Are we expecting too much, too soon from our ECTs?

It came as quite a shock a few days ago when I was putting together some material for a live stream to ECTs.

It wasn’t anything major but rather a realisation – the date was the 29th September and as part of my live stream I calculated the length of time that NQTs had been in school.

Even I was surprised – because let’s face it…when term starts everything seems to go into “hyperdrive” and we can lose track of time….its easily done despite all our diary efforts!

So here’s the figure I gave the NQTs – approximately 3 1/2 weeks…..even more shockingly let’s put that as days – about 17 or 18 days!

To me, that was a bit of shock…I had never really thought about it before in all the term melee …but when you look at that figure (especially the days!) it sort of hits you – well it hit me at least!

Just what are we expecting?

Now the purpose of this article is not to be critical – rather it is to ask you to just hit the pause button for a few seconds and step back and take a look at just what you should “realistically expect” your NQTs to be achieving at this stage in the 1st term and then to look at how you, as a school are supporting them in what they are trying to do.

Teaching is not an easy career and it’s a little like driving a car…you only really start to learn to do it when you have passed your test. No matter how well students are prepared at college and university it is still a huge change to become the teacher in charge of your own class with all the responsibilities of the pupils learning, the national curriculum and school expectations. Having previously worked “within” someone else’s classroom organisation and structuring when on teaching practice, it does not replicate the huge shift that occurs when it all actually lands personally at your own feet!


There are in place excellent guidelines for the newly qualified teachers first year – they are progressive and well monitored. Gradually guiding the completion process for qualification. However, as you know, they can only be broad based guides for schools, Local Authorities and Academies. These give a structure to the process that has then to be implemented in schools; and as every school situation is different so the interpretation of these guides will also be different.

The key role in this process

The key role in the whole process is that of mentor. This person should be chosen with care and selected for not only their skills in supporting the NQT in the processes of the guidelines but also in the specifics of the schools interpretation and expectations within the National Curriculum. They should have a friendly and approachable nature and the ability to guide and encourage the NQT through the whole gamut of situations that will occur.

The selection of this person to be a mentor is CRUCIAL for both the NQT and also for the school for they become the link between the school and NQT and must guide and support the NQT at all stages in their progression. It cannot be understated how important this role is, and the school MUST recognise how much the NQT must be able to trust and rely on this vital member of staff.

                              A poor choice here is damaging to all concerned – NQT, School and pupils.

So let’s cut to the chase….what should we expect?

Well let’s state the obvious here and say that schools should actually put some thought into having an NQT on their staff and I am sure that most do. So things like the choice of mentor and the selection of age range and even appropriate key stage may seem pretty straight forward, but in some cases don’t happen.

With the immediate and often seismic shock of beginning teaching in a school; doesn’t it make sense to try to make the transition and learning journey as smooth as possible. Added difficulties, which experienced teachers can take in their stride or work around cause enormous stress and anguish for NQTs who have no experience upon which to draw and at times no ideas as to how to deal with these problems.

Let me give you a few examples – all of which are easily solved but to be honest should never have occurred in the first place…

  • Poor choice of mentor…critical and intransigent.
  • Difficult class (always has been recognised in school as such)
  • Key stage given that NQT not trained for (changed with short notice)
  • Interactive white board inoperative!
  • Etc

What is the key thing we should be expecting at this stage in the 1st term / year?

Remember we are only 18 days into the 1st term for an NQT – let’s imagine that there are no additional difficulties similar to the above.

For me there are 2 key elements that I (as a HT) would be expecting the NQT to be mastering….notice I didn’t say mastered – I said mastering. In other words making good progress and I can see a noticeable difference in the class and children.

       The key elements are Classroom Management and Behaviour Management strategies

These are the foundation of everything we do in class – these strategies are the ones which actually allow teachers to create a teaching environment within which they can challenge, excite and develop the children’s love of learning and natural enquiry. Without these 2 elements being put in place then the particular member of staff will struggle and potentially fail to reach the educational and developmental goals for the class.

