In a time of local lockdowns and everchanging local circumstances, we do not and could not have a definitive answer as to what teacher training will look like in 2020-21 – but what we can say is that while Initial Teacher Training (ITT) will vary across the country, providers are working really hard to ensure that trainees have a fantastic experience, whatever that involves.
Providers are aiming to get trainees into school wherever possible but all have contingency plans in place in the event of further lockdowns, including for wholly distanced learning should that be necessary, as well as offering online professional development from the word go.
Even if trainees cannot get into school straight away, or their school placements are interrupted, there will be a high-quality training programme available to them with directed activities and time for reading, research and online learning.
We know there is going to be variety in terms of whether training days are face-to-face or distance learning – and this will again depend on local context such as the number of trainees in a cohort and the relative size of training rooms.
Some have access to large rooms where socially distancing is entirely possible so these providers are able to bring trainees in, others are planning remote training sessions for the first half-term, but there are two possible practical changes around the ITT year to be aware of.
The first change is that many programmes are being developed to give trainees more explicit experience of how to manage online learning for pupils. This can only be a positive thing.
It has been on the periphery of training for a long time now – ‘flipped learning’ has been a phrase which has been talked about for a while – and now it is central to programmes of ITT rather than seen as an afterthought.
Not only are we teaching professionals online, we are also educating them to teach their pupils in this way, and these are skills that will be entirely beneficial in our ‘new’ or future world.
The second possible change relates to schools, and some providers may change the way they are offering their placements.
It might be that trainees are attached to one school for the duration of their programme with the potential option of an alternative placement at the very end of the academic year (should circumstances allow) rather than the more typical alternative placements earlier in the year.
Trainees might also find they are attached to a particular year group or bubble so they fit with the staffing structure of the school they are placed in.
Part of NASBTT’s focus is in supporting ITT providers to develop flexible programmes which suit their particular context; for example, through paired/ rolling/shared placements or by front-loading distance learning programmes and delaying placements until later in the year.
I have seen trainees given the opportunity to ‘team teach’ on placements, going into the same class together or teaching separate classes using a lesson plan and resources they have created together.
This is not the only solution but is one which allows trainees to share ideas, workload and resources whilst building a strong cohort community.
It is important to remember that while all programmes will not look and feel the same, there will be equity of provision giving trainees all the knowledge, skills and resources they need to meet the Teachers’ Standards and be ready and raring to teach in their NQT year.
Arguably this cohort could be better prepared than any other year, given they will be teaching and learning in a variety of different ways. They will likely experience both receiving and facilitating online learning, as well as more traditional face-to-face teaching, so they should be prepared for anything.
The 2020-21 cohort will also be the first to benefit from national roll-out of the Early Career Framework (ECF), and the entitlement to two years of professional development that this brings.
There are four providers currently piloting the ECF in the early roll-out phase, but the expectation is that this will consist of a blend of online and face-to-face professional development.
The mentors that trainees work with in school will have a concurrent professional development programme to develop the skills and knowledge they need to support early-career teachers through the framework.
As we embark on the new school year, everybody going into school feels like a novice (even the most experienced teacher) because they are walking into a situation they have never experienced before.
So those going into school for the first time as a trainee teacher, or as an NQT, can take comfort from the fact that, strangely, they are on a par with everyone else in a way that has never happened in the past.
However, the advice we have given the Department for Education centres on how the ECF can help NQTs who have had interrupted training years to identify where they need additional support.
In particular, we have advised that attention should be paid to the management of trauma, bereavement and other consequences of the global pandemic that staff are going to need to respond to as children return to school.
These ‘new’ areas should be woven into the ECF so trainees have access to training and resources at the right time over the early years of their careers.
Finally, trainees should recognise that, despite the common rhetoric, not every child they are teaching this year will come back with a gap in their learning, and in fact the opposite may be true.
There will be pupils who have made great strides with their learning in lockdown. For some children home learning, and the ability to learn at their own pace, at a distance and without the pressure that a school environment can sometimes bring for some children, has been a fantastic opportunity.
It will really depend on local context for each child, the resources they have had access to, and the level of support they may have had at home. We should not just assume a deficit model but, as teachers always do, we should start from where the children are and move forward from there.
Individual schools and individual teachers know their pupils best – this is what we do – and trainees can be a trusted and valued resource in taking them forward in their learning.
What will happen with training?
- ITT will vary considerably in 2020-21 but providers are working really hard to ensure that trainees have a fantastic experience.
- Trainees will go into school wherever possible but there will always be a high-quality training programme available to them.
- Many programmes are being developed to give trainees more explicit experience of how to manage online learning for pupils.
- Some providers may also change the way they are offering their placements.
- There will be equity of provision giving trainees all the knowledge, skills and resources they need to meet the Teachers’ Standards and be ready for their NQT year.
- Arguably this cohort could be better prepared than any other year, given they will be teaching and learning in a variety of different ways.
- The 2020-21 cohort will also be the first to benefit from national roll-out of the ECF.
- The management of trauma, bereavement and other consequences of the global pandemic should be woven into the ECF.
Emma Hollis is Executive Director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT).