Why should we welcome the Early Career Framework (ECF)?
I write this blog from the viewpoint of an experienced professional mentor working across all iterations of Initial Teacher Training through to Newly Qualified Teachers and beyond. The ECF is the single most important document to be produced in this area over the duration of my career.
The advances in evidence-based education and the use of research by teachers (pioneered through Research Schools) with high-quality CPD has further professionalised our teachers. This has given our most disadvantaged students access to the best teaching. I have felt that developments have not manifested in (some) ITT/NQT programmes and this has often caused a disjunction. Our newest teachers are entering the profession as our least evidence-informed.
Is mentoring a bolt-on?
There has also long been the issue of mentoring and support of trainees and NQTs. Supporting, developing and mentoring a new teacher is arguably the most important job a school can do. This is especially true in a period of low recruitment and retention. The quality of support and guidance new teachers receive varies dramatically. Schools lack funding, mentors are not given time and the role of a mentor is often given as a bolt on the role.
A warm welcome …
I warmly welcome the new guidance which the DfE rather inclusively has designed to ‘build on and complement ITT’. The framework contains details of the wrap-around support and has committed to:
- guarantee 5% off-timetable in the second year of teaching for all early career teachers; early career teachers will continue to have a 10%
- timetable reduction in their first year of induction
- Creating high quality, freely available ECF curricula and training materials
- Establishing full, high-quality ECF training programmes
- Funding time for mentors to support early career teachers
- Fully funded mentor training.
The framework is not designed to be assessed against and Teachers’ Standards (2011) and we will still use this. They have clearly listened to their esteemed panel and the framework will ‘underpin an entitlement to training and support’. This, along with significant funding, will allow induction to be strengthened. There are 8 standards in all, but let’s take a closer look at just three of them.
Standard 1 – Set high expectations
‘Establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils rooted in mutual respect.’
Interpretation often applied here has been ‘Is your lesson worth behaving for?’. This means activities ‘stimulate’ pupils into behaving. The ECF prefaces the standard by stating:
‘High-quality teaching has a long-term positive effect on pupils’ life chances, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.’
… and follows up with: ‘Setting tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum.’
The ECF makes clear underpinning this with the level of challenge in both the work and the curriculum is required to achieve a stimulating environment. The challenge will stimulate pupils not the popping of balloons to reveal questions or the endless carousels. This is an important clarification for mentors and new teachers.
Standard 2 – Promote good progress
This states: ‘Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching.’
This again was available for interpretation and the knowledge and indeed evidence base is constantly evolving. Having referred to the fact that as research develops the ECF can adapt, the DfE has outlined ‘balancing exposition, repetition, practice and retrieval of knowledge and skills.’
By referencing and signposting to seminal works, the ECF is professionalising and elevating the role of the mentor and moving the position from that of an overseer and a subjective assessor to that of a fellow learner and a guide. This is a great example of providing new teachers with ‘best bets’ and strategies that are most likely to work in their classroom, removing the vague subjectivity and vastly different interpretations across schools as to what knowledge of learning looks like.
Standard 4 – Plan and teach well-structured lessons
On classroom practice, the ECF is extremely practical. In planning lessons there are some welcome findings including a statement that all teachers can agree with:
‘In no other profession is there a cultural expectation for the most inexperienced professionals to reinvent the wheel.’
All teachers will welcome the idea that:
‘By making high-quality curriculum resources available to early career teachers, we both expose them to good curriculum models that inform their future development, and make unmanageable workloads manageable.’
There is again a welcome shift because it still meets the standard of ‘contributing to the design of the curriculum” and allows time to be spent planning effective learning. The clarity and elaboration on the somewhat vague ‘impart knowledge and develop understanding through effective use of lesson time,’ which led to the pernicious notion perpetuated through lesson observations that new teachers must not talk for any longer than 5 minutes in the name of ‘effective’ use of time. Guidance is given on good use of expositions, how to use modelling effectively and scaffolding learning.
I particularly like the reference to the need to: ‘enable (ing) critical thinking and problem solving by first teaching the necessary foundational content knowledge,’ and the polite suggestion to consider the extraneous cognitive load on the endless stream of PowerPoints by ‘combining a verbal explanation with a relevant graphical representation of the same concept or process, where appropriate.’
I am incredibly excited and enthusiastic about the paradigm shift here in developing new teachers. The engagement with research and evidence, the developing teachers’ professionalism and the time, funding and structure will allow new teachers to flourish. The inbuilt professional learning and development will be discussed in a future blog and is central to the success of the ECF.
A successful implementation by schools of the ECF will over time lead to increased retention, hopefully better recruitment and most importantly of all better outcomes and life chances for the most disadvantaged pupils. I applaud all involved.