What have we learned from ECF and what next?
Last September, the Early Career Framework (ECF) was implemented at national scale to provide support for every new teacher in England’s schools. ECF is an important and ambitious reform to teachers’ development and Ambition Institute has been a lead provider for the programme, so far delivering training and support to around 19,000 new teachers and their mentors.
Ambition Institute’s Executive Director of Programmes, Tom Rees, reflects on what’s going well, what we’ve learnt and what next.
We’re nearing the end of the first year of the full national roll-out of the ECF, and what a year it’s been. It’s to the credit of school leaders, teachers and policymakers that the ECF has been mobilised so successfully this year, particularly given the additional pressures that Covid has continued to place on schools.
With each week and term that passes, more people are finding their feet with the ECF. Participation is high, participant feedback is positive and there’s much to be positive about, considering it’s only Year 1. As I wrote earlier in the year, any implementation of this scale and ambition requires us to learn and adapt along the way.
As we plan for Year 2, we think it’s important for us to share some of the successes of this year, along with areas we’re looking to adapt or invest further in. We want to share those lessons with the sector.
Reminder: what is the ECF?
The ECF is a significant reform to teacher development and induction. It aims to provide more consistent and high-quality training and support for early career teachers. It’s a structured programme for new teachers, which schools must provide by law.
I see this investment in early career teachers as part of a broader shift in the profession, away from more judgemental, high-stakes processes like graded lesson observations or scrutiny of marking, and towards more supportive developmental practices such as coaching and mentoring. This is an important shift if we are to reverse the current trend, where a third of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of service.
Evidence points to high-quality professional development as a way of improving retention, especially amongst teachers early in their careers. By creating an opportunity for every new teacher to access better and more consistent professional development and mentoring in those crucial first few years, the ECF can help schools to give them the support they need to build a successful career and have impact in the classroom.
The ECF allows for a two-year training programme, support from a dedicated mentor, time off timetable for induction activities, including training and mentor sessions, regular progress reviews and a formal assessment.
Ambition’s programme, called Early Career Teachers, is split into two parts:
- Knowledge building through independent study and conferences, where new teachers can learn key principles that sit at the heart of teachers’ practice
- Weekly coaching using an instructional coaching model where mentors work with teachers to identify and demonstrate bite-size action steps to help them improve
"Those of you who have worked closely with colleagues at Ambition will know how seriously our teams take collecting and learning from feedback."
Feedback so far
As we’ve gone through the year, we’ve been able to draw on two large data sets to help us understand more about how implementation is playing out on the ground. The DfE commissioned an independent survey by IES which had over 14,000 participants nationally and we’ve been able to analyse samples of participant survey responses and data analysis from our learning management system (Steplab) from over 15,000 active participants. Our implementation has also been subject to scrutiny from Ofsted who carried out a monitoring visit of our provision in May - more about this soon when the summary letter is published.
Overall, feedback is positive from early career teachers and their mentors. Many teachers are beginning to feel the impact of a rich, carefully sequenced curriculum combined with weekly, incremental coaching. There are clearly time pressures facing schools but overall, mentors on the Ambition programme are still finding time for regular mentoring.
9 out of 10 early career teachers say they’ve got strong mentor relationships and that mentors are helping them do their jobs well.
Data from the DfE’s independent IES survey shows that 96% of new teachers rate their mentoring as good or better than good.
9 out of 10 Early Career Teachers are now receiving regular cycles of instructional coaching, with over 100,000 action steps set and high success rates achieved.
8 out of 10 participants rate the programme as good or very good.
Listening and learning from feedback
Those of you who have worked closely with colleagues at Ambition will know how seriously our teams take collecting and learning from feedback. As a result, there are many adjustments that we’ve been able to make as we’ve worked through this first year to improve the experience for teachers on the programme. There are also areas that we will need to keep revisiting in the future delivery of ECF.
Workload and time are key issues for schools and we know that 7 in 10 mentors have a leadership role or additional responsibilities in school and that 1 in 5 work part time. This means there is an obvious challenge for mentors to balance their workload.
Despite this, 7 out of 10 Ambition mentors have told us that they are satisfied with the time they have to engage with the programme.
This is reassuring, but we obviously want that number to be even higher, particularly given the strong evidence base that supports a focus on mentoring for early career teachers.
It’s never easy to redirect time towards new initiatives in schools but we have been able to learn from trusts and schools who are successfully addressing this challenge by removing unnecessary administrative burdens for mentors and creating time and space to implement regular instructional coaching. In some cases this has involved removing demands on marking, more judgemental or ‘performance management’ style lesson observations or ‘book looks’.
"Many teachers are beginning to feel the impact of a rich, carefully sequenced curriculum combined with weekly, incremental coaching."
Flexibility is another important theme for schools and mentors. For some, this is about the flexibility to access training at different times or locations. For others, it’s about understanding where the programme can be adapted around a teacher’s context or preference.
To help understand the challenge of flexibility, we draw on Dylan Wiliam’s thinking within his ‘Tight but Loose’ framework which focuses on this tension in any scaleable school reform.
Wiliam writes: ‘The Tight but Loose framework focuses on the tension between two opposing factors inherent in any scalable school reform. On the one hand, a reform will have limited effectiveness and no sustainability if it is not flexible enough to take advantage of local opportunities, while accommodating certain unmovable local constraints. On the other hand, a reform needs to maintain fidelity to its core principles, or theory of action, if there is to be any hope of achieving its desired outcomes. The Tight but Loose formulation combines adherence to central design principles (the “tight” part) with accommodations to the needs, resources, constraints, and particularities of any school or district.’
This principle of ‘tight but loose’ is important when thinking about which are the areas of the ECF programme where we should allow and encourage more local decision-making, and which areas we need to make sure are implemented with fidelity to create the best chance of impact. As you would expect, we’re thinking hard about this at Ambition.
Ahead of September, we’re making a few changes. For example, ECT self-study content will be available to all participants so they can access it on demand if they want to, rather than it being released week-by-week. Moving forward, mentors will have more freedom and flexibility when setting actions steps as part of the instructional coaching process on Steplab.
We’ve also been considering the extent to which the ECF curriculum should be tailored to subject and phase. As a result of this, we’re investing in further training for mentors to support them to adapt the programme around their specific context, including early years and specialist provision. We are developing some more exemplification material in specific subjects and specialist areas and are also piloting some subject cohorts with delivery partners next year, in science and maths.
We’re also continuing to develop our technology platforms to ensure that online learning is user-friendly and easy to navigate, and we’re streamlining our processes to reduce administrative burdens.
There’s more to say here, which I’ll leave to my colleagues in future blogs.
The big picture
The ECF is an ambitious undertaking for the sector and there are many things we should celebrate from this first year of implementation. Given all the challenges that schools have faced over the last 12 months, teachers have found the time to engage in training and regular mentoring which is being well received by early career teachers.
There is a range of rich feedback for us to learn from, and at Ambition, we’ve already made several changes in response to feedback from our partners, and we’ll continue to listen carefully and be responsive as we move into year two.
Most importantly, we are excited by the impact that we are starting to see on early career teachers in our partner schools and trusts.
The ECF is a huge opportunity to invest in teacher professional development and we’re proud to be working with so many great schools and partners who are working so hard to make it a success.
About our ECT programmeClick here