How COVID-19 is changing teacher training

Nov 2020

An article by Martin Shevill, Senior Education Adviser, National Teacher Accreditation (NTA) and Leila MacTavish, Head of Ark Teacher Training.

For trainee and early careers teachers, COVID-19 had the potential to completely upend their budding career development and aspirations. Whilst it will take time to determine the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the retention of these teachers, initial indicators and anecdotal evidence give reasons for optimism.

For example, Ark put lots of thought into how to adapt what would normally be a face-to-face summer school in a way that would still give trainees a brilliant start in the classroom. That time is normally when trainees would stand up and teach as if they are in a class and then go through feedback. Children don’t have time for teachers to get it wrong – rehearsal builds muscle memory. It’s also a time when a cohort develops a real sense of community and friendship and builds their support network.

A decision was made to take it on screen, but never for longer than an hour at a time. Training days started with a morning session with the entire cohort of 164 trainee teachers and 231 early careers teachers (including, for the first time, some third-year teachers, who Ark will continue to include going forward as it is so important to make sure those teachers have the skills they need), which really brought a sense of the scale of the community. This was when Ark would deliver powerful mission messages and focus on didactic learning such as attainment gaps or safeguarding, with the chat function and polls for interactive engagement. This was followed by an asynchronous prep work session with information giving and any reading.

Afternoons featured live video sessions with a maximum of ten trainees taking turns practicing their teaching. While initially there was worry that it could feel like a mortifying experience for people, instead the intimacy of the format drove them to put a lot of practice into it ahead of time. Groups were the same all the way through, so they had time to get comfortable and friendly with each other.

Unexpectedly, this format made it easier for Ark to get to know the trainees better because of the ability to move from zoom room to room and have that intense conversation with people. Each of the trainees also had their name, school and subject on their profile, so it was easy to identify people. The ease of this process and the enthusiasm with which trainees threw themselves into it proved to be a revelation. It all worked, and trainee feedback was overwhelmingly complimentary, with many describing how positive and excited they were for this year.

Some aspects of training were more difficult to teach virtually, which has meant for 2020/21, Ark is being more deliberate in using schools to deliver parts of the curriculum. The curriculum has been clearly laid out in terms of what trainees should know and be able to do at which points, and in terms of what will be delivered centrally and what will be delivered in school. Schools use inset space for trainees and early careers teachers to really understand the expectations within their schools.

Ark partnered with Ambition Institute for the early rollout of the Early Careers Framework, which means NQTs have an additional safety net of resources and mentors, particularly if they need to undertake more independent learning due to further lockdowns. Ark also uses National Teacher Accreditation (NTA) as their appropriate body, as NTA’s specialist offer for school trusts means Ark is able to have consistency across their local authorities. In such a tumultuous time, Ark finds NTA’s focus on protecting and nurturing early career teachers is more important than ever.

Across the sector, NTA finds assessments of trainees more reflective than ever and talk positively about developing new approaches to teaching and being resourceful.  Tutors also commented on the contributions they’re making to whole-school online learning, as they have embraced this new normal – there is a chance younger, tech-savvy teachers may play a bigger role in delivery of professional development in the future.

There is very much a sense that teacher training will never fully return to the old normal. There is likely to be a more flipped approach, with learners doing prep work and then having follow-up lessons to discuss, answer questions and address misconceptions.

It is not an overstatement to describe the 2019/20 trainees as a completely unique cohort, dealing with disruption that no one else has faced in their training. Interestingly, this cohort may be developing much faster than they would have otherwise in one particularly important way: their understanding of pastoral issues and the whole child.

The first two years of teaching, for understandable reasons, are often heavily loaded with the technical aspects of the role, and then generally in the third and fourth years, there is more space to focus on pastoral care. The circumstances of COVID-19 instead meant there is space, and need, to think about other issues much more quickly.

People get into teaching because they want to make a difference and believe in the power of a good education. In the year that is 2020, developing teachers had a crash course that’s enabled them to have a truly visceral understanding of what it means to want the best for children and the impact that education can have on life chances. COVID-19 has laid bare socioeconomic disparities which have crystallised the difference it makes for a child when adults go the extra mile to close gaps. Trainees were able to have a deep-seated connection to the moral purpose of educators, bringing a real maturity to that cohort.

As COVID-19 has coincided with the Early Careers Framework’s greater emphasis on ongoing professional development, these new approaches, thinking and experiences will dovetail nicely with sessions teachers will have on planning, assessment, differentiation, questioning techniques and more.

This feels like a new kick start in professional learning for teachers.