Mentor Training

Matt Burnage wrote a somewhat devastating thread about ITT on Twitter recently.

I completely understand where he’s coming from and I thought I’d get my thoughts down on each of the points he’s made and some reasons why it might seem like ITT Providers, and/or schools, are dragging their feet. These are just my own thoughts. At my place there is a good element of collaborative decision making but my role is more like a HoD than SLT.

I can’t do the thread justice in one go, so I’m going to try to take the points one by one. This is number 1.
This is number 2.
This is number 3.
This is number 4

Matt’s 5th Point

When I first became aware of how the Cambridge History PGCE operated, I got in touch with Christine Counsell to ask about how they managed to get such strong buy-in from mentors. Christine was kind enough to write a lengthy response. I think it boiled down to three things:

Firstly, mentor training was a three-line whip (no mentor training = no trainee) across the partnership. All new mentors were required to do two full days of training as a mixed-subject group and also all mentors were required to do two full days of training in their subject group every year.

Secondly, Christine suggested that, on its own, the three-line whip wasn’t enough, and it worked because mentors wanted to come to training, seeing it as excellent use of their time.

Thirdly, there was a very strong sense of the mentors and university tutors working as a group to develop the programme, with a high level of subject-specific scholarship and mentor expertise expected from mentors, and a high level of support provided for new mentors to develop to this point.

In considering whether that can be emulated across the system (Cambridge being a bit ‘special’), it’s clear that, at the moment, implementing the first of these just isn’t possible. In a typical year we have about 30 trainees to place, and about 30 offers of places. Particularly given that a spare offer in Basingstoke is of no use if the gap is in Poole, we just cannot reject places if the mentor doesn’t attend training. At the moment, all we are asking is one day for new mentors and also, for all mentors, one afternoon in their subject group each year. Some always come; some choose not to come; some are refused cover. So our route to improvement has to be to make mentor training so great that everyone wants to come, and they’re prepared to push SLT hard for permission.

I think that is potentially possible. I certainly think in the past we’ve fallen into the trap of focusing on paperwork. This does change, as various external and internal things dictate, but to be honest this can be flipped and doesn’t need everyone sitting in a room together to sort out. What is hard is to get that sense of developing practice as a subject community, in the couple of hours we’ve got to work with.  We’re not going to get Christine’s two full days so the scale must be small, even if the ambition is large. Some mentors are very experienced HoDs and others are only in their third year of teaching; some have been mentoring for a decade and for others it’s their first time. The obvious solutions are to have the subject experts leading the relative novices on aspects of teaching science, and the time-served mentors leading the new mentors. However, we have a major issue right across ITT in this country, about how we support trainee teachers so they don’t spend endless hours teaching whole lessons badly as a way of learning how to teach whole lessons well. Yet again this year I’ve visited a trainee teacher in the back end of the Spring term to find that they still can’t really stand up in front of a class, explain a bit of science really clearly, give instructions, and get the class working effectively. The issue isn’t that the mentor isn’t aware, nor is it that they are not giving good advice. The problem is that we’re way past the point where just explaining one bit of science clearly, is all they have to do. In fact there almost certainly never was a point where that was the only thing they had to do. What we desperately need is a model of training where the trainee teachers only have to do one thing at a time, and stick at that thing until they can do it, before adding something else. I’m not sure if this is exactly what Christine has meant when describing the Cambridge progression model (I suspect Cambridge history trainees start some way ahead of a more typical trainee teacher) but I’m convinced it’s the thing that is largely missing from ITT at the moment. It’s not surprising – where in our teaching careers do we see anything between observing a lesson and teaching a lesson? But that’s what we need to fix, and I have a feeling it’s even more fundamental than building up understanding of how school science knowledge works, although that’s important too. This is where I want to focus mentor training. I think these are new ways to work for most of our mentors. And I think we can work effectively as a community to develop mentoring in these ways.

I suppose Matt’s point is that this should already be happening. Why isn’t it? Well, because of course “in at the deep end” is more or less how we learned to teach. If you haven’t seen a different model then why would you be looking for one? After all, it more-or-less worked for us. Too often in ITT (programme leaders and mentors) we have forgotten that we are the bombers that came back. That’s why change is so slow. Someone – Bill Gates maybe – said you overestimate what can be done in a year, but underestimate what can be done in ten. Come back in ten years, Matt, and we’ll see!

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