Seven things we can all do to make the ECF easier to manage
How many critical columns and robust defence pieces have been written on the Early Career Framework (ECF) recently? It might feel as though it’s constantly appearing prominently in the TES, Schools Week and across edu-Twitter and rightly so. There have been critical surveys and robust defences.
At its heart, the ECF is a brilliant initiative. The DfE-funded programme is well-researched, well-evidenced and offers the potential for a vast improvement on what went before. Its predecessor, the NQT induction, was far from perfect; it was wildly inconsistent, with the support available for NQTs largely dependent on which local authority you lived in, and whether or not your school had the expertise to deliver induction support.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, though there are many positives to come from ECF, there may also be some challenges to overcome.
As our executive director of programmes Reuben Moore said in hisrecent interview with Schools Week, “if the sector is feeling that workload is an issue, then we have to tackle it. That is what the DfE is now focused on. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
There are things to be worked out at both policy and implementation level, but there are also some practical, immediate actions that schools can take to make the ECF easier to manage.
They can broadly be divided into two areas: resetting expectations around ECF, and dealing with the practicalities, planning and potential potholes. So here are seven things you can do to make the ECF easier to manage.
- Communicate clearly, and be balanced. There is power in our words, in how we talk about the ECF. Some of you may have experienced a difficult start to the programme, or experienced some bumps in the road, so making sure this doesn’t influence the experience of ECTs and mentors is key. Make a point of sharing the origin story of the ECF. It helps to communicate the rationale and benefits to your staff members. Share the background and purpose of the framework, emphasising the opportunity it provides to revisit and refine learning. Just like in teaching, where revisiting content is essential for mastery, the ECF allows ECTs to deepen their knowledge and apply it in different contexts. Help them understand the value of this process and encourage a positive mindset towards the framework. When people understand why they are doing something, they are more likely to engage with it.
- Celebrate the wins, however small: Generate a buzz about the ECF. Talking about what’s going on can create a collegiate and supportive atmosphere with shared understanding. Make ECTs feel valued and valuable by sharing their successes and celebrating their wins. Consider how ECTs can share their up-to-date evidence-based knowledge with their peers while experienced colleagues offer support and good practice examples. By fostering collaboration and shared understanding, you'll create a positive environment for the ECF.
- Protect the mentor-ECT relationship: In an ideal world, we’d free up mentors to give them the time and space to support their ECT without distractions or additional workload creeping in. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and we know that there are often competing pressures and priorities which means mentor time gets squeezed. In a busy school environment, school leaders are making are almost constantly assessing and reassessing their priorities. When thinking about what can be dropped or scaled back, do whatever you can to protect and prioritise the mentor-ECT relationship. Timetable mentor-ECT interactions during school hours, if possible, and consider matching mentors geographically to minimize logistical challenges. Protect mentor time and ensure they have the necessary support and training to fulfill their role effectively. Clearly define the mentor-ECT relationship to establish trust, open communication, and mutual understanding.
- Streamline Registration: We’re now a few years into the ECF implementation, and the good thing about that is that we know what’s coming. Prepare in advance for ECF registration. Collect the required information, such as TRNs, DoBs, names, and contact details for mentors and ECTs. Stay updated on the registration process and ensure you're registered as an induction lead before September. By streamlining the registration process, you'll reduce stress and create a smooth transition into the ECF.
- Plan Ahead for Conferences and CPD: Book conferences, CPD sessions, and seminars for ECTs in advance. As induction leads, take the initiative to schedule these events, reducing the burden on teachers to arrange cover or request leave. By planning ahead, you'll alleviate stress on the school system and ensure that ECTs can fully engage in their professional development opportunities.
- Address Wellbeing Concerns: Allocate specific time and provide training for mentors and induction leads to address wellbeing concerns. Create a safe space for ECTs to discuss their mental health and provide additional support if needed. Encourage ECTs to connect with a ‘buddy’ outside their immediate area, fostering relationships beyond their immediate colleagues. This can be especially beneficial in larger schools, where departments often operate separately. On the NIoT’s ECT programme, for example, there are scheduled prompts and pulse surveys to check how people are feeling at various points across the course content.
- Manage mentor workload: Ensure mentors know exactly what they can expect to gain from mentoring and what they will be entitled to – make sure they’re happy. Mentors who volunteer or are motivated to mentor, are more likely to have positive experience. Ensuring that ECTs and mentors understand their relationship can be really key – it may seem like it’s implicit in the roles, but isn’t always, so contracting between them can really help to develop an open, productive and helpful relationship. Avoiding line managers as mentors is also very helpful (potential for diminished positive effects in cases where mentors are also the teacher’s line manager (Clutterbuck, 2004; Hobson, 2016))! The good news is that if a mentor engages with good quality training for mentoring, even with these limitations they are still likely to have good impact.
The National Institute of Teaching’s ECF programme provides impact through innovation.
We’ve had a chance to observe, listen, and learn from what’s gone before - and because we are rooted in schools, we understand the pressures that headteachers and trust leaders are under.
We’re able to innovate – being agile in responding to the concerns, needs, and pain points of schools – without the need to undo already agreed delivery frameworks.
What makes our programme different?
Our programme has been iterated and tested to ensure that it provides more impact in less time. Our content gives the ECT and mentor a scaffold to support their learning, so they have access to what they need to know, when they need to know it.
- We respect teacher time and expertise. Too often, we’ve heard that teachers’ existing expertise and knowledge isn’t respected, with mentors feeling constrained by the framework and ECTs feeling frustrated by repetitive content. For ECTs, we’ve designed a curriculum which builds on what’s gone before. And for mentors, we believe we’re the only provider offering an innovative model for subject-specific training in year 2.
- We can’t get rid of all the admin associated with ECF, but we have designed innovative lean, clean systems that make the programme run smoothly. We have excellent participant support from teams who have long provided tech, digital and admin support in schools. They provide a personalised, responsive service at scale.