last 12 years grappling with the challenge of how we support teachers to learn and develop in the best way. What should they know and be able to do, and in what order should they learn? How do we ensure they make time for their own development? What do we prioritise?
The Early Career Framework (ECF) provides such an opportunity for us all, across the education sector, to align on the key knowledge and skills our teachers need in their first few years. It also ensures that each and every one of our new teachers has protected time for this development, and a skilled mentor to guide them through the process.
We are incredibly proud to be one of the six lead providers chosen to support the National Roll-Out of the Early Career Framework. We have learnt a lot from the Early Roll-Out across the North of England, as well as the expansion programme brought in as part of the COVID-19 response.
Following our experience and involvement in these areas, we identified 8 key things school leaders need to know about the Early Career Framework:
- The Early Career Framework is just a framework
The framework itself is a hugely rigorous piece of work, with input from a range of experts in the sector.The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) have provided significant expertise and insight to ensure it draws upon the best available research. The framework clearly outlines the knowledge and skills a teacher should learn in their two years following initial teacher training (ITT) in defined “learn that” and “learn how-to” statements. However, it is not a curriculum and it isn’t an assessment tool - and it shouldn’t be used as such.
You can read the framework in full here.
- It is mandatory
From September 2021, all schools who have employed a newly qualified teacher (NQT) will have to enrol them in a two-year training programme, which allows them to learn all of the elements outlined in the framework. Appropriate Bodies will have a lead role in ensuring this provision is in place for all NQTs in every school.
- Schools don’t have to do it themselves
Schools have a significant amount of expertise in how they train and develop their teachers, but we know that time constraints are a challenge - so support is available for all schools. There are 3 options for schools in how they implement the Early Career Framework:
- They can design their own curriculum, based on the ECF.
- They can work with one of the six lead providers of the ECF, including Teach First.
- They can use expert materials created by four partner organisations, called the Core Induction Programme.
- Induction is linked, but separate
From September 2021, induction for NQTs will also be two years long – corresponding with the two years of training underpinned by the Early Career Framework. All schools will still need to register their NQTs with an Appropriate Body, while assessments will still happen against the Teachers’ Standards. Detailed guidance from the Department for Education is currently being finalised.
- Mentoring is key
All schools will need to appoint a mentor for each Early Career Teacher for two years. We know the impact a great mentor can have in this early phase of teaching. Schools need to carefully consider who will make a good mentor (ask: who has the experience and time to do this well?).
Alongside this, these mentors will need to receive high-quality training and support. If you are working with a Lead Provider, they will have created a detailed curriculum for mentors, which provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively support an Early Career Teacher.
If you are designing the programme yourself, think carefully about the approach to mentoring you will use. Teach First’s mentor training is focused on 3 key principles:
- Mentors have a deep and meaningful knowledge of the research outlined in the Early Career Framework, and how they can support early career teachers to put it into context in their own classrooms.
- Mentors are experts in instructional coaching: an approach to mentoring which ensures early career teachers have concrete and actionable steps to improve.
- Mentors model specific techniques and approaches to teaching, and help early career teachers to practice these to develop their own expertise. This helps break down the “learn how to” statements within the ECF itself.
- There is a workload challenge we need to acknowledge
Workload was an issue for all teachers, even before the pandemic. Starting out in a new school at the beginning of a new career is difficult, let alone learning how to be a good teacher. It takes focus - yet focus is difficult when it can feel like everything needs to be addressed at once.
When you are a novice, it’s hard to prioritise the longer-term over the immediate issues - this is often why we find new teachers deprioritising time for their own development. We need to help them.
The DfE are funding the development time for both mentors and early career teachers on the Early Career Framework, giving them much-needed breathing room. This precious time can easily get swept up in the day-to-day tasks all teachers need to undertake. It's imperative that mentors and other leaders in school to carve out that time for early career teachers, and make good use of it.
- We need to sell the “why”
In principle, adopting a new strategy should be an easy sell to schools, but change is hard. The most convincing argument I’ve heard was from our Executive Director who contributed to the design of the ECF itself, Reuben More:
“The Early Career Framework underpins an investment in professional learning for new teachers to help them improve further. That is good for schools and the pupils they serve as well as the individual.”
If as a sector, we can agree on this principle, implementation is much more likely.
- Implementation is critical (and the hardest thing)
We know from the EEF how important implementation of any new strategy is (arguably more important than the strategy itself). Getting this right for all of our early career teachers is going to take a lot of great minds across the sector to pull together. It requires thought, planning and precision from school leaders, mentors and providers – and the rewards from the Early Career Framework really hinge on these factors.
The Early Career Framework provides all of us with an opportunity to support new teachers to grow, develop and learn the knowledge and craft of teaching in a structured way. It won’t be easy, and we’ll no doubt get things wrong. But if we pull together, we’ll get there - and ultimately, the prize is great: teachers being the best they can be, staying in classrooms and helping all our children to succeed. Never has this been more important.