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How Schools can Get the Best Out of NQTs

Kevin Harcombe, award-winning headteacher and one-time NQT, explains why schools should show the way with newly qualified teachers...

  • How Schools can Get the Best Out of NQTs

Every headteacher began their career as an NQT (Not Quite a Teacher!). A good NQT, well-nurtured by senior staff, will bring life-blood ‒ new ideas, methods, energy and enthusiasm. The bottom line is, you get out what you put in.

Preparation is all if you are to give your NQT the opportunity to develop. Where possible, choose her class very carefully, avoiding behaviour problems in particular. Also, don’t put her in a team with a struggling teacher. Have a good staff handbook – it saves a lot of time dealing with nitty-gritty issues like routines and procedures. Try to allow them to stay in the same year group for a second year to consolidate what they have learned.

Choose a first-rate induction tutor (IT). This person – a cross between Agony Aunt and Obi Wan Kenobi ‒ is crucial in determining whether an NQT gets off to a great start.

Value your NQTs

Developing NQTs is all about relationships – with colleagues, children and parents in particular. Encourage the whole school team to look after him – not just the designated induction tutor.

As a fail-safe, set up a meeting to check welfare etc, and offer reassurance/support. Make sure the NQT/IT relationship is working and, if it isn’t, draft in a different IT. Be explicit about your hopes for his impact and make him feel valued. I always tell my NQTs to make sure they contribute at staff meetings, even if it’s only to ask that most telling of questions – “why?”.

Of course, just like the children they teach, NQTs have vastly different needs depending on their personality/character and, importantly, their preparation from teacher training. The IT and NQT should together decide on training needs and draw up the Professional Development Plan to address them. Don’t forget to identify, celebrate and make use of strengths from the outset.

Look after their wellbeing

You are responsible for any NQT’s welfare and you need to talk to them about pacing themselves, managing workload and things like avoiding voice loss by NOT BELLOWING! Voice training is worth its weight in lack of sick days.

Encourage them to go to the staffroom and mix rather than spending all break/lunchtimes marking. Colleagues are the best source of support and knowledge and an average staffroom will contain 100 years of teaching experience.

Give them time

Newly qualified teachers must have 10 per cent NQT time as well as 10 per cent PPA time. Use it wisely. Make sure it’s planned to tie in with the PDP wherever possible and isn’t just frittered away. NQTs need this time to observe others/catch up with admin/go on courses with other NQTs for support – training isn’t always very good but the networking is always very valuable.

The headteacher should always do lesson observations with the IT, with strengths praised and clear areas for development. The NQT will feel valued that the school is investing time and effort in developing him.

What to say in feedback

  • I was delighted to see you do…
  • You showed great skill when you…

What not to say in feedback

  • The children never behave like that with…
  • We can’t afford to have a paramedic on permanent standby for your PE lessons.

Demonstrate effective teaching

Ensure they see good teachers teaching – this is known as modelling. My mother, who has never been on management training would call it something less complimentary like ‘monkey see, monkey do’. Make sure these are focused observations. If your NQT is poor at concluding sessions make sure he sees lots of conclusions from good teachers.

Moderating work regularly with experienced or expert teachers (not always the same thing) also helps ensure consistently high expectations.

Explicitly build independence, self-evaluation and reflection skills in NQTs so that they can become effective practitioners in their own right. If teachers are reflective they can learn to see what they need to improve for themselves. So, reflecting on their teaching in any given lesson NQTs might ask, ‘What did the children learn/not learn?’, ‘What went well/what could be improved?’. The important bit is if something didn’t work, what are you going to do about it? If an NQT can reflect on a lesson in that way, they should be able to transfer that skill to strategic and leadership thinking.

NQTs – should never forget…

  • Children don’t notice if you’re nervous or the odd lesson doesn’t go to plan.
  • Children love having a new teacher – in the same way they love having new trainers – simply because they know the other children will envy them.
  • Ask questions – even if you think they’re stupid.
  • Behaviour management is always harder than the actual teaching – always use positive reinforcement.
  • Try things out when the classroom door is shut and there’s no observer – then it doesn’t matter if they don’t always work. NB This should not include recreating the Great Fire of London in a waste paper bin, for example.
  • If you see a good idea in another class – nick it! But only pass it off as your own if you can be absolutely sure of getting away with it!

But do forget…

  • ...that science lesson where you inadvertently flouted all the H&S regulations. Chalk it up to experience and don’t do it again.

Having said that, NQTs should be encouraged to take risks to try something new in their teaching and they need to have permission to do that and guidance as to when it is appropriate.

Allow them to make (some!) mistakes and pick them up afterwards by telling them some horrendous story about your own NQT year (there are dozens from mine).

Finally, make sure your NQT is well briefed for their first parent-teacher consultation – maybe let them see one first by staggering the days they are held. Lots of parents may make negative assumptions about new teachers and will come to a first parents’ meeting out of curiosity and because they can’t watch people in the stocks any more. Prove them wrong!

How to be a good mentor

Two recent NQTs, now induction tutors themselves, had this advice to offer:

  • Listen and support/challenge NQTs, rather than try and be the font of all knowledge.
  • It can sometimes be better if the induction tutor is not in your own year team, so you don’t feel you’re being judged at every planning meeting.
  • Honesty and confidentiality are vital.
  • ITs need to be given enough time to do the role properly.
  • An IT needs to be a good teacher who is also good with people.
  • Teachers who are close to the NQT experience themselves have real empathy with the toughness of that first year in the job and so make successful ITs.
  • It’s a coaching role, really – the ‘guide on the side’.

My own NQT year

My kindly headteacher tipped me off that our local inspector would be arriving unannounced to check on my progress. So, I cheated! I primed the children about our special visitor on Tuesday afternoon and they were to be on their best behaviour.

Come the day, quaking with nerves as the inspector strode into the room for her ‘surprise’. Eight-year-old Jonathan thrust his hand in the air with enthusiasm. “Yes, Jonathan?” I asked. “Is this the special person you said we had to be on our best behaviour for?” I could feel the heat of my blush melting the paint on the walls, but have never seen an inspector laugh as much before or since.

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