EEF blog: Early Career Framework – three key insights for school leaders to help support their newest teachers

Retaining teachers in the early part of their careers is an ongoing challenge for the school system. According to the latest workforce data, around a fifth of teachers entering the profession in 2017 had left it within two years.

In 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) launched the Early Career Framework (ECF) as part of its Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. From September 2021, the government is funding an entitlement for all early career teachers in England to access high quality professional development at the start of their career. This programme intends to bring teaching in to line with other professions, guaranteeing ongoing development for early career teachers beyond their initial teacher training. 

Developed in consultation with schools, academics and experts, the ECF aims to support teaching quality by further developing the core knowledge and professional skills early career teachers need in five core areas of teaching practice: assessment, curriculum, behaviour management, pedagogy, and professional behaviours. The evidence underpinning the content of the ECF has been independently assessed and endorsed by the EEF.

The ECF represents an exciting opportunity to incorporate the best available research evidence into the support offered to the teaching profession and to develop mentoring and coaching practices in schools. The EEF is committed to evaluating the roll out of the ECF reforms and to providing schools with insights into effective approaches to delivery.

Insights from the ECF pilot

To this aim, the EEF funded a pilot study exploring the promise, feasibility and scalability of three ECF-based training programmes developed by Ambition Institute and the Chartered College of Teaching. Initially designed to run for a full year, from June 2019 to July 2020, it unfortunately had to be cut short as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The EEF has published the independent pilot evaluation conducted by the UCL Institute of Education, covering the findings from the initial set-up period until February 2020. It offers three key insights for school leaders to consider in preparation for the national roll out of the ECF.

1. Integrate ECF-based induction into existing school processes

The first message from the pilot evaluation is to carefully consider how training and support programmes underpinned by the ECF can replace schools’ existing statutory induction processes for early teacher development. Identifying key staff to review and streamline induction activities with the NQT development support offer will help to remove any duplication of processes. The pilot study identified school Induction Leads as key to ‘mediating the way that the pilot programmes met with existing school processes and systems, and in introducing the ECF itself.’

When introducing the ECF, those responsible for NQT development may consider three approaches. Schools can use the provider-led Full Induction Programmes or the DfE-accredited core induction materials which offers a sequenced programme of training and support for early career teachers and their mentors. Schools can also choose to develop their own training programmes using materials produced by providers or by drawing on the content of the ECF itself.

It is worthwhile taking time to understand the different programmes on offer and how they might fit with and extend existing good practice, whilst retaining elements that are already successful.

2. Allow time for mentors to fully engage

The second message is to ensure that mentors are able to fully engage in the induction and support programme. The pilot found that mentors played a key role in adapting ECF content by ‘link[ing] learning from the programme to the specific contexts and needs of new teachers.’ Mentors can draw on their teaching experience, knowledge of the school, pupils and community to bring the ECF content to life and provide support to mentees when it is needed most.

However, a feasibility challenge identified in the pilot was a lack of time; mentors found it very tricky to fit in the programme within their current workload. Where school leaders offered additional resources to support mentors to fully engage with the programme – such as ensuring timetables were coordinated to allow for meetings and observations, and time for mentors to prepare– all mentors, early career teachers, and Induction Leads reported greater evidence of promise.

Funding will be provided by the DfE to cover time off timetable for mentors to support their early career teachers in the second year of induction. There will be additional funding for schools using a provider-led programme for the time mentors of early career teachers will spend on the provider-led mentor training. This funded entitlement will be crucial in allowing mentors to fully commit to their essential role of contextualising the core content of the ECF and providing tailored support to NQTs as they develop.

3. Allow for NQT autonomy and self-directed study

The third message from the pilot is to support NQTs to take responsibility for their own learning within a broader culture of teacher professional development. The pilot found that programmes were considered most promising where NQTs had autonomy over their learning and were able ‘to draw on the expertise of mentors and other colleagues through genuine collaboration.’

Ahead of the national roll out, early career teachers can take advantage of the free online materials, or core induction materials, developed by four initial ECF providers and quality assured by the EEF. The resources have been made available one year ahead of the national roll out to provide NQTs (who may have experienced disruption to their initial teacher training courses) with an opportunity to engage in self-directed study.

Related reading:

  • Recently, the Department for Education published further guidance in preparation for the national roll out of the ECF reforms.