Comments made at Select Committee recently by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, about the high numbers of young teachers leaving the profession have been identified by some as being overly defensive of his ‘not so loved organisation’. For me, his words rang the bells of truth! HMCI is right and I acknowledge the accuracy of his words in calling to account the profession’s responsibility for its newest recruits.
Stats vary, but we are looking at somewhere between 25%-40% of young teachers leaving their posts in the first five years. Sir Michael disputed the idea that this exodus is about fear of Ofsted and that it has more to do with a young teacher’s daily struggle with the behaviour issues of pupils and the unsupportive nature of headteachers in the schools where they work.
Now I know HMCI has a very particular viewpoint on both behaviour issues and the role of Heads, but it seems wholly plausible that new teachers might be concerned with the daily struggle to maintain discipline with their classes. Similarly, when new teachers are faced with issues causing them concern, the lack of quality support from Senior Leadership can be a contributory factor to feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and subsequent resignation. I would also hazard a guess that workload issues go some way to explaining the high attrition rates we see. All these things seem to me to have a significance way beyond the spectre of a couple of inspectors turning up every three to four years. I have mentored NQTs throughout my career and when I see them struggling and uncertain, doubting themselves and unsure of their next step I have yet to get a reply from one which indicates the ‘Big O’ is the problem! Their concerns are in the here and now. Their problems stem from the rewarding but demanding job they have chosen to do.
There is no doubt that the concerns of new teachers need addressing and fast. The people who work with them in schools are best placed to tackle and address them and we should accept the responsibility for doing so. An ATL survey published in March this year, found heavy workload, feeling under-valued, constant changes and challenging behaviour from students as the top reasons given for NQTs leaving the profession. Ofsted did not even get a mention in the top five. The same survey identified work with young people, the variety of the job, the fun of teaching, being inspired by former teachers and a love of their subject as reasons for choosing the career in the first place.
HMCI’s reference to ‘bright eyed, bushy tailed’ young teachers although rather jarring and conjuring up images of squirrels, made me feel even more protective towards our NQTs than usual. Young teachers have hopes and dreams and a desire to make a difference to the lives of pupils. These are the fundamental drivers that got us into the profession in the first place, unless of course you were seduced solely by the idea of long holidays! I believe we have a duty to keep those feelings positive and purposeful in schools and to try to mediate and reduce some of the issues causing concern. We all know the culture and ethos prevalent in schools are crucial, and whilst Heads should ensure that they support NQTs, we should also recognise that schools are made up of amazingly talented teachers who are able to offer a combined skill set that one Head alone could never possess. High quality, trained mentors should be in place to support NQTs but that isn’t enough. Experienced teachers need to offer their expertise, challenge and reflective skills in support of new teachers wherever and whenever they can. A quiet word of support in how a pupil has been handled can work wonders. At another time, professional dialogue questioning the merits of ability grouping may spark a classroom revolution! The African proverb says that it takes a whole village to raise a child. I believe it takes a whole school to nurture, support and develop a new teacher. Let’s stop using Ofsted as an excuse and set about supporting young teachers, keeping them in the profession for as long as we can.