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Addressing the teacher retention crisis: key themes from the Westminster Education Forum

Author: Isabel Drury, Partnership Manager at FutureLearn

The Department for Education made a splash last month when it shared proposals to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by September 2022, making it the biggest sustained pay increase since 2005. But will this salary increase be enough to attract new teachers into the profession, are these changes coming soon enough, and what about supporting and retaining early career teachers in their first 3-5 years in the classroom? 

These topics were the subject of lively debate at the most recent Westminster Education Forum policy conference in Whitehall, London, titled ‘Reforming Initial Teacher Training Provision in England – implementing the new core content framework, improving NQT retention, and next steps for the teacher training system.’ The forum was attended by a range of experts in Initial Teacher Training (ITT), including leaders in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) from school trusts, universities, School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) providers, and other teacher training bodies. 

As the FutureLearn platform offers over 100 short courses and microcredentials aimed at teachers to support their professional learning and development, I attended the forum to find out what more we could do to support teachers in these challenging and critical early years in the classroom. The forum provided an opportunity to debate incoming policy changes to funded early professional development for Early Career Teachers (ECTs), with a special focus on the new core content framework for Initial Teacher Training that is due to be implemented in September this year.

Across the event, three key themes stood out to me:

 

Mentoring

As identified in the 2019 Carter review, the speakers emphasised quality mentoring as critical to teacher retention in the initial years of classroom practice. Some of the most common issues raised were matching ECTs with subject-specific mentors; the difficulties of finding mentors in small schools; as well as finding space in the timetable for mentoring. 

Offering a perspective from a SCITT in East London, Niall Dosad, Assistant Head Teacher at Colgrave Primary School, shared reflections on the practicalities of getting to grips with the Early Career Framework (ECF) and spoke of the need for clear, consistent and effective mentoring. 

Meanwhile, Dr Deborah Outhwaite, from the Derby Teaching School Alliance, urged the forum to consider how experienced teachers, who take on this pivotal mentoring role, are leaving the school system all too often. This was echoed by Shona Findlay, Head of ITE at the Harris Federation, who spoke of the need to recognise and value the work of teacher mentors (or “hidden teachers”) through offering CPD and raising the profile of mentoring.

 

Community and Partnership

Partnership between schools and universities in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) also emerged as a key factor in successful teacher training and retention. 

Rachele Morse from the University of Southampton spoke of the difficulties for student teachers in moving into their Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) year, when workload increases significantly, and the need to establish an ongoing community of practice and community of learning. This was echoed by Maria Cunningham of the Teacher Development Trust, who spoke of the ‘cliff edge’ between the ITT and ECF as an important area of focus in teacher training.

In the Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT, Anna Richards spoke of the collaboration between local schools and the University of Suffolk to allow teacher trainees access to academic resources. The importance of building professional relationships and networks was also identified as a key part of keeping teachers in the profession.

 

Ongoing access to CPD

There was much discussion of the need for teaching practitioners to have lifelong access to research and journal articles well beyond their ITE phase.

Louise Ling of the SEND Teaching School warned of the lack of access to academic literature in schools and the need to make this available to help mitigate the particularly high attrition rates in years 3 and 4 of teaching.

Dr Clare Brooks, Director of the Centre of Teacher and Early Years Education at the UCL Institute of Education, emphasised that a curriculum for ECTs needs to be broad, balanced, and offer ongoing professional development. Many speakers also emphasised the need for subject-specific teacher training. 

Where CPD is offered in ‘Twilight’ sessions, Katrin Sredzki-Seamer, Director at the National Modern Languages SCITT, warned of the impact on teachers’ work-life balance and the need for training to be provided flexibly. 

Overall, I was struck by the absence of conversation about the potential for online teacher training and CPD across the conference. Combined with quality mentoring and lifelong CPD opportunities, an online community of practice could do much to help NQTs teaching in remote or rural areas, to learn from diverse perspectives and gain support from their professional peers.

Category Research insights