Better than before doesn’t mean the ECF is good enough

The ECF may be built on sound pedagogical foundations but trainees need to enjoy and value the experience too, writes Becky Allen

The ECF may be built on sound pedagogical foundations but trainees need to enjoy and value the experience too, writes Becky Allen

27 May 2023, 5:00

The Early Career Framework (ECF) was introduced with the intention of addressing the pressing needs of new teachers: lower workloads and enhanced training opportunities over a longer induction period. However, recent survey responses collected by Teacher Tapp from early career teachers and their mentors have revealed concerns that warrant attention.

These professionals expressed reservations about increased workloads and the redundancy of materials provided by external providers which often overlapped with topics covered during their initial teacher training. In addition, secondary teachers specifically called for subject-specific learning materials. Notably, these concerns align with a report on professional development published by Ofsted earlier this month.

Acknowledging these concerns poses a challenge for those involved in the ECF’s implementation. While it is widely recognised that the framework is not flawless, some argue against vocalising complaints, asserting that the framework is an improvement over the previous provision and that we risk losing it.

Inching closer to an ideal solution is undoubtedly preferable to having no improvements at all. However, while this argument is logical to those who make comparisons with the past, new teachers know nothing of the old arrangements. They simply evaluate the present demands placed upon them based on their own experiences, considering whether these demands are worthwhile and engaging.

Irrespective of whether the framework is an improvement, it remains disheartening for new teachers to invest effort in tasks they perceive as lacking value. Others involved in implementing the ECF genuinely believe in its current form and deem requests for subject and year group-specific attention as misplaced. They argue that pedagogy related to classroom and instructional management cannot be fully developed during the training years. Consequently, revisiting the material and bridging gaps in understanding through practice in the classroom are seen as valid approaches.

New teachers have a clear understanding of their own interests

They are right that new teachers may not possess the full knowledge of what is best for their professional development. However, new teachers do have a clear understanding of their own interests and what they wish to learn. A crucial factor in raising teaching standards lies in retaining teachers in the profession. Therefore, providing new teachers with enjoyable training experiences that contribute to their identity as educators should be one of the framework’s goals.

On the other hand, it is important to note that those advocating for subject-specific materials for early career teachers often overlook the substantial costs associated with developing bespoke courses for each subject and year group. While it may be relatively feasible to establish specialist routes for larger subjects like mathematics and English, the challenge lies in improving the experience for teachers of smaller subjects such as music and economics.

If the government were to allocate funds to develop specialised materials across all subjects, it is likely that everyone would agree on their value to new teachers. Unfortunately, given the current financial constraints in education, it is difficult to envision how this can be accomplished. Consequently, we find ourselves with an early career framework that surpasses its predecessors but falls short of the ideal provision that new teachers aspire to. As a result, frustrations persist.

In conclusion, criticisms regarding increased workloads, duplicated material and the need for subject-specific attention are all valid. There are equally valid arguments to defend the current framework, including the necessity of revisiting foundational pedagogy, but it is vital to recognise the significance of providing enjoyable and engaging training experiences that nurture new teachers’ identities.

Together, stakeholders must grapple with the challenge of developing subject-specific materials within limited budgets. Despite the frustrations inherent in the current situation, it is crucial that we endeavour to pursue improvements that are both conducive to enhancing new teachers’ abilities and rewarding for professionals starting out on what we all hope are long and fulfilling careers.

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  1. Sandy Cameron

    The two concerns specified have dogged provision for newly qualified teachers for at least 20 years, probably longer. It was common feedback in the years I oversaw a local authority’s provision, despite our best efforts to adjust and improve our offer over time. One wonders what it says about initial training that secondary teachers so often ask for more training in their subjects…or is that they take on, or are asked to take on subjects for which they were not trained? As for the problem of overlap, I expect the constantly shifting demands on ITE institutions, local authorities and academy trust providers make coordination even more challenging than ever. The EPD project which ran from 2001 to 2004/5 identified many of these and concluded that a two year programme, properly funded by government, offering a more individualised programme would be the best way forward. Sadly, the Labour government of the day set aside the report. It’s disappointing that the Conservative government has eventually reached the same conclusions and yet will risk the failure of the ECF if it doesn’t take up the challenge.