Pandemic teacher trainees at risk of leaving profession, study suggests

A report says the two cohorts who trained during the pandemic had ‘markedly different experiences’.

24 July 2022

Teachers who trained during the pandemic may quit because they have “insufficient” knowledge, according to a new report.

A study from King’s College London said Covid-related disruption in 2019/20 and 2020/21 could mean a lack of expertise among staff who trained at the time, leading to higher rates of early career teachers leaving the profession.

That could hit the attainment of young people, whose education was impacted during the pandemic.

The 18-month study, which started in April 2021, was based on two cohorts of trainees at King’s, as well as 112 interviews with trainees, school leaders and mentors.

The two cohorts that trained during the pandemic had “markedly different experiences”, it found, with the first starting under relatively “normal” circumstances until February 2020, when there was a “rapid and abrupt” shift to working mostly online.

The second cohort began training in the midst of the pandemic and, while they could complete school placements, were restricted in terms of moving around schools – while their university studies were almost entirely online.

Some aspects of training during the virus crisis were positive; the report says trainees were able to develop their IT skills, while school and university staff praised the “resilience” of trainee teachers, which would make them better teachers overall.

But the pandemic also limited opportunities for face-to-face meetings with pupils and parents or to provide pastoral support.

Trainees said their lack of opportunity to meet parents or write reports during the pandemic “resulted in feelings of isolation and self-doubt”.

“The experience was captured in the description from one ECT (early career teacher) of conducting her first live parent/teacher evening alone in her kitchen at home, rather than being in school with colleagues where she could observe and receive support,” the report said.

The paper said limited “opportunities to interact with pupils outside of subject specific teaching” impacted on teacher-pupil relationships.

While some interviewees said there had been more of a sense of school community during the pandemic, some trainees felt “isolated from the wider school community … and so were potentially less invested”.

The report says early career teachers should be given more opportunities to take part in wider school life to develop pastoral skills, for example, through acting as a form tutor.

Schools should also seek opportunities for trainees and new teachers to gain more understanding of mental health, for example, through online training with the charity Place2Be.

The research also revealed some trainees chose to quit the profession after completing their training because of financial pressures.

“This is particularly acute for those training and working in expensive cities (such as London), with transport costs, living costs and the increased cost of living all contributing to financial burden,” the report said.

The paper, from the School of Education, Communication and Society and the Policy Institute at King’s, also said the prescribed content of induction programmes was sometimes too generic to adapt to the demands of the pandemic, and calls for bespoke continued professional development for new teachers.

Lead researcher Simon Gibbons, director of Teacher Education at King’s College London, said: “The pandemic affected each new teacher in different ways and so the current generic approach fell short of what was needed.

“It is crucial we provide more bespoke training that reflects the unique challenges and opportunities they faced, so we can support them to stay in teaching – especially seeing the dramatic shortage of teachers in the UK.”

Elizabeth Rushton, of the Institute of Education at UCL, added: “Those who have become teachers during the pandemic period have made an important contribution to the learning and lives of young people in their school communities.

“However, in order for this group of teachers to flourish they need continued support, especially with the pastoral elements of teaching so that they can develop their skills and expertise alongside more experienced colleagues.”

And research associate, Sarah Steadman, said: “Despite the challenges, those teachers who trained during the pandemic demonstrated incredible resilience. Their unique experience and skills need to be fully utilised as they have so much to offer.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are putting in place world-class training to ensure teachers have the professional development needed to thrive, and our reforms will create a golden thread running from initial teacher training through to school leadership, rooting teacher development in the best available evidence.

“We will deliver 500,000 teacher training opportunities by 2024, giving all teachers and school leaders access to professional development at every stage of their career.”

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