If you ask any principal in Ireland what the biggest threat to our education system is, it is likely that Droichead, the scheme where schools will be responsible for deciding whether a newly qualified teacher is fit to be a teacher, would be high on the list. While most principals feel the extra workload should not be put upon them, they also see that the model is fundamentally flawed. Despite this, the Teaching Council are pressing ahead with the scheme, calling it a pilot. Unless the pilot is flying a steamroller, pilot is probably the wrong word.
One of the main arguments in favour of Droichead is that it is better than the current model and any alternatives would be welcome. I have already suggested one model, which has been completely ignored by the Council. Other alternatives have been suggested, most notably by the IPPN, but the Teaching Council has simply decided to not even engage or even give some sort of reason as to why these ideas wouldn’t work.
I’m suggesting a second alternative to the pilot. While I am not saying either of my suggestions are correct, I believe it is only right for the Teaching Council to at least acknowledge the suggestions and give a reasonable response as to why they would not be suitable.
My second alternative to Droichead works in a similar way to how Newly Appointed Principals are going to be treated. It also mirrors the driving test somewhat.
To begin with, it requires the following assumption: Anyone who graduates from a Teacher Training college must be suitable to be a primary school teacher.
This is where I see the mirror between a driving test and the NQT. If you do not pass your driving test, you are not allowed a driving licence. Therefore, you cannot drive a car on your own. You have to reach a certain standard to get your licence and then you become a New Driver. In order to lose that N-plate, there are certain conditions you have to fulfil, but once you keep to these rules, then you are free to drive without an N-plate.
Any student that passes their final exam must be good enough to stand in a classroom on their own. They should be capable of dealing with pretty much anything that comes to them. They should not only be prepared to deliver the curriculum, they should be adept at other skills such as behaviour management, etiquette in a staffroom, bullying prevention, use of technology, etc. as well as some smaller specific skills such as filling in data in roll books and so on.
In order for this to happen, it means that Teaching Practice needs to be consistent and kept as unartificial as possible. It may mean making the standards expected from Teaching Practice to be higher than they are. Schools must also be empowered to be able to cooperate with Teaching Practice students.
In order for schools to be able to do this, I believe there is a need for college partner schools. This means that schools would sign up to take on TP students and they would be linked to the most appropriate ones in terms of geography, ethos preference, etc. Schools who sign up would be trained up on how to mentor students, rather than NQTs. I believe this could fit into the NIPT mentor’s role. However, it doesn’t have to be. Moreover, this role should be paid.
The process of the student getting their qualification would probably be quite similar to how it is currently but there would be a guarantee that the quality of the graduate is one that can be trusted in the classroom.
Now comes the probation bit.
If the above criteria is set, anyone who comes out of college should not require to be probated. Rather, an NQT will spend his/her first year with a structured programme with an NIPT mentor. At the end of the year, the NQT would be ready to sail the seas of teaching without a mentor. The only paperwork requirement would be proof that the NQT had been mentored by a NIPT trained mentor.
The following criteria would be required:
- The NQT would have to teach in said school for a full academic year.
- Meetings between NQTs and mentors would have to happen weekly.
- Within the year, there would be set topics for discussion. At least half of these would be set by the Teaching Council and the others could be decided by the school.
- Mentors would be freed up (substitute cover provided) at least 3 times during the year with a focus set by both mentor or NQT.
- While notes from meetings would not be required, a timesheet to show that the mentoring had happened would have to be produced and some sort of certificate given by the Teaching Council would be given to the NQT on completion of the year.
- The mentor would have to be compensated for their time. This may come in the form of a position of responsibility.
If any of the above could not be fulfilled, the NQT would not be able to lose their NQT status.
The above to me is quite similar to what the Teaching Council are proposing without the need for anyone to sign off on anyone’s ability to teach. It would be assumed that the NQT is able to be a teacher but they now get the benefit of a mentor. The mentor is simply there to help the NQT get the final pieces in place on their road to teaching and lifelong learning.
Potential problems are somewhat similar to the current model of Droichead but here are my thoughts on them:
- Extra workload: is financially compensated
- Ireland being a small country: As no one is signing off on anyone, if someone is chancing their arm, they are simply not doing themselves any favours. This year is an opportunity to learn from an experienced teacher and if they don’t take it, they lose out.
- What if the mentor is rubbish? This falls under the Teaching Council’s remit. They are responsible for selecting NIPT mentors and training them properly. If there is a problem, the mentor is answerable to the Teaching Council.
- What if the NQT is rubbish? This falls under normal school disciplinary. I would probably suggest that an NQT should not be given a permanent job straight out of college. Effectively, if colleges are doing their job properly, there should be zero graduates who are incapable of teaching. If this isn’t the case, changes need to be made to the college training courses.
Ultimately, this is a rather simple alternative and I don’t think it’s absolutely hugely different to the current model of Droichead. However, it does erase any form of probation within school and it does up the ante for colleges to perform better. Before this begins, I believe there needs to be much more scrutiny into Irish Teacher Training colleges because the quality of student coming out cannot afford to be of a low standard without the safety net of probation. The final year of Teacher Training is the new safety net. No one should pass their Teacher Training qualification without reaching the required standard. The model also ensures that schools are compensated for their work by becoming partner schools with colleges. This also saves students from having to find teaching practice placements themselves. It also ensures that NIPT mentors are also compensated and time if given to them to model or observe classes.
A slight tweak to this scheme is to take NIPT mentors out of the classroom altogether. This would be a very expensive model but basically an NIPT mentor would be given around 10 NQTs to mentor per year. They would have to spend their year with the ten NQTs in one-to-one meetings, group tutorials/meetings and modelling classes. This would give the NQTs a lot more access to their mentor but the problem would be that the NIPT mentor may not know the culture of each teacher’s school. As I said, it would also be expensive.
I’m sure there are other flaws to this model and I’d be interested in thoughts around this and where problems may arise for the professionalism of teaching.