Catherine Carden with contributions from Harriet, Rosie and Mitch
Early career teachers are leaving our profession in droves. The 2018 Workforce Census identified that 15.3% of 2017-18 NQTs left the profession within a year of qualifying and 32.3% of teachers leave within the first 5 years of teaching. Such attrition carries significant consequences for the profession and most importantly to ensuring children access the best possible education.
The Department for Education Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2019) is a cohesive attempt to address such retention issues alongside the challenge of recruitment into the profession in the first place. This can only be good news for the profession and the DfE must be applauded for this move. It is however still a work in progress, and the strategy that includes an Early Career Framework will not be rolled out until September 2021. Let’s hope it has the anticipated and much needed impact…
In the meantime, and beyond such a central strategy, leaders must consider how best to support and develop their early career teachers to avoid seeing this alarming attrition trend within their own schools. One way of approaching this might be through mentoring. Mentoring is a proactive way to invest in teachers’ development and brings significant benefits to both the teacher and the wider school community. It provides an opportunity for the staff member to reflect upon their practice and grow and develop as a professional through guided and honest conversations - a key element of the mentoring process. Providing a mentor who is external to the school community offers a safe and confidential space that allows the teacher to explore differing perspectives, share ideas and thoughts as well as offload issues and concerns.
Mentoring will also support the professional learning and development of the teacher through building self-awareness as well as improving specific skills and areas of practice that may be an identified area for improvement or something that the teacher wishes to develop further. Moreover, through the mentoring process the teacher feels that they, and their careers, are being invested in. Such feelings increase motivation and drive which often leads to teachers performing more effectively and reduces the chances of them leaving the school or indeed the profession.
In 2006, Hook et al. produced a summary identifying the benefits of mentoring for teachers. They found that accessing mentoring results in teachers:
● Thinking more clearly about things;
● Feeling valued and listened to;
● Recognising and appreciating their skills and resources;
● Increasing their range of options;
● Clarifying how they’d like things to be as they get even better;
● Understanding what they need to do to get there;
● Becoming more creative and optimistic;
● Feeling more positive and confident about change.
Realising the benefits of mentoring for teachers, a two-form entry primary school in Kent decided to invest in this practice by offering 1:1 external mentoring to its four Early Career Teachers for an academic year. This offer consisted of an entitlement to a monthly meeting with their mentor and relevant support and guidance between mentor meetings. The mentor also shared opportunities and readings, articles and literature that related to the teachers’ interests and professional goals and identified areas for professional and personal development. The mentoring was confidential; the mentor only reported back to the Headteacher generic progress and did not feedback anything relating to individual teachers. This perhaps is the biggest element of trust on behalf of a Headteacher, as they are not receiving reviews on the specifics and need to trust the process, the mentor and their staff.
Mentoring commenced within the school in July 2019 and the impact is already being realised by the teachers:
Being afforded the opportunity to have a mentor has made me feel that I am being invested in by my school. It is amazing to have someone who is taking time to communicate with me about my personal and professional development and career.
Through our regular conversations I have become extremely excited about my future as a teacher and education professional. I leave each of our meetings feeling that my confidence in my own ability has been boosted.
My mentor has given me impartial advice as well as signposting me to various opportunities that I would have otherwise not have had access to. We also discuss contemporary research and issues affecting education and my mentor often sends articles to me. These conversations and articles enable me to stay up to date with current debates and discourse in the teaching world.
Having someone with a wealth of expertise and experience guiding me in my career has had a real impact upon me which in turn is positively impacted upon the children I teach and the wider school community.
(Harriet, 3rd Year of Teaching)
I have found my mentor meetings extremely useful both professionally and personally and value having access to an experienced professional who is external to the school. My mentor uses questioning that encourages me to look at a variety of situations, from everyday gripes through to how to improve my practice from perspectives that I have not, or would not, have considered before.
Having time to meet with my mentor has supported me in putting myself first in terms of my wellbeing and professional development. I have been encouraged to ask myself the question of ‘how will this benefit the children?’ when spending time on activities to help me prioritise my work.
I feel grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to have a mentor at this stage in my career.
(Rosie, 3rd Year of Teaching)
The mentoring process has helped me to look at situations in a different perspective, I now feel that when difficult issues arise I have someone to talk to, who understands, this has helped my wellbeing on a day to day basis.
Having the time to sit down and discuss issues and problems that I have faced in the school environment with a more knowledgeable other, has also helped me to develop as a professional.
Furthermore, the mentoring sessions have given me a new confidence and I now feel ready to explore new career choices and paths which I would have never considered before.
(Mitch, 2nd Year of Teaching)
Investing in mentoring may seem a luxury, but it could well be the best staff development money spent. In fact, investing in a mentor for a member of staff will not cost much more than sending the same staff member on 1 or 2 day courses which may have little impact upon their practice or professional perspective. It is the sustained relationship across an academic year that enables such significant impact and results in tangible professional growth of the mentee. Such investment also makes the mentee feel highly valued and invested in, which in turn is likely to encourage them to commit to the school community and most importantly remain in the teaching profession.