Mehreen Ali shares how she supports schools on the Early Career Framework, and her tips for participating on the programme.
“I understand the challenges that schools are facing, so I am passionate about keeping teachers in their jobs and making sure they’re happy.”
Mehreen Ali is Early Career Teacher Programme Lead at Exceed Teaching School Hub. Starting her journey as a primary school teacher, Mehreen moved into senior leadership before realising that her passion lay in supporting early career teachers.
Evidence based development
Mehreen says that the first two years of a teacher’s career is “make or break” and can define whether a teacher remains in their role. This is why successfully supporting a teacher’s induction into the classroom is vital.
In 2021, the Early Career Framework was rolled out nationally with the aim of supporting the recruitment and retention of teachers early in their career. Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme is underpinned by the framework and sets out everything teachers need to know and do at the beginning of their careers to thrive in the classroom.
When Mehreen started out as a teacher, the Early Career Framework had yet to be established. Instead of a structured programme of development, she entered the classroom without the support of a mentor, or of instructional coaching. She says, “I feel like I was in some ways left to figure it out by myself.”
"It is the teacher development I wish I had when I was an early career teacher."
It was the difference she saw the Early Career Framework make in her school which inspired her to become Early Career Teacher Lead. As a Lead, Mehreen works with her team in schools across Exceed Teaching School Hub, based at Exceed Academies Trust, and has seen the impact of the programme on schools and teachers.
“It’s all evidence based. We’re not asking our teachers to do anything that isn’t helping their development as teachers. It is the teacher development I wish I had when I was an early career teacher.”
Key to the success of the programme, Mehreen says, is its recognition that teachers are in the early stages of their career and have a lot to take on. Learning is accessed in small amounts. Each term, early career teachers focus on a different strand of effective practice: behaviour, instruction and subject. Early career teachers in their first year access one module per week and receive weekly coaching with their mentors. Second year early career teachers do fortnightly self-study and coaching with their mentors.
“We very much make sure that our early career teachers don't feel overloaded by this. I like how Ambition avoids cognitive overload – things are really broken down.”
Support for schools
If successfully implemented, the Early Career Teachers programme can have a great impact on teachers’ development early in their career, Mehreen says. But how are schools supported to deliver the programme effectively to their early career teachers and mentors?
As Early Career Teachers lead, Mehreen is an important link between schools, and Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme. She is key in ensuring that schools feel confident in their delivery of the programme, and that induction leads, Visiting Fellows, early career teachers and their mentors are supported throughout the process.
Exceed Teaching School Hub is one of a number of partners delivering Ambition’s Early Career Teachers programme. Schools accessing the programme through Exceed Teaching School Hub will work with Mehreen and her team to register their early career teachers onto the programme and the teacher learning platform, Steplab.
Mehreen then supports induction leads within schools to deliver the programme. An induction lead is a member of school staff responsible for overseeing and coordinating coaching and learning on the Early Career Teachers programme. “A lot of my role is to make sure that our induction leads understand the mentoring process and can effectively support this,” Mehreen says.
Mehreen also recruits, supports and quality assures the Visiting Fellows who facilitate additional in-person and online development for early career teachers to ensure they get contextualised learning. “Visiting Fellows bring the programme to life and make the delivery so bespoke and beneficial for our early career teachers”, Mehreen says. As well as delivering some of the sessions herself as a Visiting Fellow, another aspect of her role is “making sure all our conferences and clinics are delivered to a high standard, that we’re making the best use of Ambition’s resources and that we’re continually improving our programme”.
But the support doesn’t end at induction. “If there was an early career teacher struggling with their learning, or didn’t understand how to do the coaching process with their mentor, we are there to help.”
“We are in constant communication with our schools about events, about engagement with the self-study modules and coaching, and about expectations. In terms of how often I speak to schools? It’s every single day.”
Advice for participating on the Early Career Teachers programme
So, what advice does Mehreen have for schools, mentors and teachers starting on the programme?
Advice for schools
Mehreen says that buy-in is important for any school implementing the Early Career Teachers programme. “It is really important for induction leads, early career teachers and mentors to take some time to understand the programme, why it's there, the evidence base behind it and what it involves.”
By understanding the reasoning behind the framework, she adds, schools are more likely to gain from the process. “We're all there for the same goal, which is ultimately to help the development of our early career teachers. And, if we’re all there for the same goal, then we’re more likely to progress.”
Advice for mentors
A supportive mentoring relationship can make all the difference, Mehreen says. “Where we see that relationship between a mentor and ECT working well in schools, it is incredible how the early career teachers just fly and the things that they manage to achieve and how good it makes the mentors feel too. So mentors should use the protected time they have with their early career teachers as an opportunity to build a strong relationship.”
Mentors should have confidence in their abilities too. “Our mentors are all expert teachers, and I think sometimes they're a bit modest in that. They need to recognise that they are the experts and they're fabulous and their support is so greatly appreciated.”
Advice for early career teachers
For early career teachers, Mehreen says that planning their time with mentors is vital to get the most from the programme. “They are the expert teachers and they have been where you are, so they understand the challenges of being in your first two years of teaching.”
As part of the programme, early career teachers are entitled to 60 minutes of protected time with their mentor a week. In these weekly sessions, early career teachers and mentors share feedback and model different ways of improving classroom practice.
“Forming these weekly habits is important. There's so much support that's available through your self-study modules and through your coaching on Steplab. Asking for help is important. And that is why you have a mentor and that is why you have an ECT lead. You can contact us on Steplab, via email, or at clinics and conferences if you ever need reassurance.”
“The whole point of this is to make sure that you feel supported and that you don't feel like you're alone in the first two years of your teaching. I feel like the Early Career Teachers programme, if done right, does that.”
Go further. Learn more about the support available as part of the Early Career Teachers programme on our programme page here.