As you may have noted, I was reasonably upbeat about the revisions and opportunities for schools in the new framework. Although I am aware that there may be a lot of work for people to do to feel confident in meeting the criteria of the “Quality of Education” element. When it comes to ITE however, I am less encouraged. I have written about some of the struggles in ITE in the past (HERE and HERE). I know that Ofsted was never going to do much to reverse the tide of generic teacher training. However, there was one major area where I hoped a new framework might be of some use: improving the status of mentoring.
Naturally we all have our own hobby horses, but I think that mentoring is so much more important than it is ever given credit for. Well mentored trainees become part of professional communities which link schools and ITE providers through a focus on subject (or phase) expertise. This in turn influences the long term sustainability of curriculum and pedagogical knowledge in schools, and puts subject/phase expertise at the heart of what trainee (and later mainscale) teachers think about. I have no doubt that it also influences the likelihood that trainees will stay in the profession in the longer term (Lave and Wenger make a convincing case that teachers who feel they have professional freedoms are much more likely to have job satisfaction).
At the moment, ITE providers face a constant struggle to build and maintain a network of well qualified, interested and engaged mentors with specific subject (or phase) expertise. Indeed, this is one of criteria for which ITE providers are held accountable. Schools, however, are not. This leads to a tension between ITE providers who need mentor engagement, and schools who see this as an area low priority.
Most of the brilliant mentors I work with at Leeds Trinity do their mentoring role with no extra time or recompense. Mentors are often forced to balance their teaching and mentoring roles and constantly have to choose between conflicting priorities. Many are also denied the opportunity to attend meetings and training sessions as schools don't always have the funds (or will) to release them for a half day to attend. All of this means that it is very hard for ITE providers to ensure that schools and school mentors can act as partners in developing the subject and curriculum expertise of their trainees. In the worst cases, trainees in schools with overstretched mentors (some of whom are forced into the role to fulfil UPS3 demands), end up with a diet of generic advice, rather than a well developed programme of subject training. It is often in these environments that ideas such as VAK and Thinking Hats are perpetuated. This has the effect of reducing professionalism and I am sure has led to many leaving the profession.
My hope with the new handbook and framework was that Ofsted would seek to give the vital role of the ITE mentor more prominence. But, as far as I can see, the draft inspection handbook contains no reference at all to ITE mentoring (beyond the tiny numbers who complete salaried School Direct courses), and only refers to NQT mentoring in the most general terms.
So, what is my proposal? In an ideal world I would like to see mentoring (both ITE and NQT) given a much higher profile in school inspections. The following would be the kinds of things I would hope a revised inspection handbook / framework might ask inspectors to explore:
- Whether the school has a clear set of expectations for what an ITE mentor should be doing as part of their role.
- Whether ITE mentors are given appropriate time to carry out their roles.
- How the school works with their ITE provider(s) to promote the effective development of trainee teachers.
- The subject qualifications and expertise of ITE mentors to ensure that they are qualified to move trainees on in terms of their subject/phase specific understanding.
- Whether the ITE coordinator ensures that there is an appropriate balance of professional input and subject specific development happening within the school and in partnership with ITE providers.
- Whether the school enables ITE mentors to attend training in areas connected to the teaching of their subject and acting as a mentor.
- How ITE mentors engage with trainees and ask pertinent questions about the curricular and learning intentions of their lessons.
- How ITE mentors encourage trainees to engage deeply with subject knowledge and subject pedagogy, and how they draw on expertise from subject associations.
- How the impact of ITE mentors is monitored and how support is enabled for mentors struggling to fulfil their role.
- How the school encourages and sustains a stable group of ITE mentors within the school.
If Ofsted were to take the role of ITE mentoring (and indeed NQT mentoring) in schools seriously in the new framework then it might go at least some way towards a coherent solution to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. The chance is still there. Let's hope it is taken.