Finnish Take Away – something sweet for dessert

Yes, I am a Finnophile.

I do get dewey-eyed and warm and fuzzy when discussing things I saw and heard on my visit. I was shown the good stuff, I know that, not the disadvantage, the unemployment, the underperformance and the disaffection. I know.

And I’m happy with that – I know what a world we live in. I’ve just chosen to promote the positives of the world rather than perpetuate the deficiencies.

Finland isn’t England, or the UK, I know that too. I know that the uniqueness of Finnish history and culture have brought it to a place that can’t just be emulated or reproduced here or elsewhere. And we shouldn’t be trying to do that.

In many ways, though, Finnish collective efforts and belief in betterment for all offer something of a key with which to unlock some of the complexities of our times.


Simple things. Strong messages. Clear aims.

For instance, in Finnish schools, pupils serve themselves lunch. Meals are free and the food is set out in trays and they take what they need. You might think this would lead to clumsy, silly behaviour – no, I saw 7 year olds managing perfectly well. You might suggest greed or wastefulness – but no. Pupils have to eat what they take. They are encouraged to take only what they think they can eat and no more – and there are no waste bins or trays left out for them to scrape their plates into. Sure, if they want more, they can go back, butter themselves some bread – yes, 7 year old with knives, shock – or get a glass of milk, or a piece of fruit. But there is no waste – no advantage in taking more for yourself at the expense of the rest. Lessons learned early in life.

At the Education Department on the final morning of my stay, I heard another of these lessons. One of the officials told me of something she learned as a young teacher, that education was for the whole person, for the hands, the head and the heart. It’s a thought often attributed to St Francis of Assisi, and has been reworked many times. Finns speak openly and unashamedly of their beliefs and values – there is no need for “Finnish values” to be a curricular item, as they are enacted daily and upheld through discussion and decision-making on a local and national scale.


Like many of the buildings in Helsinki, sunk into the granite base-rock of the landscape, these values seem unshakeable. I hope so.


Finnish Take Away – Main

How enlightening can a journey from an airport to a hotel really be?

It’s always interesting – OK, I’m a bit funny in this respect – to see the road signs of different countries. The way a traffic system is run reflects so many of the assumptions of the society itself. And so it proved with Helsinki.

Take speed limits. Not very glamorous in themselves, but the way transgression are dealt with in Finland reflects, actually celebrates, so much about the beliefs of the people. Be wary of going over the speed limit – you could be stung with a big fine, particularly if you’re a high earner, as in Finland the amount you are fined is determined by your income.


Earlier this year, the BBC reported a speeding millionaire who was given a “whopping 54,000-euro fine”. The rationale is that the punishment has to impact everyone the same way – but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same punishment.

So many decisions in Finland are made with this sense of social well-being in mind. When you travel through the city by tram, you might enter at the centre of the carriage. Realising that it could then prove difficult for parents with young children to manoeuvre through other travellers to get to the driver to pay, or might even have to leave their child unattended to do so, authorities decided that parents with children in buggies didn’t have to pay for their journeys.


Two signs of the times, though, have put this provision in jeopardy. Firstly – some people now play the system. Tales are told of ne’er-do-wells bundling closed-up but childless prams onto trams in order to claim a free ride. The consternation as this is discussed is both prickly and palpable. Secondly, technological developments have negated the need for the discount – many trams are now fitted with contactless payment consoles at different points. Mixed blessings.

Times are changing in education too.

Remember, Finland only became an independent country in 1917 when freedom from Russia, and before that Sweden, was finally achieved. Finland is a modern country in an ancient land. Until the 50s, education was limited as the country worked to build its industrial base. Reforms gathered pace and by the 70s something like the current system, its structure of comprehensive school followed by high school, emerged.

A few key points-

Finnish children start formal schooling at 7, the equivalent of our year 3.

There is a year of pre-school before comprehensive schooling starts, where basic literacy and numeracy instruction begin, though the emphasis is still on story, games, talking and play.


The research lab of the Playful Learning Centre at the University of Helsinki.

Finnish comprehensive schooling is of 9 years, from age 7 to age 16 in the same school. Primary-style topic based teaching happens in most schools until the ages of 10-12, but this can vary – each school can prioritise according to its own needs.

At age 16, children choose whether to continue into academic or vocational education. Over 95% of children stay in education, roughly half to each direction. They can move between the two if they wish.

