What's it like being a mentor on the Early Career Framework?

Share this page

Date published 26 May 2022

Mentoring new teachers looks very different this year on the Early Career Framework. The reforms represent a big investment in the expertise of mentors to support early career teachers. Kings Heath Primary Academy, working with Ambition Institute and our delivery partner DRET Teaching School Hub, has embraced the new approach to mentoring - and they are already seeing the impact.

“I’ve been teaching for getting on thirty years. For me it was about thinking what I can bring as someone who has got all that experience to help those who are new to the career” says Vice Principal Maria Hawkes, “and mentoring is about giving back that experience I have.”

Maria is the induction coordinator at Kings Heath Primary Academy, and mentor for their new teachers taking part in Ambition Institute’s Early Career Teachers programme. She felt driven to take this role supporting new teachers because of how much the profession had changed during her career. She had seen first-hand how many competing challenges new teachers had to grapple with, and wanted to support them to make the best possible start.

Maria had a second reason for being passionate about mentoring: memories of her own, challenging first year of teaching.

“There wasn’t any structured programme, and nobody asking if I was okay or how it was going” she says, “there was nothing like that at all.” She felt on her own, thrown in at the deep end with just one afternoon of training that year. This made Maria determined to give the early career teachers at Kings Heath the best possible start to their career.

Kings Heath Primary Academy: School context

Kings Heath Primary Academy sits on the outskirts of Northampton. The school has been rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted, with above average writing and maths progress scores.

The Kings Heath area is in decile 1 on both the 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation and Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (meaning they’re in the 10% of neighbourhoods with the highest proportion of children in income deprivation).

Kings Heath Primary Academy is thriving despite these challenges and was recently one of the first schools to be named an IQM Centre of Excellence in the 2021 cohort.

The school describes closing the vocabulary gap as one of their priorities. This gap has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, and students require lots of extra support after such a disrupted start to school.

“We try and make the school as a safe haven for pupils to come to and thrive,” Maria says. She describes the school's caring culture in the face of these challenges as the thing they’re proudest of.

The school is passionate about delivering on the promise of a broad and balanced, academic education for all their pupils. Staff work hard to build pupils’ cultural capital with outdoor visits, trips to museums and overnight stays – ensuring they all have equal access to the widest possible range of experiences.

Maria is also proud of the way the school serves such a diverse community (with 38.5% of children speaking English as an additional language), offering a multi-faith prayer room and ambassadors while still making all the children feel “part of one family together”.

What’s the experience of mentoring under the framework like?

“You can have been teaching for a long time - I'm not in my first flush of youth - but I wanted to show that you can still be enthusiastic, you can still have that energy” Maria says. “Yes, you still have moments where you want to hide in the cupboard, it's not a Disney film, but I wanted to let teachers know that it is possible to maintain enthusiasm for developing as a teacher even when you’ve been teaching for a while.”

Whilst a senior leader, Maria is newer to a mentoring role, and she is finding early career teachers’ energy and openness to feedback infectious.

“That’s the thing you get with early career teachers; the enthusiasm and the ability to reflect.”

It’s not all just about seeing future potential though. Maria has seen real improvements in early career teachers practice on the programme already, with the investment of time in the programme leading to positive impact in the classroom.

Maria also feels that the role of mentor has developed her knowledge and expertise alongside that of her early career teachers, with mentoring meetings introducing her to new ideas from the research.

“I’ve had to retrain my brain slightly" she says, describing that “seeing the research and reflecting on it almost feels like having a new education myself!”

Last summer, government figures showed that only 85% of teachers who qualified in 2019 were still teaching one year later. To put this challenge into perspective, it means about one sixth of teachers leave after just one year of teaching – and this number has been growing since 2011. Maria believes the ECF reforms provide an opportunity to keep more of her new teachers in the classroom.

“That’s what I would say to anyone, don’t be frightened of having an ECT”, she explains. “It’s about saying we need to support and develop our teachers to keep them in the profession.”

“Maria, look! Look at the test results!”

How do instructional coaching and deliberate practice make improvement manageable on Early Career Teachers?

Instructional coaching is the best evidenced form of CPD for impact on student achievement – but it’s a brand new way of mentoring for many.

It took Maria and her mentees time to get used to the approach, but after preparing with the programme materials, they are finding it an effective structure to give their mentoring meetings a clear sense of direction.

“I like the fact that it is quite structured and you work on that one step,” Maria says, contrasting it with other approaches to mentoring where you feel like you’re ‘flitting around’. Previous coaching models used with NQTs sometimes felt less incisive, but the instructional coaching model means her teachers can focus their energies on one thing at a time.

