Were you prepared well enough for classroom life?


After Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent comments on teacher training and retention, Julian Stanley asks how we can better support and mentor new teachers.

“IT IS a national scandal that we invest so much in teacher training and yet an estimated 40 per cent of new entrants leave within five years,” said Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw during an address at the North of England Education Conference.

Sir Michael’s comments raise a very important question. While, year-on-year, either through Teach First or the more traditional university routes, the teaching profession continues to attract enthusiastic, optimistic young practitioners, why are so many of them dropping out? Theories are numerous.

The chief inspector and the shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt suggest pupil behaviour could be key. Indeed, new YouGov research, commissioned by Teacher Support Network, also reflects this: 49 per cent of the teachers who responded felt that pupil behaviour in their school had gotten worse in the last five years. This poor behaviour had led 

39 per cent to say they felt unable to teach as effectively, while 38 per cent had considered leaving the profession altogether. Furthermore, 41 per cent of teachers in their first five years on the job said they had considered changing profession, too.

Could it be more than just behaviour to blame? What impact, for example, might teacher training have? Sir Michael is clear. He puts part of the blame for the 40 per cent attrition rate firmly at the door of teacher training. He talked about the “disconnect” between the theory of teacher training and actual classroom practice, explaining that it had “bedevilled the education system for far too long”.

“Ofsted has not been as demanding as it should have been with training providers who have sent newly qualified teachers out into schools unprepared for the rigours of the classroom,” he said.

So, are new teachers really unprepared for the classroom? Perhaps. We have spoken previously in this column about the teachers who call our 24/7 support line. We identified two key groups who contact us. The first of these groups was NQTs or new teachers.

They have usually been stressed for a relatively short period of time, but are often crying or incoherent when they first call. As they begin to calm down, they explain that they are struggling to deal with the difference between their expectations of teaching and the reality they are now facing. 

Many have had supportive first placements, but have found themselves in second placements without the same level of support. For many, this is the first job ever and they feel ill-prepared, the counsellors told us, for the complexities of working in a school. They have learnt their subject, but not learnt the politics. In short, they do not feel trained for the job.

The NQTs feel disappointed and deskilled. Many tell the counsellors that they feel ill-informed about the reality of the classroom and are questioning whether they are in the right profession. 

Is this disparity a central factor in the number of teachers quitting so early? Are teachers lacking key support and mentoring when they need it most?

What is clear is that any reform to teacher training requires a much larger discussion with the whole school community. To retain the best and most promising new teachers, any reforms must be borne out by the experiences of those who have recently gone through the system, as well as those who have long experienced the reality of the classroom.

Training bodies, leaders, governors and, principally, the government must ensure that support is consistent (and funds are allocated) not just through teacher training, but by placing more emphasis on CPD.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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