At 19, Finnish students graduate from high school or vocational college. Many continue into university, which is free.

A quirky feature of the Finns’ completion of their schooling is the wearing white caps for their graduation parties. It’s a feature of a number of Nordic countries. (Later, some degrees, in fact, can earn you a top hat, even a sword.) One of my hosts explained the origin of this tradition – apparently, during the early nineteenth century, around the time of the Napoleonic wars, it was thought that students might harbour revolutionary thoughts, so it was wise to have them wear a uniform so that they might be identified in public gatherings.


And so…the successes grew in the Finnish education system. Following the curriculum reforms of the 70s, the demise of private schools, the creation of the matriculation system (whereby students take a final series of exams at 19 but no other formal public exams before this point), Finnish performance, by 2000, seemed to be the envy of many countries.

Within a generation though, all was not well. PISA rankings have fallen slightly, partly due to internal pressures and partly related to the rise of the ‘Tiger’ education systems of south-east Asia.

Increased international mobility and migration have led to broader ethnic and cultural diversity, and a corresponding reduction in the homogenous nature of the Finnish population. Students – from as far away as Somalia or Bangladesh – arrive in Finnish schools with no Finnish or Swedish language. Migrant workers from Estonia bring their children into the country and settle into a new life.

Pressures on the Finnish authorities to accommodate these new communities – and other economic and cultural changes – have impacted on the education system, which characteristically is run on less party-political lines than in the UK. Changes are planned for 10-15 years ahead, with consensus and consultation, reviews and stake-holder discussions key features of the process. I heard talk of the “22nd century skills and workforce”. Holders of public office in the present feel a shared responsibility for the society of the future.



Another road sign – depicting a shared use of space, by the harbour.

I was told of some of the arrangements for children who don’t speak Finnish or Swedish coming into schools. They have the option of taking a whole year to learn the native language(s) before being taught in mainstream classes. As soon as they know enough Finnish or Swedish, they can transfer into some of all classes of their peers. At the same time, these students are supported in the literacy and language development of their own community – two hours a week are dedicated to this, in the belief that continued mother-tongue literacy has multiple benefits, socially and in formal education.

Schools attempt to integrate newcomers into the community, with classes and meetings for parents who might not understand the Finnish systems and who might not have had a lot of formal education themselves. Finns I spoke to about this were keen to explain the role of interpreters – they never use children in this role. It’s not for children to deal with adult problems. Schools and municipal authorities have to provide linguists to ease families’ transitions.

In the midst of all this, curriculum upheaval is rumbling through the whole system. I’ve written about this elsewhere (TES 30/10/15) and will add a link if one becomes available. Permeating all the intricately linked elements of Finnish educational and social systems is a seemingly, hopefully, unshakeable belief in the common good. All children attend their ‘local’ school – there is no understanding of competition between schools in the sense we know it. All schools aim to be the best, for the benefit of all, not at the expense of another.

Teachers feel valued because their ideas are considered, their voices are heard and their individual contributions are meaningful.


Finnish Take Away – Starter

My first views of Finland, arriving on an afternoon flight in early summer, were of the hundreds of lakes and islands that freckle the landscape. Land meets water meets land. Land surrounds water surrounds land. The landscape in itself reflects the many dualities with which Finns are quite comfortable.


Finland is open to the Baltic sea, with the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland to the west and south-east respectively. Helsinki, the tremendously splendid and beautiful Nordic capital city, stands its ground with its various harbours facing Estonia to the south and Russia to the east.

Finland is neighbour to Sweden and Russia and still feels their many influences, in language – all the signs are in Finnish and Swedish, both are taught in schools – and buildings. I recognised much Russian-influenced architecture, reminiscent of a visit to Hungary in 1991 when they’d only just loosened their border controls and bullet holes were still visible in lots of walls, scars of former skirmishes with soviet forces. I digress…but I brought something of that understanding of occupation, and independence, into my encounter with Helsinki.


Helsinki airport sits in the northern district of Vantaa – the city itself has a core and several outlying ‘sub-cities’ now virtually merged into one. It’s the visitor’s first experience of the country as a whole and the Finns certainly use their airport to send messages to the rest of the world.

