It was a difficult year for teachers to train during the 2019/2020 year with the academic year being cut short by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Nonetheless most trainees managed to complete Initial Teacher Training and obtain QTS, albeit with less classroom teaching than they would have benefited from in previous years.
We have conducted a survey of 50 teachers who started their NQT induction year in September 2020 to see what their experiences have been like and how confident they are on passing NQT year during the coronavirus pandemic. We have also spoken to several experienced teachers and senior leaders who have been mentoring NQTs this year to consider their thoughts.
How prepared were NQTS starting their induction year?
The different routes to becoming a teacher accounted for much of the disparity we saw in how prepared trainees felt moving into their NQT year. Interestingly several of our respondents mentioned that they had completed their training through salaried school direct and they considered that this had put them in a stronger position than the other NQTs who had trained on the PGCE. During the first lockdown many of the PGCE students had their 2nd placement cut short, whereas the school direct trainees continued their training with online teaching, planning, marking and contacting parents. Accordingly they felt that they didn’t have any gaps in their training. Some of these School Direct trainees went on to do their NQT year at the same school they did their training; this gave them a seamless transition from training into their first year of teaching and they were the most confident NQTs that we spoke to during the survey.
Similarly a few respondents are doing their NQT induction year at the school where they did their second PGCE placement. This has been advantageous for them, as the school are aware of the gaps in their training due to the 1st lockdown and have addressed these through mentoring and CPD in the first term. Several of our respondents who had completed their training through PGCE felt that they had missed out on a lot of classroom time, which had adversely affected their training.
How well have schools done in supporting NQT teachers during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Our research has on the whole been very positive, the vast majority of NQTs consider that they have been supported sufficiently and feel confident that they are developing their practice to meet the teachers’ standards in order to pass the NQT year.
Only four of the respondents reported that they had not been assigned a proper mentor when they started in September. One of these dropped out by October and is now pursuing different job opportunities; the other three have found it difficult, as they feel there was no continuation of training from their PGCE/SCITT year.
The use of technology was cited by both mentors and NQTs as helping to counter the effects of the pandemic. From the beginning of the academic year in September schools have been using technology to facilitate online support sessions for NQTs with mentors, departmental leaders and subject specialists. Most notably many of the respondents in our survey cited CPD as being very effective in improving pedagogy and curriculum knowledge. CPD courses have moved to online platforms and some of the sessions are live enabling the teachers to interact and ask questions. Even in schools where NQTS felt they didn’t initially have sufficient mentor support, the CPD has been very useful for them and helped them to develop
Some of our respondents mentioned that they are doing their NQT induction year in a training school and felt the school had been especially pro-active in helping them to fill any of the gaps that they had missed during their PGCE year. Some of the respondents teaching within Multi Academy Trust schools spoke about the collaboration with other NQTs within the trust. They have been able to discuss and share ideas online and where possible have access to each other’s online platforms, which has helped them to share resources.
How have NQTs found the move to online teaching?
Nearly all our respondents felt anxious about transferring to online teaching and we received a varied response on how prepared they felt, given the lack of time the schools had to prepare. NQTs have had to move to a very different way of teaching at a time when they are only just getting to grips with classroom teaching. Evidently there was a lot of disappointment that the first lockdown had already disrupted an important part of the training year and now they find out in January that there is going to be further disruption to passing NQT year. This was particularly felt by primary school NQTs, many expressing sadness that they will be losing at least 6 weeks with their class.
Most respondents felt that the move to online teaching was soothed by previous use of technology. For example, in some schools homework was already being completed online and therefore both students and teachers were accustomed to using a form of online platform to facilitate online learning. NQT meetings and CPD sessions were already being done online in most schools also. When the sudden move to online teaching was announced, mentors were already equipped to give additional support online to help NQTs with the new way of teaching.
Some of our respondents feel that their workload has increased since the move to online learning. They are now balancing live and pre-recorded lessons on top of the mentor meetings and phone calls home to parents. Respondents from both primary and secondary schools stressed that the biggest problem has been the poor engagement from the students. So far it has been a real challenge for them to firstly get the students online and secondly to keep them engaged during live lessons. The interaction level is not the same as classroom practice and online teaching presents digital challenges, especially where the NQTs and/or students are not confident with IT and software packages.
For the most part, the initial anxiety about moving online has been replaced by relief that it is manageable. Morale amongst NQTs is generally high but there is unease about the loss of contact with students. Several of our respondents pointed out that online teaching is not reflective of actual classroom teaching and so planning lessons is much different. Without the interaction with students it is difficult to identify how engaged the students are with the lesson.
Both mentors and NQTs feel that measures have been put into place to provide NQTs with additional support during the lockdown. In most schools, NQTs are still able to shadow and observe senior teachers and can access support for planning and teaching through weekly meetings with mentors and subject leaders.
At this early time in the year mentors have advised that NQTs are still progressing at the same rate they would have done in a typical year. They are still judged against the teachers’ standards and are successfully collecting evidence to ensure they are meeting those standards.
It remains to be seen what impact the third lockdown and move to online teaching will have on the current crop passing NQT year. So far so good, NQTs are planning, teaching daily online and contacting parents, all of which is being evidenced for meeting teachers’ standards.
Overall our respondents expressed that they are confident about passing NQT year and feel that their practice is developing well. Even the NQTs who contracted coronavirus and had to self-isolate felt that they had been supported by the school so as not to let the absence adversely affect their development. Hopefully we will be back to classroom teaching soon and online teaching for a few weeks can be seen as a bonus skillset NQTs learnt during their induction year!