Much more than a mentor
NQT mentors are responsible for three areas: support, monitoring and assessment.
Most people feel happy in the support role, but find that their responsibilities for monitoring and assessment can conflict with this. Many teachers took the role of NQT mentor without fully appreciating what it involves the day-to-day responsibility for the monitoring, support and assessment of their NQTs. In particular, an NQT mentor to:
- be fully aware of the requirements of the induction period
- have the skills, expertise and knowledge they need to work effectively in the role
- provide or co-ordinate effective guidance and support
- devise an individualised programme of monitoring and support, which provides
- opportunities for NQTs to develop further their knowledge, skills and achievements
- make rigorous and fair judgements about the new teacher's performance in relation to the Professional Standards
This takes a great deal of time, which is a very precious resource in schools. NQT mentors often have many other very time-consuming roles and their induction work is often not funded or timetabled.
The DfE has rightly devoted money to ensuring that NQTs have a reduced timetable, but there is little extra to cover the enormous costs of paying the people who are doing the support, monitoring and assessment. Too much has to be done on good will.
NQT mentors need to shout to be heard
Teaching NQTs, for that is what NQT mentors do, can be highly rewarding because the effects of an induction programme will last throughout a teacher's career, having an impact on hundreds or thousands of children.
Many NQT mentors feel worried about how well they are carrying out their role. They don't know whether they are expecting too much or too little of their NQTs. Some even welcome an Ofsted inspection because it gives them an objective measure of how well their NQTs are teaching.
Being an NQT mentor is difficult for other reasons
- the responsibilities are huge and not fully understood
- there is no funding ear-marked for NQT mentors
- few schools allocate time for NQT mentors to do their work
- it is very time-consuming
- the role carries little status in many schools
- NQT mentors get little advice or training in the role
How to make the job more manageable
Being an NQT mentor is a huge role but it can be made manageable, not least by ensuring that people recognise the importance and nature of the job. Here are some suggestions:
- Get NQT mentor written into your job description, with appropriate remuneration.
- Try to delegate some other area of responsibility. Alternatively arrange with your head teacher to put one of your other responsibilities on the back burner, at least for the NQT's first term.
- Get training and resources for the role. Most LAs and universities run induction training for NQTs, but the provision for those supporting them in schools is limited.
- Shop around to find a course that gives you the level of training that you require.
- Some offer accreditation towards Advanced Diplomas or Masters degrees a good way to get something in return for your hard work.
- Be clear about your role and then be very organised. Set dates for meetings, assessment meetings and reports. Have a fixed time for induction that everyone knows about, ideally during the school day. If it is after school, make sure that that time is sacrosanct and cannot be used for other meetings.
- Make contacts with other schools so that you can arrange for your NQT to visit.
- See what topics are covered by NQT induction programmes organised by LAs or universities. This will save you covering them yourself.
- Book observation times and meetings into the school diary and make sure that they feature on weekly or half-termly sheets of events.
- Buy someone from outside the school to help with observations. This is useful if you feel that you don't have the time or expertise to make observations on the NQT, or if they are having problems. They will be able to give an objective picture of how your NQT is doing compared to others.
- Develop your role by becoming the person responsible for students on teaching practice in your school. You will find this interesting and it will give you insights into the whole world of teacher education as you see people at different stages of courses. The skills of working with students are similar, though not the same, as those you use with NQTs.
- Delegate parts of the NQT mentor role to others. For instance, plan for the headteacher, deputy and co-ordinators to do some observations with written feedback. Find someone to be the NQT's "buddy mentor" and someone else to help them with planning and assessment. Remember that the whole school is responsible for induction.
- Cheer yourself up by reflecting on all that you have learnt from being an NQT mentor. You are bound to have become a better teacher and manager from helping a novice, and probably feel hugely knowledgeable and experienced next to them.
Jo Clarke, deputy head of Clapham Manor Primary School in Lambeth, is the NQT mentor for two newly qualified teachers. At first she thought that being an NQT mentor was going to be straightforward, as she had been a mentor for students and NQTs in the past.
Though at ease in the supporting and monitoring role, she felt uncomfortable at combining these with being an assessor. The statutory responsibilities were intimidating. "When I discovered that I wasn't just a mentor, I realised how much I needed training."
She has benefited from meeting other NQT mentors at the Lambeth NQT mentor courses and has formed a network of other schools for her NQTs to visit. She finds the suggested formats and procedures very useful in making the job manageable.
The whole school is involved in the induction of all new staff. They feel that it is time well spent because it enables everyone to work at their best. The NQTs get a great deal of support from their year group partners, who help them with planning.
Jo arranges for observations of the NQTs to be made by curriculum co-ordinators as well as herself, so that judgements are corporate and full use is made of staff expertise. Co-ordinators discuss their observations with Jo before they feed back to the NQTs, to avoid contradictory messages.
Both Jo and the NQTs feel that it important to have systems for induction. "You have to plan time for NQTs because life in school takes over, and it's easy to leave them to their own devices, especially when they're doing well."
There are weekly timetabled meetings to discuss progress. Jo finds setting half-termly objectives helps in planning how to spend the 10 per cent release time. In this way, the activities meet the NQTs' individual identified needs.
Jo is concerned about the lack of moderation taking place nationally. She worries about whether she is doing enough for the NQTs and whether her view of how well they are doing is correct. "It's so subjective. It's like walking in the dark."
She finds being an NQT mentor very time-consuming: three hours a week on average in the first term. Each observation takes about two and a half hours an hour to observe and another one and a half hours to write up and feed back.
"I'm lucky that I'm a non-class based deputy so that I have some time to do the job properly. It also helps having strong NQTs if they were weak I would foresee much more difficulty."