One of the first facilities to greet the weary traveller is a Chinese restaurant – not a cheap and cheerful bland copy of Chinese food as you’d find anywhere in the world. Real Chinese food, provided by real Chinese people – what better way to welcome visitors with whom newly developing business partnerships are actively being nurtured? The Finns are thoughtful people, a nation of planners and speculators, and the placing of a Chinese facility in a prime airport position is no accident at all. The city, the country, courts Chinese and south-east Asian business. It invites multi-nationals to use conference facilities in the city, in the hope, the expectation – no, the planned-in inducement – that these business people will return with their families to Finland as part of their European holiday explorations. They think things through, the Finns.

The second main ‘showcase’ within the airport is the shop of the Finns’ favourite design group, Marimekko. Vivid, bright, modern, colourful fabrics, accessories and trinkets tempt visitors and are a sign of things to come. Finns are artists and creators – the design district of Helsinki rivals that of any other major city.


A Marimekko design on a Finnair ‘plane

Helsinki is a city of competition and consultation. During my stay, posters and news articles declared the most recent developments in a competition for the design of the new Guggenheim centre. Public votes and comments were harvested daily. Waiters discussed the developments – in six or seven different languages – with visitors in cafes and restaurants. Helsinki residents enjoy this sense of collaboration and the feeling that their voices count because their opinions are based on both good knowledge and good sense. At the university, the Kaisa library was co-designed by the student body, and what a fantastic job they made of it. I could have spent a week in this place, an inspiring space.


With such a sense of collaboration and effort for the common good, mixed with innovation and creativity and a significant chunk of Nordic pragmatism, no wonder I was excited for what was to come…

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




Where do I sign?

Originally posted 04/05/15 on @staffrm

If I could do it right now, right this minute, I would. I’d sign my name on the dotted line.

I’ve been a supporter of the idea of the College of Teaching since before there was an idea for the College of Teaching…. In my work, I’d sometimes been frustrated, dissatisfied – and bored – wanting to do more and go further and make more of a difference; I’d been inspired, driven and energised when offered new challenges and the opportunities to translate my zeal into action; I’d been saddened, angered, and despondent at stories in the media about the ineffectiveness of teachers, about what schools “should” be doing in their curriculum offer and about children who aren’t reaching their potential.

I’d been looking for ‘something more’ that would address these issues, improve outcomes for pupils and at the same time unite the profession with a sense of shared purpose, enabling long-term self-management and a fresh educational vision.

Last year, surfing ‘professional development’ sites, I chanced upon one of David Weston’s Teacher Development Trust blogs, and this in turn led me to the Claim Your College campaign. This year, following a series of consultations, the campaign submitted their proposal for the College of Teaching, and that proposal was accepted. In the months since this happened, the major political parties have included support for the College within their manifestos, most teaching and leadership unions have reasserted their support and interest groups such as the Headteachers’ Roundtable have declared that the College an integral part of their vision.

If there are ineffective teachers, then schools and professional support procedures should be challenging and mentoring …thereby changing this situation. Systems should exist for career shaping and professional development that are open to all teachers nationally, regardless of phase, career stage, managerial level, training route, subject or school type. All of these teachers will be invited into the College of Teaching.

Apathy, boredom, lack of challenge and the ‘plateau’ in effectiveness are symptomatic of school systems that do not enable on-going stimulus and development to staff. The College of Teaching will offer a structured sequence of progression activities, related to individual experience, subject delivery, support of others in the profession, development of professional knowledge and national accreditation criteria. Different membership levels will enable teachers to become recognised as contributors to the profession as a whole.

The over-arching aim of the College of Teaching needs to be to enable improved pupil learning. Learning is a long-term activity, taking a child within the present system 13 or 14 years at least, just to grasp the ‘essentials’ that society validates. The SSAT’s ‘Vision for Education’ urges us to look “beyond five year policy cycles” – it supports, in fact centralises, the College’s involvement in establishing a more mature professional credibility. In The Key’s recent Survey Report, leaders signal the importance of improved ‘quality of teaching’ and ‘staff development and training’ in bringing about improved quality of education.

The College of Teaching offers so much potential.

Where do I sign?



First Steps on the Ladder

This will eventually form part of a larger series of posts covering long-term career development

From The Teacher Standards:

As their careers progress, teachers will be expected to extend the depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and understanding that they demonstrate in meeting the standards, as is judged to be appropriate to the role they are fulfilling and the context in which they are working.

