As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project. This editorial provides an overview of the improvement project that Stephanie Power, Lead Learning and Development Practitioner at Riverside College Group, undertook, which aims to identify the training needs of post-16 early career teachers (ECTs) and newly qualified teachers (NQTs) and propose a differentiated CPD model.
The Teaching, Learning and Standards (TLS) department in Riverside College supports new staff through their first year. The ‘new staff process’ consists of an induction and support meeting with an allocated mentor from the TLS team, a digital training session, a digital walkthrough of the teacher’s lesson and two support observations. Staff new to the profession arrive from various routes – including direct placements and PGCE post-compulsory teacher training programmes.
In February 2020, Riverside College was graded as outstanding (Ofsted, 2020) and it was noted that there was a recognisable culture of self and continuous improvement across all departments in the organisation (Ofsted, 2020, pg.5).
Within this culture of continuous improvement, this small-scale research project looked to identify the real-life challenges faced by early career teachers in their first year of teaching: to identify a correlation between their teacher-training programme and their perceived success of their first teaching year and to propose a differentiated CPD model. This project also looked to develop a bespoke CPD programme aimed at addressing practical and individual needs and cohort-specific challenges for staff new to the profession.
Initial questionnaires were sent to participants to capture both quantitative and qualitative data. Although Lambert (2012) suggests that there can be limits to what people can or wish to write in a questionnaire – this survey-style approach will enable initial comparisons to be made between responses.
Semi-structured interviews were used as a means of capturing rich qualitative data. This mixed method approach allowed for qualitative and quantitative data which Queiros et al (2017) suggest provides both an accurate sense of how participants feel as well as a reliable measure of data. Observation notes of teacher practice were analysed to identify key developmental needs of those new to the profession with the aim of providing bespoke twilight training sessions to more effectively meet the needs of our early career staff.
The research project took place between September 2021 to September 2022. The five participants were observed twice by the TLS team in the months of October and March during their first year with the organisation.
Feedback was given to each member of staff and targets were identified for development. Participants completed an online questionnaire and were then asked to participate in an interview with the researcher.
Data collection took the form of an initial survey response and a 30-minute interview from each research participant. The interviews focused on the views of the participants on both their PGCE programmes and their reflections on the success of their first year of teaching.
The most difficult challenges identified by the participants included behaviour management, organisational procedures, the application of mark schemes and feelings of failure. Participants varied in their views on the usefulness of their PGCE programmes in preparing them for teaching. All participants reflected on the value of their mentor during the PGCE programme with some attributing their perceived confidence to highly effective mentors, whilst others referred to the lack of support given. All students had completed their training during the Covid pandemic and their physical time in the classroom had been significantly reduced.
All research participants found the organisation’s new staff process useful and supportive and all commented on the positive way feedback was given with clear targets for development. Participants identified the top training needs of an early career teacher as marking experience and more support with departmental procedures and processes.
Limitations of current CPD were addressed by one participant who preferred formal lesson observation to video recording of their own lesson and commented, “Watching back, I did not have the experience to know what to identify as good or bad practice”. Limitations of current departmental time were the repetition of training and not enough time spent in smaller curriculum areas during the weekly one-hour meeting slots.
Analysis of observation notes indicated some discrepancy between what participants had rated themselves in terms of confidence and the actual practice observed in the classroom.
This small-scale research project validated the results of other research in terms of the support needs of early career teachers and the importance of teacher learning communities which include practical support (Chow, 2016; McLaughin & Talbert, 2006; Van Es, 2012).
With reference to the original aims, it can be concluded that whilst the organisation’s current CPD programme is robust and continues to promote a culture of continuous improvement for most staff, a bespoke programme would be beneficial to our early career teachers.
It is important to acknowledge the limitations of this project in terms of the small sample size of five participants, which limits the generalisability of the conclusions. Furthermore, participants might have been reluctant to criticise the new staff process and their own practice, and thus, it is likely that prestige bias could have taken place.
This project has confirmed the importance of the need for highly effective support during this first year of practice. Riverside College is committed to the continued fostering of a culture of support, discovery and continuous improvement. The college is therefore keen to ensure the retention of our early career teachers and provide bespoke training that meets wider professional development whilst also encouraging subject-specific experience and expertise.
The findings will also be presented to Heads of School as all five participants had struggled with departmental procedures and processes. A ‘Mentoring Matrix’ will be shared with HOS to ensure that all processes are covered by the departmental mentor or by the Head of School. Finally – the organisation will adopt the use of a ‘Competency Matrix’, which signposts the key areas of challenge identified by this project and maps with the Early Career Framework skills and competencies suggested by the DfE.
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British Educational Research Association (2018) Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2018) available at: https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/ethical-guidelines-for-educational-research-2018-online (Date accessed: 27.7.21)
Chow, A.W. (2016) Teacher Learning Communities. International Journal of Educational Management, 30(2), pp.287-307
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Department for Education (DfE, 2019). The Early Career Framework. Available at: www.gov.uk/governmentpublications/supporting-earlycareer-teachers
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