If I can see that this is happening and progressing well at this point in the term then I am happy….everything else is fixable!

Now I am not saying that nothing else should be happening! Far from it! But with these 2 features being put in place (and my recommendations to NQTs is that they are up, fully working and in place by 1/2 term) and the support and guidance of a good mentor then everything will gradually start to fall in place.

However there is a danger …

The nature of NQT mentoring should be that of support. In the early days of the term and of a colleagues career it is vital that all elements of support and guidance are carefully thought through and implemented. We must all recognise that the learning curve is almost vertical in every aspect of the job and as such the schools role in the development of a new colleague must reflect this understanding.

Here are a few points for your consideration for this “early phase.”

  • The role and bond between mentor and NQT is crucial…if this does not work then it should be changed
  • There is no need for additional input into any aspect except from the Mentor in the early phase
  •  Early lesson observations should be by Mentor only.
  • No involvement by SLT should be done…discussions if necessary should be between SLT and mentor.
  • The stress levels caused  formal observations by SLT are unwarranted and unnecessary.
  • There is NO need for any “official” input or judgements to be made at such an early stage….give the NQT a chance – how well would you have done in your current role after 8 days?
  • If you expect, demand or undermine what small confidence an NQT may have then you will find that it makes the situation worse and not better….support and build through the mentor and as confidence and organisation improves and grows so expectations from the school can slowly rise.

In my dealings with NQTs I am able to see first hand the difficulties and insecurities that they have. I have no doubt that there are many capable, in fact outstanding NQTs “straight out of the box” – but there are also many outstanding NQTs that need time to settle, find their feet and benefit from the guidance and help of a supportive mentor and school.

I started the article by asking you to hit the pause button – so I will finish with the same appeal.

Final qualification for an NQT takes 1 year – perhaps we should be looking at this from a whole year perspective and as such a developmental and supportive programme. There is a danger that we push too hard and too soon and this can quickly propel matters towards a failing scenario.

We all want our NQTs to become great teachers – it benefits the children, it benefits the school and of course it benefits the colleague concerned. Let’s recognise the role that your school plays in this and work positively towards that result.


2 thoughts on “Are we expecting too much, too soon from our ECTs?

  1. NQT experience

    What a fantastic article this is Charles. You should post it to all mentors and Head Teachers, just reminding them of their responsibility. I read this and related 100% to every point you make.

    I experienced what I know can only describe as a dreadful start to my nqt training.

    I graduated 5years ago with QTS. My first term was, in my opinion now in hindsight, totally mismanaged. Mismanaged so badly, I cannot begin to list all of the issues and wrongs that occurred.

    After it, I was convinced, I’d never go near teaching again. I lost all confidence, rather my confidence was repeatedly taken appart. It is just my opinion but schools who do make such a mess of their responsibilities aswell the trainee teachers in question MUST be held accountable. Each situation is unique but how can people be exposed and treated in such a way?
    In time I reflected and moved on, I always continued working with young children in schools…developing my skills and rebuilding confidence.

    As you quite correctly state, I had and still have the potential and desire to become a very good teacher and I will go and prove this in time. But I wouldn’t like anyone else to go through the nightmare I was exposed to.

    Mismatched mentors is no doubt common and NQTs should be empowered to speak out (and heard) if this is an issue they feel strongly about.

    1. Charles Watson Post author

      Hi Damian – Thank you for your comments. This is a problem in some schools and the ramifications for the NQTs concerned are hugely damaging. When I wrote this article I did post it across the leadership groups and I will be doing so again. Each year I do support quite a few NQTs who are in situation and will no doubt be doing the same, unfortunately again this year.
      Glad to hear you survived the ordeal – not all schools are the same and to be honest at whatever level you are in your teaching career, when you encounter a bad school its always best to “vote with your feet!”



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