Why aren’t the early careers of FE teachers given proper attention?

6 Oct 2021, 6:00

Mentors who support trainees need much more investment, write Dan Williams and Kayte Haselgrove

Here’s a quote for you from the Early Career Framework for schools, as published in 2019:

“Teachers are the foundation of the education system – there are no great schools without great teachers. 

“Teachers deserve high quality support throughout their careers, particularly in those first years of teaching when the learning curve is steepest.”

Bear that in mind, while we turn to the situation in FE.

Every year, around 10,000 FE teachers work towards a level 5 or above in an initial teacher training qualification .

Many FE providers offer robust professional development to support their new teachers. However, training for the mentors themselves seems to be less of a priority. 

Evidence suggests that without appropriate conditions and expectations for mentors, the impact of mentoring is likely to be ineffectual, or even harmful to mentees. 

In schools, school-based ITT and the subsequent early career framework has received a recent boost in funding. So it’s especially concerning that FE providers are given free rein when it comes to the early careers of their teachers. 

There is no minimum entitlement, no consistency across providers, and insufficient time given to support new teachers to the sector. 

In one recent ITT provider inspection in FE, inspectors noted that “it is often left to workforce mentors to use their professional judgement to determine what knowledge trainees need to learn [and this] slows trainees’ learning and development further”. 

This shows us that there is now a greater emphasis from Ofsted on subject specialist mentors being able to support their mentee to apply their learning specifically from the ITT curriculum.

Another issue is that mentoring in colleges can vary significantly. We know that university ITT providers often pay institutions to host trainee teachers upwards of £600 per trainee, per year. 

However, this only accounts for around half of those on ITT programmes.

A significant number of trainee teachers complete their training in-service through partnership colleges or awarding organisation providers.

Here, the mentoring largely relies on good will. 

The mentoring largely relies on good will

Seldom is there remission for mentors and even more uncommon is any form of payment for this important role.  

That’s despite the fact that we know institutions that provide the time for their mentors and their teaching staff through remitted timetables afford the opportunity for both to develop. 

However, time alone is not enough. Evidence shows that successful mentors require sociability, openness and the ability to develop relationships built on shared control (as opposed to dominance). 

None of this can be learnt simply through remission, or indeed payment. Instead, it relies on a willingness from mentors to develop their skillsets. 

Steve is one of the University of Derby’s FE ITT mentors. In a recent interview, he highlighted that the mentor role isn’t just about giving time to the mentee, but also that the mentor should model positivity and how to handle the stresses of the teaching role.

They should encourage the mentee to develop their own authentic style. 

Steve views the role as an honour and a pleasure, which is at odds with some mentors’ perspectives, who see the role in a more transactional way, whilst others find it burdensome. 

So how do we ensure that our trainees are being supported by mentors like Steve?

First, university ITT providers need to invest in their mentors, offering specific training, not just an HR-prescribed list of actions. 

Second, institutions need to engage with the new Education and Training Foundation mentor framework which has comprehensive resources to support leaders, mentors and mentees. 

(At the University of Derby, aspects of this framework are integrated into a ‘mentor journey’, which provides clear milestones for mentors and optional development opportunities to support trainees as they move from novice to expert teachers). 

And finally, providers must identify the right candidate for the mentoring role. 

Is this individual committed to supporting the development of a mentee? Do they possess the skillset to encourage without dominating, to support without leading? 

The successful mentor starts with the individual. But that mentor needs to be better invested in, and valued, in the first place.

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