The recruitment and retention of early career teachers can be very difficult, especially in the current economic climate; however, having the right strategies and support in place can make a huge difference. An example of a school that is achieving a high-level of success in this area is Westgate Academy, a Junior school located in Lincoln which hosts ITT trainee teachers from the LTSA (Lincoln Teaching School Alliance) SCITT, through the Kyra Primary Hub. In this case study Rachael Gacs speaks to the school’s Headteacher, Richard Stock, who shares his thoughts on why Westgate Academy has been so successful in its recruitment and retention of early career teachers in recent years.
The Importance of Trainee Teachers
At Westgate Academy, there is the clear commitment to the model of ‘growing their own’ staff. The conversation with Richard begins with a strong emphasis on the importance of taking on school-based trainees, and also on choosing those trainees wisely. He explains, “we choose our school-based trainees by working with Kyra Teaching School Alliance, and we choose them very carefully. For example, we always ensure that before any decisions are made, the potential trainee has spent some time in our school”. For Richard this is key because it gives the potential trainee an opportunity to understand the school context, and to meet the staff that they will be working with. He tells us, “the training year is an intense year, so it is important that any trainee we take on already knows the school, and feels happy and comfortable within our school environment. If they aren’t, it is unlikely that they will last the year”.
Having potential trainees visit the school also gives Richard and his colleagues a chance to consider whether they are the right fit for the school, “we think in terms of the long game, so we’re already thinking ahead to a trainee’s potential to become a permanent member of staff, even at this point”, Richard says, “so it is vital that the fit feels right for us, and for them, from the very start.”
Westgate clearly value their trainees for what they can bring to the school right from the off. Richard explains, “having trainees brings fresh perspectives, energy, and new ideas into the school. Of course they learn from us, but we often learn from them too.” Trainee teachers become a part of the team straight away, and are treated as such, both within their year group ‘team’, and as a member of staff within the school. Since there are four classes per year group at Westgate Academy, trainees become a part of a year group network straight away, and work as part of a team of five (including themselves).
This means that trainees are actively involved in the shared discussions and shared planning sessions of the year group team, and work collaboratively within that team. “We see our trainees as an additional part of the year group team, and value what they are able to contribute”, says Richard. The trainees themselves, of course, also greatly benefit from the experience, gaining knowledge and learning from the expertise of the other teachers. Richard adds, “being part of the year group team also means that trainees are surrounded by support, and we find this makes the training year easier, as trainees never feel isolated. There is always someone for our trainees to turn to.” Trainees also benefit from the expertise within the school (which includes English, Maths and PE SLEs, Specialist Leaders of Education), with the opportunity to speak to these teachers, and observe outstanding practice. This is also something which NQTs, RQTs and early career teachers can continue to benefit from at the school.
The mentors for trainee teachers are also chosen very carefully at Westgate, as Richard explains, “we make sure that we choose mentors who are very enthusiastic, and are fully committed to the role. We also ensure that anyone who becomes a mentor has the correct skill set for the role, including the capacity to share their teaching skills effectively, and the capability to guide trainees through their training year in a positive and fruitful way.” The placements for our trainees is coordinated through the Lincolnshire Teaching School Alliance LTSA SCITT. Trainees receive support from the Kyra Hub of the LTSA SCITT which include support from the Primary Lead Mentor Catherine Conyers, who through visits is able to oversee observations, and give an impartial perspective. “She can often see the progress that trainees have made more clearly than we can”, says Richard, “since the school-based mentor will see the trainee on a day-to-day basis.”
From Trainee to NQT
Since Richard has been headteacher at Westgate, six people who trained at the school have gone on to become employed there. He tells us, “once we’ve invested our time in training, and know the credentials of a trainee and their skill set, if we know that they will be a great part of the team, we don’t want them to get away! Especially because after a year of being with us they will have gained a strong understanding of the school context, the ethos, and the expectations of the school.” And as much as Richard wants to keep the best trainees, they also seem to want to stay at Westgate! Richard puts this down to a number of factors; “it seems our trainees quickly feel like a part of the school team, and this I think is an important reason why they stay, as by the end of the year they have built up strong relationships with their mentor, their year group team, and staff across the school. They also know that they have been well-supported as trainees, and that this will continue into their NQT year. Trainees know they will have the infrastructure to support their professional development around them if they stay at the school.”
Early Career Retention
Once the NQT year is over, Richard puts the continued retention of early career teachers down to the opportunities for professional development and career development that are available at the school, which means that teachers do not feel the need to move to a different school in order to continue to progress. He explains, “we encourage early career teachers to reflect upon their future aspirations, and to shadow subject leaders and year group leaders, to get them thinking about the next steps of their career development. We also provide opportunities to engage in shared practice, and receive coaching from outstanding practitioners within the school. What’s also key is that we keep having those professional conversations, to check that our early career teachers feel well supported, and that they are happy professionally.”
Westgate Academy has a number of success stories, where trainees at the school have stayed on at the academy, and gone on to achieve great things. One example is that of a GTP (Graduate Teacher Programme) student at the school, who subsequently went on to become year 5 leader, subject lead for PE, and a PE SLE (Specialist Leader of Education. Richard tells us, “he is a great example of the opportunities available for those who have the skills and ambition to progress at Westgate, and we are extremely proud of him as he now works as a PE SLE, fulfilling his passion to help children become more active across
Lincolnshire.” Other examples of success include a trainee at the school who went on to become the subject leader of computing, another trainee who went on to become a school-based mentor at Westgate, and the assistant headteacher herself, who also trained at the school!"
Richard concludes, “we try to talent spot, and to encourage early career teachers to progress, and we strive to provide opportunities for aspirational and motivated teachers. We are also an outward looking school, which I think is good for retention too. Working with Kyra, and benefitting from the support they provide to trainees, NQTs and RQTs, and also the professional development opportunities they offer to all teachers, has been invaluable. This includes the opportunity to train as SLEs, and providing support for those taking up the role of mentor. Members of staff that become SLE’s are highly motivated by the knowledge that they can have an impact on other schools as well as Westgate.
As a school we offer a lot of support to all of our teachers, consider wellbeing, and consider each individual’s professional development pathway - both within the classroom, and at a leadership level (if leadership is something that they are interested in). I think all of these aspects put together is what makes Westgate Academy so successful in recruiting and retaining early career teachers, and our teachers on the whole.”