Our English ITE student has just accepted her first job offer. She’s been training with us since September, so our little chick is getting ready to fly the nest. It’s quite a transition and one that needs preparation from both sides.

As the placement school, we need to ensure that all aspects of the soon-to-be NQT’s training continues as thoroughly as possible. We’re a school that puts a lot of store by professional development, so our provision at this stage goes something like this:

Opportunities for lesson observations

  • Observe subject colleagues for subject delivery ideas – discuss this beforehand; don’t send the trainee in ‘cold’
  • Observe a familiar class with a different teacher in a different subject
  • Observe pupils of different abilities
  • Shadow a pupil for a day to gain an overview of the different experiences they’re offered
  • Observe with a specific focus, eg, use of questions/behaviour management/pace of the lesson – again, it’s important to discuss this beforehand and work out a way that ideas can be recorded for later reflection
  • Observe with others and discuss the lesson ‘live’ – we have an observation room for exactly this purpose
  • All of these situations require both a lead-in to prepare the trainee and a follow-up
  • Lead-in meeting should clarify and narrow the focus, so that the trainee isn’t distracted by peripheral matters – perhaps link this to the set-up of a notes sheet, a table, a set of questions
  • The follow-up can be looser or tighter, depending on your trainee’s skills of observational insight, or their experience in observing, how developed or experienced they are at different times on the course or, indeed, how conscientious they are…

Lesson support (similar to a TA role)

  • Support a class in own subject area – this helps with understanding issues of learning support, SEND and differentiation that the trainee might not have experienced directly in their own time-table; the trainee can discuss curricular adaptations with a subject specialist and can begin to bring into sharper focus issues such as ‘closing the gap’, pupil premium, expected progress rates and intervention strategies
  • Support a class in a different subject area, maybe a practical subject if normally based in a classroom, or the other way round
  • If you are arranging a support role to run for the whole placement (we build this in to the timetable), it’s worth choosing one pupil to focus on, a child who needs more help, about whom the class teacher, form tutor, SENCO and Head of Year can share relevant info (learning needs, attendance, prior attainment and so on); this helps the trainee understand how as a teacher they’ll need to monitor the progress of individuals who need more from us
  • Liaise with TAs and the Learning Support department – these are important relationships; the sooner the trainee realises the reciprocal nature of our work, the better

Support for University projects and assessments

Where good relationships exist between ITE students and their mentors, this should be a regular part of discussions – we like to be informed about a trainee’s progress in case of problems that might lead to time-management issues; we also like to be able to offer support or structure relevant experiences where possible. Sometimes this might entail making connections with colleagues in other schools. Being able to discuss academic progress with our PGCE students also helps to keep us up to date with research ideas and teaching ‘models’ being presented in the universities. We regularly work with five different HEIs (Edge Hill, The Open University, Newcastle University, University of Cumbria and the University of Central Lancashire) so it’s also important for us to understand the different timings and assessment arrangements operating.

Generic skills development

  • Students are expected to discuss generic skills – differentiation, managing transitions, pace, planning (essentials and flexibility), grouping within lessons, literacy demands and so on. They will develop their ‘toolbox’ of ideas, share and evaluate them in meetings, explain their successes and failures… We like to keep an eye on how engaged trainees are with ‘how to’ deliver material in different ways.
  • Some trainees choose to conduct their own research projects based on these ideas and might build this into one of their university assessments
  • All our students are invited to and are expected to attend INSET sessions that the main staff body attend – and they’re expected to participate. Some students may take this further and offer to take part in leading some sessions for groups of staff, or their peers
  • Students are encouraged to talk about teaching as much as possible – we like to set a standard around professionalism that will stand the new entrant into teaching in god stead for years to come

Team teaching

  • At the start of early placements, students observe class teachers, then gradually build into a team-teaching role
  • This could be on a turn-taking basis, each teacher leading a pre-prepared part of the lesson
  • It could be a more integrated process, with the student leading and the class teacher offering in-lesson coaching and guidance. This can be tremendously powerful as changes can be made more readily when the student sees the need for them as the issue arises
  • Once students become more proficient, they may be able to teach jointly, each offering the coaching to the other

Formal and informal lesson observations and feedback

Formal lesson observations will be familiar to students, but will be most useful when linked to a small number of on-going targets. We try to limit to three targets, one of which is a short-term issue, enabling another to take its place, then another and so on, thereby gradually increasing the student’s proficiency. That said, it’s not useful to a student to have a repeated target set without us doing something to enable its achievement. For example, there’s not much point issuing a target of “behaviour management” which is too broad and unwieldy, or “use your voice more effectively” without helping with strategies – I’ve taken students into the biggest sports hall and got them to conduct a conversation across increasing distance without shouting…the method isn’t important, it’s the thinking up of a formative strategy that matters. When your ITE students see you making these provisions they understand more about intervention, ongoing assessment and differentiation – you’re role modelling effective teacher behaviour for them.

