Andrew Warren is the director of the Britannia Teaching School Alliance (BTSA), an alliance which works with over 100 schools with a brief to support schools and find the next generation of outstanding teachers and leaders. Previously he was a headteacher for 17 years. He also sits on the Teaching School Council as the regional representative for the West Midlands.
I was late for my first day of work as a teacher! Half an hour late. I didn’t mean to be, in fact I had planned the exact opposite, setting off very early with the aim of arriving at school just after 7.30am, which back in 1985 was very early indeed! However, my best laid plans were shattered by an accident on the A3, near to Richmond Park in West London.
As I sat helplessly in the traffic jam I went through every emotion from slight annoyance, through irritation, worry, anger, panic to total resignation. Mobile phones were a distant accessory for the future, and so there was no way of contacting the school to let them know where I was. There was nothing I could do. For all they knew, I might have decided just not to turn up. My career was in tatters already, and I hadn’t even started.
When I finally arrived at the school there was a solitary line of children standing in the playground with their parents and a very worried looking headteacher. I remember running across the playground and saying, “Hello, my name is Mr Warren and I’m your new teacher. I’m sorry that I’m late but there was an accident on the A3.” And that was that. My teaching career had started.
I loved my first job at St Stephen’s East Twickenham, Richmond-upon-Thames. The teachers were supportive, the children amenable and the parents, whilst occasionally ‘pushy’, were only interested in making sure that I shared their high expectations for their children. The headteacher, Paul Briten, understood that despite my huge energy and confidence (often misplaced!) I was an apprentice and I needed time to learn my trade. He clearly saw my potential but he didn’t rush it. He allowed me to grow and develop, to experiment and trip up, to get back on my feet and try again. He was quick to encourage and willing to challenge. He never laughed at me, even when towards the end of the summer term of that first year I went into his office and said, “Paul, what do I have to do to be a leader?” His response mirrored the wise leader that he was, “Andrew, pass your probationary year first!” I owe him a lot, certainly as much as the very best teachers I had when I was a pupil at school.
But that was 1985, 30 years ago, and how times have changed. As a teaching school in Stoke-on-Trent, Britannia Teaching School Alliance (BTSA) supports over 100 NQTs (Needing Quality Training?). This part of our work complements our School Direct programme, and together these two aspects form some of our most important work. After all, we are working with the next generation of good and outstanding leaders, those to whom we older teachers will pass on the baton as we step aside. And yet, despite loving the work that we do with this dynamic and well trained force, I find myself feeling uneasy.
Anecdotally, things are not right. When I spoke to our NQTs (Never Quite Trusted?) last September I told them that there has never been a more exciting time to become a teacher. And I believe this. But it is also true that there has never been a more challenging time to enter this noble profession. The pressure on our newest recruits is immense and this is particularly evident during what I call “wobble week”.
“Wobble week”, or the week before the October half term, has for the past two years been the time when we get anxious calls from headteachers about their NQTs (Not Quite There?). In 2013, BTSA received many calls from local headteachers who were telling us that their NQTs (Needing Quick Therapy?) were struggling. Six of those headteachers wanted to “get rid” of their NQTs before Christmas. This was bad enough, but the more striking fact was that of those six, four had been judged as “outstanding” by a local, well-respected university. Imagine that. “Outstanding” in July; “Inadequate” in October! A similar pattern emerged in October 2014, though in slightly larger numbers.
What’s to be done? There is clearly a problem here. As the recession recedes, it is likely to be harder to recruit top graduates into teaching, and so those who do enter teaching need to be retained. Training is not cheap and we need to look after this investment even better when the potential supply chain is under threat.
Schools should take the opportunity to employ NQTs regardless of whether an Ofsted inspection is looming on the near horizon. Headteachers should look to the future, assessing these NQTs (Never Quit, Thrive?) against the teacher standards and not the Ofsted criteria, at least not for the first two terms. Inspectors should not observe and report the teaching of NQTs (Not Quite There) in the same way as they would other teachers. And herein may lie the solution. If the judgement about NQTs was reported under the Leadership section of the Ofsted report, and not Teaching and Learning, then the onus would be on school leaders to nurture and develop. Better this than worry about whether the progress in the Year 4 books of an NQT (Now Quaking Terribly?) matches that found in the books of the experienced teacher’s class next door. There is nothing particularly new in what I am proposing but the idea is yet to become policy. In the meantime our NQTs (No Quitting Tolerated?) are under the cosh, and this at a time when they are dealing with the usual pressures of establishing their careers in new schools.
Of course most school leaders have established good procedures for developing their NQTs and they go on to become the next generation of good and outstanding middle and senior leaders. However, an alarmingly high number of them are leaving teaching and this should concern us. Noble Quest Teaching, or Not Quite Trusted? Either way, they need our support and encouragement because it is tough out there, and if we do not support them we could find that they are Now Quaffing Tequila!
Andrew is endebted to his friend Rob Knight for spending a “Happy Hour” pondering what NQT could stand for!