Don’t Throw It All Away

This September, our NQTs are arriving full of trepidation, yes, but also full of up-to-date subject knowledge, recent experience of other settings and a new, but possibly fragile, commitment to teaching— let’s make sure our school provision and induction arrangements value these new starters and their qualities.


Time and again we hear of widely varying NQT experiences, from those who have joined departments or schools with active and effective support protocols and CPD practices, to those who have been treated neglectfully by the people or systems around them. What can we do to make sure we don’t throw away all the potential NQTs offer?



The A – Z of NQT induction


A address issues as they arise – a little guidance and advice, offered regularly from the sidelines, is more likely to be accepted as a normal and constructive part of the relationship between NQT and team leader, than a once in a while focus on a serious problem which might have more emotional strain attached.


B book appointments in advance – make regular discussions part of the mentoring process. Doing this allows time to talk and for the NQT to mull over some ideas, or respond to a target, before the scheduled appointment. Committing to a time and place sends a message that this time is important.


C class management induction – beware the honeymoon period. Keep an ear to the ground and check with your NQT and other colleagues – is your new recruit coping OK after the start of term dust has settled? Chat to key form tutors to see if any informal feedback has been offered by pupils.


D departmental routines might be second nature to you, but can seem overwhelming to the new starter. Make sure key events, are flagged well in advance.


E ebb and flow – the workload of a teacher is often irregular. Encourage your menthe to plan ahead for the busy times so as not to overload themselves.


F follow up any niggles, from your NQT, pupils, other staff, parents – misunderstandings need to be unraveled and a relationship built on finding solutions sets the tone for future development


G go the extra mile for your NQT, if it seems appropriate. You won’t want to hold their hand and encourage them to be dependent on you – but at the same time, they are looking to you to assist them in completing their professional training – and they are entitled to your support.


H home life is important to all of us – be aware of any particular issues that might affect a new starter’s settling-in.


I information – make sure data, important internal documents, online forum membership details, usernames and passwords are shared. Leaving your NQT in a position of ignorance is unfair.


J jointly prepare and plan – if you’re not sure about an NQT’s confidence in the classroom, build some shared planning into your meetings. You’ll want to keep an eye on the ’quality control’ within your department/phase anyway. I’ve known Heads of Department meet NQTs each day after the last lesson to discuss outlines for the following lessons – in so doing, you’re scaffolding and modelling your expectations, and you’ll soon see when you can reduce the time needed to oversee.


K knowledge development is so important to teacher development and an expectation that the newcomer will continue to work on their subject knowledge and signature pedagogues is essential. Even in the early days, you might be discussing what the NQT might be teaching the next year, and what they will need to develop in the meantime.


L listen to what the NQT doesn’t say, as much as to what they do. Did you notice that when discussing their classes, they avoided mentioning that year 10 class? Did you wonder why..?


M merge, match and mentor – coordinating a team is about finding the right combinations of individuals for specific projects. Try to match up your NQT with a suitable buddy for part of a key project.


N new developments happen all the time but NQTs don’t yet realise this. Being able to support the team through change from whatever starting point or focus they currently have is all part of steering the team in the long-term.


O observations need to be arranged, in as many forms as possible. Enable the NQT to observe other teachers in the department and around the school – they need to see what the standards and routines are. It would be unfair to judge them on these expectations without giving them these opportunities first.


P pressures come from all angles – and the newcomer can’t always separate the major from the minor – encourage some perspective through humour, shared experiences and discussion with a range of mentor figures.


Q question your NQT all the time – you’re the leader and there’s a lot about the day to day work of your team that you need to know about. Set the expectation that you’ll be asking about homework, test results, behaviour, etc – from here, it’s easier to mould and shape rather than acting retrospectively after a formal review, observation or intervention.


R reporting to your Local Authority or other senior body needs to be timely and accurate. Ensure that you’ve planned your own time in terms of observation, feedback, review, data collection, etc, so that you’re properly informed at the appropriate points in the year.


S share your anecdotes, disaster stories and worries – your whole team, and your NQTs in particular, need to see that mistakes can be rectified and barriers overcome.


T timing – gradually aim to increase the challenge and independence experienced by the NQT. Share your thoughts with them, and encourage them to plan their stages of development with you.


U understand that the NQT’s field of vision is not the same as yours – some NQTs can barely see to the end of the lesson, never mind the end of the day, week or term – if there are worries about their performance, you’d hope to have been alerted to this by the ITT tutors, but if this isn’t the case, you might need to contact them to ask for more information about how to support your NQT


V variety of input – experienced mentors draw on a broad range of strategies to help the development of NQTs: other colleagues, internal INSET, external training such as through the LA, your academy group, Teaching School or other partnerships; printed materials, podcasts, videos and internet sources – knowing which to offer when is part of your getting to know your mentee.


W wishing they were different ain’t gonna make it so – once appointed, this teacher is in charge of the education of children. Make sure your interventions and supports keep this as the main focus.


X x-ray vision, 6th sense, 2nd sight, intuition, radar, call it what you will – if you get ‘that feeling’ that something’s not right, it’s best to check it out.


Y you – mentoring an NQT can be a great pleasure and privilege. It can also be draining, frustrating and time-consuming. Pass any serious concerns to your line manager and look after yourself.


Z zoo, zither, zinnia and zumba – we all love our treats, so a little gesture of appreciation once in a while, a little act of kindness, even something as simple as stepping in with photocopying on a really busy morning, making the coffees or leaving a Ferrero Rocher on the desk just says ‘I know what it’s like’ – and that might be all it takes to give a boost to a new starter looking for a little reassurance.

