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The great supply crisis: Can the Early Career Framework appease early career teacher recruitment and retention challenges in England?

Written by: Tanya Ovenden-Hope
10 min read
Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope, Plymouth Marjon University, UK

Introduction

In July 2022, the initial teacher training (ITT) monthly statistics (DfE, 2022a) demonstrated that the recruitment of trainee teachers did not reach the government target, with the total application numbers lower than those of 2019 and the actual number of applicants achieving course places for September down by 15 per cent. The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) have very recently (November 2022) reported on the challenge for schools in England to recruit and retain enough teachers:

National data on the teacher labour market suggests that the supply of new trainees is insufficient to meet future demand, which implies that schools are likely to face challenges recruiting teachers, perhaps leading to staff shortages.

Worth and Faulkner-Ellis, 2022, p. 2

This challenge to attract graduates to teacher training affects the number of early career teachers (ECTs) entering the profession. Since entering a new phase of recruitment to teacher training in September 2022, the situation has become even worse, suggesting that we are in the midst of a teacher supply crisis. Primary trainee teacher applications are currently eight per cent lower and secondary 23 per cent lower than in 2019. The size of the problem is clearly articulated by Jack Worth:

It’s very hard to overstate how dreadfully bad these ITT application numbers are.

Worth, 2022

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy (DfE, 2019a) was launched by the Department for Education (DfE) in January 2019 and included an Early Career Framework (ECF) (DfE, 2019b), which became mandatory in primary and secondary maintained schools in England in September 2021. The government recognised the challenge in attracting and retaining teachers, particularly ECTs, and the issues being caused in school by poor teacher supply. The hope was that structured, statutory ECT professional development, with a clear framework and mentor support (the ECF), would improve both teacher recruitment and retention. Educationalists welcomed the ECF reform, as it offered sustained, funded professional development at the beginning of a teacher’s career in England (Ovenden-Hope, 2022a). However, ECT attrition currently stands at 12.5 per cent after one year of teaching and 23 per cent by year three of teaching (DfE, 2022b). The ECF therefore has a formidable and potentially impossible task in appeasing the great supply crisis that schools in England are experiencing.

Recruitment

The government in England has articulated what it believes that all new teachers should know, and be able to do, through the ECF (DfE, 2019b). It has five core areas identified as essential for ECT development: behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours. These five areas are framed within the eight Teachers’ Standards, but the DfE is clear that ‘the ECF is not, and should not be used, as an assessment framework’ (DfE, 2019b, p. 5) and that ECTs will only be assessed against the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2021a). Content is prescriptive, underpinned by evidence referenced in the ECF (DfE, 2019b), and aligns with the ‘golden thread’ of teacher development mapped by the DfE from the ITT Core Content Framework to the National Professional Qualifications (DfE, 2021b). 

The ECF provides ECTs with an additional 10 per cent off timetabled teaching in their first year and five per cent in their second year (all teachers also have 10 per cent preparation, planning and assessment time allocated) to engage in professional development and learning, including with their mentor. This recognition of the importance of professional development to an occupation is core to its professional status (Ovenden-Hope, 2021). The ECF provides funded, structured professional development, and to some degree offers official affirmation of the professional status of teaching. This change in the treatment of teachers has the potential to attract to teaching more graduates and career changers who are seeking a professional career. 

The ECF programmes are primarily delivered through six lead providers (a provider contracted by the DfE to deliver the statutory ECF, sometimes referred to as the training provider). Each lead provider has developed an ECF programme that meets the ECF core areas through two types of content that ECTs are required to learn: key evidence statements and practice statements. The ECF programmes content is largely prescriptive, as underpinned by evidence in the ECF (DfE, 2019b), but lead providers have attempted to contextualise their programmes to include elements that they believe should run through ECT professional development (See Ovenden-Hope, 2022c for more on this). The lead providers have connected to the 87 regional Teaching School Hubs (TSHs), which in turn have liaised with local delivery partners such as multi-academy trusts (MATs) and Teaching School Alliances. The TSH programme is also part of the government’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy (DfE, 2019a), and was designed to support the roll-out of the ECF (as well as delivering school-based initial teacher training) and provide DfE-‘approved’ professional development for schools. 

There are, however, two other approaches on offer from the DfE that schools and MATs can choose to support their ECTs and deliver the ECF:

  1. Schools can use ECF resources developed by four of the lead providers, available through the DfE to deliver the ECF themselves
  2. Schools can provide their own ECF programme developed fully in-house.

 

Using a lead provider for the ECF and using the DfE’s ECF resources are fully DfE-funded for schools; however, providing their own ECF programme and resources is not. It could be argued that the DfE has incentivised schools financially to choose an approach to ECT professional development that favours the ‘approved’ ECF provision.

The ECF has embedded mentoring as a key component for the successful delivery of the programme and development of ECTs. Mentors have come from the schools’ teaching workforce and the expectation is that they are trained in both mentoring and coaching, as well as in the content of the ECF. Mentor training is delivered by the lead provider, unless the school has chosen to use the ECF resources only or go it alone, in which case the training of mentors is by the school (with support available from the TSHs). The hope is that mentors are not line managers or induction tutors (the teacher that supports the assessed part of an ECT’s professional development), but are expert teachers that will support the ECT through regular mentoring sessions that align with the chosen ECF lead provider’s programme or school ECF programme. Mentors are funded by the DfE to undertake this role, demonstrating the commitment of the government to ECT development. This investment in ECT development by the government should be contributing to making teaching a more attractive career, and in turn support teacher recruitment. Unfortunately, the current data for teacher trainee applications identified above suggests that this is not the case. 

