The Early Career Framework: some initial thoughts

This week the government published the Early Career Framework (ECF) for teachers new to the profession. The framework lays out the expectations of a new two-year induction period for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT)s and has been awaited with some anticipation since Justine Greening announced plans to “strengthen QTS” in 2017.

Two initial comments spring to mind immediately when you scan through this document.

Firstly, it’s not been rushed. In fact, this development, a year in the writing, might seem somewhat pedestrian compared to the turmoil of high-speed Gove reforms. Moreover,  there has been a certain level of eagerness among the profession to see what it would contain. The ECF will be trialled in four areas from 2020, and rolled out nationally in 2021.

Secondly, it is clearly based on some evidence. Each section is underpinned by research, much of which is listed, and this research has been checked by the Education Endowment Foundation to ensure that it is “interpreted with fidelity” (p4). Again, a pleasant surprise if you’ve previously been conditioned into thinking that education policy has been decided on a whim at ministerial Islington dinner parties.

So far, so good, but what’s the substance of this latest offering?

The headlines, according to the DfE, are that it is:

  • funding and guaranteeing 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 ECF training programmes
  • funding time for mentors to support early career teachers
  • fully funding mentor training

Playing to the audience, this looks great on the surface for those thinking of entering the profession. School leaders, however, might have some questions to ask, particularly about costs. The framework states that by autumn 2021 it will be investing an “additional £130 million” annually to support the ECF initiative.

On the assumption that all of this makes its way into schools, this means about £3,000 per NQT for each of their two initial years. This would undoubtedly fund the off-timetable promise, and the mentors’ time, but of course we would be naïve to expect all of that money to find its way into schools. Establishing ECF training programmes and creating high quality curricula and materials will not be cheap, and we might expect to see contracts let to 3rd party organisations to carry out this work. Cynics might worry that some usual suspects are already preparing their invoices.

One question this list does not (and cannot) answer, is where the mentors are going to come from. Good induction means reliance on high quality mentors, who themselves are excellent practitioners. There are great people out there, but they’d be forgiven for asking what they get out of the deal, other than a warm altruistic feeling and vicarious satisfaction: even in the current climate small schools find it hard to find enough mentors, and this framework looks set to double the numbers needed. If roles like these are important we need to find ways of demonstrating their worth in our schools.

The detail of the ECF is interesting, comprising two lists: “evidence statements” – things that new teachers need to know; and “practice statements” – things that they need to be able to do.

These are organised in relation to the 8 Teachers Standards which remain the benchmarks against which success in induction is judged. The language however is different. Where the Teachers Standards invoke an imperative, “a teacher must:”, the ECF says that NQTs should “learn that…” and “learn how to…”. There is a sense of being on a developmental path, and this is underscored in the preamble which states that:

“the ECF is not, and should not be used as, an assessment framework” (p5)

Despite the bold highlighting in the original text, it is this statement that makes me most nervous.

I understand the rationale for aligning the content of the ECF with the Teachers Standards, but there is every danger that in some schools (or Academy Trusts) the developmental statements within the ECF will morph into a ticklist to support assessment of the standards, and that satisfactory completion of this list will equate to successful induction for NQTs. This is absolutely not the spirit of the ECF.

Ever the optimist, I take comfort from the eminence within the advisory group and the vision for the ECF to “build on high quality initial Teacher Training” (p4).

We have to hope that it remains true to its intention to provide a more gradual, supportive and developmental entry to the classroom. The DfE promises to keep the ECF under review as research insights develop – again an encouraging sign.

As for the ECF becoming a cornerstone for a successful teaching career, we might hope that attention is now given to the rest of the metaphorical construction. Teaching is, for many, a calling or vocation rather than a career, and we need to build in, resource, and reward, quality CPD for them beyond induction and throughout their teaching lives.

Chris Rolph

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