Maria’s early career teachers are particularly benefitting from the small and specific action steps. As a mentor, she picks a single granular area of practice for each teacher to focus on each week, based on her short, targeted observations. She has worked hard to make this a supportive process - reminding teachers that sometimes they will be revisiting a concept or theory they already ‘know’ because she has spotted an opportunity for them to keep getting better.

Deliberate practice is at the heart of these instructional coaching mentoring meetings. It’s a highly scaffolded activity where teachers isolate, rehearse and improve the specific teaching practices they are working on.

Maria said that although teachers might find rehearsing their approach in coaching sessions daunting at first, at Kings Heath “it’s now working really well”. She thinks there’s an important role for the mentor in making deliberate practice feel supportive, but with her expert framing it is proving a powerful way for the school’s early career teachers to make rapid progress.

What impact are they seeing from their mentoring on Early Career Teachers so far?

“Maria, look! Look at the test results!”

Even before one excited early career teacher burst into her office, waving a piece of paper with his pupils’ latest results, Maria felt that early career teachers were experiencing success in the early stages of the programme. When she saw his renewed enthusiasm, as the small tweaks to his practice helped him solve real challenges in his classroom, it confirmed her belief in this granular approach.

She tells us this moment sticks in her memory as one example of the impact Early Career Teachers is having on classroom practice. The teacher had been frustrated:

“Pupils could do it all in the lesson - they were doing great in the lesson - but when it came to the test they were not getting it”.

Maria worked with the teacher on a specific action step around his use of positive language, which she identified in her observation as an area he could improve. He was sceptical that such small changes could make a difference for his pupils at first – but as he started to see the impact of these changes, week on week, his confidence grew hugely.

Maria is optimistic that it’s this kind of impact that will deliver on the ambition of the reforms and keep more and more early career teachers in the classroom.

While there have been huge numbers of teachers across the sector leaving in recent years, Maria told us that early career teachers this year “seem to be wanting to do it and wanting to stay in the profession”.

She puts this down to the extra support they can look forward to under the Early Career Framework. “They know that next year they’ll have support. A few of them have said ‘I’m really pleased we will have support next year as well’ and that’s one of the significant advantages of the framework.”


Maria’s top tips for mentors

Maria has distilled her learnings from the past year into five top tips for mentors:

1. Work with school leaders to protect mentoring in the timetable.

Maria’s most important piece of advice is to make sure mentoring meetings are in the timetable and the time is protected. She recommends working with school leaders to get them ‘set in stone’ so your early career teachers know they can rely on their full entitlement of support from their mentor.

2. Try and stick to a consistent routine for your mentoring meetings

It’s not always easy to stick to a new routine. Maria suggests setting a consistent day and time for weekly mentoring to help build the habit of meeting. This means conversations are less likely to get pushed back – or to become a fifteen minute conversation in the corridor (a danger anyone working in schools will recognise!)

3. Commit to the online platforms

“Steplab is like anything – you’re going to get proficient when regularly using it. That confidence grows as you keep practising.”

Maria and her teachers confidence when using Ambition’s online coaching and learning platform, Steplab has grown week on week. It’s now helping them flow smoothly through mentoring meetings.

4. Be systematic about the instructional coaching process....

Maria says its important mentors follow the instructional coaching process accurately for it to have the biggest impact on early career teachers. She says the process works best when you have your short, focused observation before meeting your teacher each week, so you can discuss specific steps in depth. In each meeting you can then demonstrate what the technique should look like, practice and feedback. This gives teachers the best chance of successfully embedding the changes - but Maria says you need to be “quite systematic” to make all this happen regularly.

5. But use your professional judgement to make it work for your teachers and context

Maria has built strong relationships with the teachers she mentors. She says it’s these personal connections and rapport that means she can help each teacher get the most out of mentoring and thrive on the programme.

“Some people will throw themselves into it, some people want to take a step back, but as a mentor you can adapt it and find that little, different way in for everyone”.

As a mentor or an induction coordinator, Maria thinks it’s important to draw on your experience, and take advantage of the programme’s flexibility, to make it work in your school. She believes this is why mentoring under the ECF is so powerful; because at their heart the reforms are about empowering mentors to do what they do best and recognising that they have the expertise to make the biggest difference for their early career teachers.

Ambition logo blue
Ambition Institute

Follow Ambition Institute

Early Career Teachers

Designed to help early career teachers develop the skills and knowledge required to be successful in their roles.

Find out more