The ECF is part of the most significant reform to take place in teaching in England, but was rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were already struggling with the changes required to keep learning happening and the additional workloads associated with this. The pace of the national roll-out was also significant, with mandatory ECT development being required in schools before full mentor training had taken place, and with little time for schools to plan and prepare. These capacity issues in teaching will all have impacted on the perceptions of those considering teaching as a career and on subsequent recruitment to both teacher training programmes and teaching once trained. 

Retention

Retaining ECTs has been an ongoing challenge, with current retention data demonstrating that the problem is not going away. The DfE school’s workforce data in 2021 reported that 12.5 per cent of teachers had left the profession after only one year in 2021, 23 per cent within three years and 31.2 per cent within five (DfE, 2022b). In 2015, I developed an Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) intervention called ‘RETAIN’, aimed at mitigating the high levels of ECT attrition in socio-economically deprived coastal and rural primary schools (Ovenden-Hope et al., 2020). RETAIN showed promise for improving ECT retention by improving ECT self-efficacy and confidence to remain in teaching (EEF, 2018). The DfE was interested in the findings from RETAIN, in particular the evidence-informed approach to the course content and ECT development, and the coaching and mentoring embedded in the programme. RETAIN was used to inform DfE’s early thinking about ECT professional development (Iglehart, 2022). RETAIN was developed from 2015 as a pilot, with the potential to mitigate high levels of ECT attrition, and can therefore be used to demonstrate the long-term challenge for schools in England of ECT retention – a challenge that contributes to the current great supply crisis. 

The research exploring factors that cause ECT attrition reports a complex picture and suggests that, regardless of the quality of support and training provided by the ECF, ECTs are likely to continue leaving in numbers high enough to negatively affect supply. The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) found that the main reasons for teacher and school leader dissatisfaction were the high workload, pupil behaviour, budget cuts, pay and accountability (NASUWT, 2019). However, there is also contradictory evidence that ECTs are ‘not primarily motivated to leave the profession by the prospect of increased pay’ (Worth et al., 2018, p. 5). It has also been argued that ECTs primarily go into the profession to make a difference, and leave when teaching does not meet this expectation (Menzies, 2019). Overall, this suggests that with the range of reasons for ECTs leaving teaching, there is a clear issue that needs addressing, which is supporting new teachers in coping with the unexpected demands of teaching. In an ideal teaching world, one without COVID, poor pay and increasing accountability, the ECF could make this ECT support possible. The mentoring of ECTs that underpins the ECF should allow mentors to provide clear guidance and strategies to ECTs in how to manage being a teacher in an increasingly demanding environment. The challenge in achieving this mentoring need is in the time given to mentors for their role, the training that they receive to do the role and the capacity that they have for support beyond the structure of the ECF programme content. However, without mentors being able to support the wider wellbeing of the ECT, the great supply crisis will continue. 

At the time of writing, the ECF has been in schools for just over a year. School leaders, ECF mentors and ECTs have reported their initial experiences of the ECF via education media, such as in the Times Education Supplement, Schools Week and Twitter, with mixed feelings about its efficacy as a supportive framework for professional development. Very little can be reported on the relationship between the ECF and ECT retention, as DfE school workforce data for the first year of the ECF will not be available until June 2023. However, clear messages have emerged from the experiences and expertise of lead providers, school leaders and academics, which I shared in my edited book on the ECF (Ovenden-Hope, 2022c), and what follows can all be understood to impact on the quality of the ECF and thereby the potential to retain ECTs:

  • School context matters in CPD and the ECF programme content and delivery should be adapted to align with this
  • Prior learning and knowledge of both ECTs and mentors matter, and the ECF programme content should be flexibly delivered to support this
  • Workload is important, and the ECF programme should not add to this for ECTs or mentors in any way that is not supported by the time allocated by the school via DfE funding
  • National reform to existing school practices takes time; schools need to be able to plan for CPD against their priorities and put timetables in place to support new roles
  • Schools that choose to design and deliver their own ECF programme should have access to funding for training of ECTs and mentors and free appropriate body services (Ovenden-Hope, 2022b, pp. 297–298).

 

For the ECF to improve ECT retention, all ECF programmes need to be relevant to the ECT and contextualised to the ECT experience, subject and school, and all schools need to be able to participate with full funding (regardless of the way in which they choose to deliver the ECF in their school). Statutory requirements to deliver the ECF only apply if schools actually have an ECT. For schools already working at full capacity, challenged by the rising costs of running a school with no additional funding on the horizon, the additional demands on resources by the ECF can be avoided by not having an ECT. If schools avoid having ECTs, the crisis in teacher supply will become ever greater still. 

Effective professional development in the first years of teaching can provide teachers with the self-efficacy needed to stay in the profession (Ovenden-Hope et al., 2020). With teacher shortages reported across the globe and up to one-third of teachers in England leaving the profession by their fifth year in teaching, the ECF requires further development to fulfil its role in ECT recruitment and retention. However, whether the DfE can realise this development remains to be seen. Until then, the great teacher supply crisis will continue. 

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.

Garcia and Weiss, 2019, p. 1

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