Informal observations can be sometimes more effective. There are fewer nerves and perceptions of being judged. They can be sequential, repeated over a period of time, maybe with the same class over 6-8 lessons – tell your trainee you’re leaving the room and will feedback on the first things you see or hear when you return…or watch a couple of lessons with a narrow focus such as use of questions or position in the room or using the interactive whiteboard…

Mentor meetings

Our meetings are scheduled weekly on trainees’ timetables from the outset and follow a pattern for each placement – they include time for sharing the week’s experiences; some one-to-one discussions, on a rotation; discussions of progress towards standards; a gradual build-up of professional skills and understanding; some reading of key news articles or journal or book extracts… we aim to keep the programme varied and try to avoid duplication with ideas that might come from subject mentor meetings.

Subject mentor meetings

Ongoing subject development is one of the key aims, but also one of the hardest to achieve. Arriving from university with a shiny degree certificate is no guarantee of enough subject knowledge to teach even two or three Key Stage 3 lessons, in some cases. Degrees often reflect a student’s specific areas of interest, and may lack the general breadth needed for teaching 11 and 12 year olds the core knowledge and skills. Familiarity with curriculum outlines, schemes of work, exam syllabi and the planning processes needed to draw these together is alien to the newcomer – but we must support them in all of these areas. All too often we see pleas on a subject forum or email list asking for a donation of a pre-made scheme of work for one topic or other because the teacher doesn’t have the subject knowledge or the planning ability to put this together for themselves, or, more importantly, for the class that’s in front of them this term. As trainers, we need to make sure that our trainees leave in a better position.

Subject specialists need to set a series of tasks for the trainee – reading, notes, create a lesson with aim X based on material Y, research approaches to teaching Z… If the student leaves without having developed more subject knowledge then we have done her, her new school and prospective pupils a disservice.

Other ways of supporting coverage of teacher standards

It may be that the school isn’t in a position to offer experiences to enable the achievement of all points on the standards – maybe there aren’t opportunities to develop EAL skills or understanding of a broad range of SEND issues. If this is the case, the school needs to either source these opportunities or flag up the absence of coverage with the HEI who should be able to coordinate some support through collaboration or enrichment.

Preparing for the move – bigger picture issues

Hopefully, having established positive relationships and enjoyed plenty of progress, our trainees will have discussed with us the jobs they are planning to apply for and we can offer help with application process. This might include

  • A coaching conversation enabling the student to articulate their strengths and key developments so far
  • A discussion of the application form, CV or letter of application (no – don’t do it for them!)
  • A ‘trial’ lesson – an unfamiliar class and topic; the value is in the feedback and how they respond to it
  • Broader experiences – parents’ evenings, practice reports to write, form-tutor shadowing, break duty shadowing
  • Ensure the student is fully up to date in their safe-guarding training
  • Make sure ‘hand-over’ messages are clear; the student should be clear about what their long-term targets are by the end of the placement

When the ITE student has accepted a job, there will come a point where the new setting starts to loom and new priorities emerge. Perhaps, after a summer term visit, they might be thinking about teaching under different setting arrangements, or teaching sixth form for the first time, or teaching pupils with EAL needs…

As receivers of new NQTs, we also need to be aware of ‘incoming’ needs. The NQT tutor should meet the newly appointed teacher on the day of appointment if possible, making clear the arrangements for transition, any documents needed, any mentoring arrangements that need to be flagged up.

Our outgoing students and our incoming NQTs might want to start thinking about resources, classroom displays, books they need to read or courses they might go on. It’s part of our role to assist with these transition areas. Why? Because of a commitment to the profession – if we all do this for each other, then all NQTs will be starting their teaching careers with this level of preparation.