And finally….remember what it was like when you started out. If we could all pay back in to the system all the support we’ve been given along the way, we’d be a stronger profession for it.






I will if you will

Dear Primary Teachers,

As a secondary school English teacher, I know that I know very little about how you work or how you get the best out of your pupils with all the pressures that you face. I know that we are not as good at the key stage 2 to 3 transition as we should be and I know that we all feel that if we had more time and opportunity to get together and understand each other’s perspectives, then it might make all our jobs a little easier, and more successful. I know that visits between each other’s schools, sharing some teaching maybe, or some planning, might help. I will if you will. Any takers?

I’m pleased and excited, now that my school has become a teaching school, to be able to work with some primary colleagues through our partnership arrangements. We’re making a priority of transition work, and shared projects to improve reading and writing in particular. We’ll have to share our worries, and our triumphs. This is something happening round the country. I want to find out how to make this work. I will if you will. Are we ready for this?

Within our English departments, we’ve been anticipating feeling the effects of some of the changes that we’ve heard have been happening in primary. I shared with my English colleagues the glossary outlining the language terms that KS2 pupils will soon be coming to us with. Some gulped, their fears based on a sense of bewilderment at this terminology. Most secondary English teachers are Literature trained, and know they’ll soon be facing language lessons themselves in order to develop appropriate schemes for new pupils. English teachers with linguistics knowledge will be called upon to share and disseminate – and maybe this is something that we should all be doing more readily – within our departments, between partner schools, across phase boundaries? I will if you will. Should we talk about this?

I now know, since reading Michael Tidd’s blog, more about how English teaching has been changing in primary schools and I know we’ll need to think again, and again, about how to build on the work being done in primaries over the next few years. I guess we’ll have to adapt the schemes that we’ve only just implemented since the rewriting of the national curriculum. It’ll be tentative at first, as we get used to the new ‘profiles’ of the pupils coming through to us. I’ll admit, we’ll be relieved to see new Year 7s with better spelling, but we also know that it doesn’t end there. When new starters come to us, their 4 hours a week in English are dwarfed by the other 21 hours of subjects in their timetables which might not focus to the same extent on the explicit development of reading and writing skills – spellings which are taught, practised, marked and corrected in English might be deemed less important elsewhere, by some of their other 12 or 13 teachers, in about 85% of their week, in fact. What messages do the children take from this? Our ‘Literacy Across the Curriculum’ expectations need to be watertight. I think we need to learn from the primary experience here. We should compare approaches. I will if you will. Shall we give it a go?

More of a focus in primary on whole text reading, on poetry and on analysing the craft of the writer sound great to most of us in secondary. It fits with the eventual movement towards GCSE and A levels, especially in their new forms, so we’re hoping that the children will feel a smoother ‘join’ between the two phases than their older siblings might have. Like you, we’ll be glad to get rid of some of the fragmentary and formulaic approaches to text production and reception that we’ve had in recent years – maybe we could actually meet up in our communities of schools, secondaries and feeder primaries together, and air our concerns, chat over a coffee and give each other a few pointers? We’d love to know more about phonics, for example, to be able to build on the learning already experienced in primary. I will if you will. Who will you bring?

And the things that happen in secondary?

Well, when our new Year 7s arrive in September, we will retest them in some way. It’s not because we don’t trust the tests they’ve recently taken, or your judgements, but we know most children will have forgotten some of their Year 6 learning over the summer, so we need to have a new measure of what they can do at the start of their new key stage: we can plan for the children in front of us when we know for sure what they can do ‘right now’. We’ll need to add more detail to the broad brush strokes of levels and sub-levels. And that child whose results were a disappointment to you? You knew they could really manage more but they messed up on the day – we’ll spot that soon enough. But maybe we’d spot it sooner if we shared pupils’ work more readily between us? I will if you will. Maybe I should give you a ring?

For similar reasons, we will cover some aspects of the topics they will have studied before – I need to know, for instance, what my 7M class know about different types of punctuation, before setting out to teach them their next steps. My school takes children from almost 30 feeder primaries, so we need to find a quick way to set our own standards and get the pupils going on their new key stage learning. We’ll then take these children through a whole range of texts of different types, from different periods, different writing projects and some spoken debates, recitals and presentations. Our data collection schedules dictate that a range of skills are covered each term – it might seem like a rush, but on only 4 hours a week, we have to plough through the topics to show progress in the different areas. I suspect there might be a better way to do this. I imagine that, having built relationships with your classes over longer periods of time, you might have found more subtle ways of keeping track of pupils’ learning. We should meet up more often to discuss these things. I will if you will. When do you want to do it?

With so many changes to our curriculum plans, new testing arrangements and the ‘raising the bar’ initiatives that are happening at the moment, we’re all worried about getting it right. Assessment procedures feel like a day out at the old funfair ‘crazy house’ where reflections are exaggerated, the ground shifts beneath your feet and perspectives are distorted. We could be facing a crisis in results and reputations could tumble if we don’t adapt quickly enough. We might suspect that such uncertainties are put here to test our resolve and initiative. So these are the challenges we need to respond to by taking control of all the elements in our reach. More liaison between phases might help us both adjust and develop. I will if you will. Your place or mine?

With thanks to @MichaelT1979, @shinpad1 and @thinshadow