Having trained and mentored NQTs for two decades, I am reflecting on the specific challenges they face this year.
Recently, I updated a guide for early career teachers by the National Association for Able Children in Education(NACE), an independent charity which supports school leaders and practitioners to develop high-quality provision for more able learners, driving whole-school improvement and raising achievement for all. I considered how NQTs in particular will be dealing with less preparation than usual as they start their careers. Even in normal times, training on the teaching of more able learners can be marginalised on some teacher training programmes, and as the Early Career Framework does not specifically refer to the more able, this group is at risk of being overlooked.
In discussing this with experienced colleagues, there is a feeling generally of teaching being focused on ensuring pupils meet the expected standard, with priority given to pupils close to the expected line – 97s must become 100s. There is less focus on the needs of those already at 114. Indeed, there is a common misconception that the more able do not need as much support, or that they shouldn’t be prioritised.
Identifying gaps in training and experience
Going into this year, NQTs will, to an extent, have had a training and experience deficit – although I do not believe this is insurmountable. The summer term would usually have seen many trainees having taught the full curriculum, including more foundation subjects. The chances are that this time around they didn’t. An NQT trainer commented to me that when her cohort rated themselves against the teaching standards, the gaps were in assessment and foundation subject knowledge. A lack of subject knowledge is problematic when it comes to extending pupils, particularly for more able pupils where a knowledge of the next stage in the curriculum is vital.
With this in mind, I am designing a three-session twilight course to help NQTs understand why more able provision is important and to guide them on planning and provision.
Training needs to cover all areas, including how to challenge all pupils. NQTs may have less contact with other experienced colleagues because of COVID restrictions and there may be problems with observing colleagues and visiting other schools this year to see high-quality provision. Quality training is therefore crucial but must be complemented by on-going school support.
Key steps school leaders can take to support NQTs to identify more able learners and provide effective teaching include:
- Ensure guidance for identification is provided by experienced colleagues including the NQT mentor and more able leader
- Provide NQTs with models for challenge on a daily basis – are the students thinking and using their abilities to the full?
- Model how NQTs can make use of pupil voice to adapt teaching to student interests beyond the basic curriculum. Let them use their, ‘top notch brain’.