A Friend in Need - research project with Relational Schools and Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT

A FRIEND IN NEED - tackling the NQT retention crisis through relational research
Suffolk & Norfolk SCITT has partnered with the Relational Schools Foundation to explore the impact of social and professional relationships on early-career teachers’ resilience and success

Suffolk & Norfolk SCITT, one of the country’s largest school-centred initial teacher training programmes, has commissioned the Relational Schools Foundation (RSF) to carry out a five-year longitudinal research programme, exploring the impact of a trainee teacher’s social and professional relationships on their success as a trainee and thereafter as a teacher. RSF, a charity focused on improving the quality of relationships in schools, is working with the SCITT’s trainees to identify each individual’s most important and influential relationships, and measuring their quality using its Relational Proximity Framework research tool. The partnership will also identify and trial new relational recruitment and management practices, improving both regional standards and informing ITT providers nationwide.

The partnership is set against the backdrop of a national crisis in the retention of teachers, which is particularly acute for early career teachers. According to the NFER’s ‘Teacher Retention by Subject’ report of May 2017 (and much other research), leaving rates for all teachers are highest in the first few years after they qualify, with maths, science and languages teachers showing a greater propensity to leave in their first five years.
“Given the additional difficulties we face in attracting new people to train into the profession, we wanted to better understand what was going on here”, explains Anna Richards, Executive Leader of Suffolk & Norfolk SCITT. “We know that the workload and stress is high, but felt that other factors were also at play. For example, we saw in our data that those trainees who lived at home with their family were more likely to stay the course. We wanted to know what that means, and how we might learn from research to adapt our programme so it can be even more effective.”

RSF will follow a cohort of 104 primary and secondary trainees from their training year to their fourth year as qualified teachers, exploring why some flourish and others struggle or even drop out. RSF will focus in particular on the interplay between social and relational capital (the collective value of all an individual’s relationships) and their relative success as a teacher. Professor Erica Joslyn from the University of Suffolk, which is supporting and quality assuring the research, added: “Our trainees are ideally placed to contribute to this valuable research designed to improve the resilience and experience of future early career teachers.”

Dr Rob Loe, RSF’s Director of Research explains: “Relationships of particular interest are those between a trainee and their mentor, and what we might term a teacher’s ‘relational nexus’; the quality of the relationships they have with those around them in their supportive network, including those professionals they are most aligned with in their places of work, and other key relationships. Using our Relational Proximity Framework, which identifies how well two people are likely to engage with the thinking, emotions and behaviour of the other, we will looking closely at the impact of a teacher’s ‘closeness’ to their professional tutors, other trainees, family and friends, on their career resilience and performance.”

This is ground-breaking work, which will see Dr Loe and his team at RSF apply the work of Dr Alison Fox and others in the theory and practice of educational networks. Currently Senior Lecturer in Education at the Open University, Dr Fox is engaged as an informal advisor to the study. She comments: “It is very exciting to see elements of my research into educational networks applied in this practical context. We know that social networks are important for learning, and that they can be intentionally created and managed to improve outcomes. This particular application feels very promising, and couldn’t come at a more important time.”

The first year of the five-year study is designed to enable RSF and the Suffolk & Norfolk SCITT to quickly identify ways to improve outcomes for subsequent cohorts, which will be designed and trialled during the rest of the programme as interventions. These are likely to include the addition of relational modules in a trainee’s study programme to develop pro-social and pro-relational skills, as well as more systemic interventions which address how the training schools can adapt their systems and practice to enable their trainees to develop and sustain key relationships. RSF has partnered with the Cambridge Assessment Group and is using its Cambridge Personal Styles Questionnaire (CPSQ) to provide additional insight into how each trainee approaches tasks and relates to others. These behavioural styles have been found to contribute to educational progress and work effectiveness, and will add another layer to the study.

Other outcomes will include evidence to improve efficacy in relational mentoring (what does and doesn’t work in an effective mentoring relationship); advice for schools on how to engage and support NQTs and early-career teachers’ wellbeing; and advice for NQTs and early-career teachers on the importance of building relationships within a support network for sustained wellbeing. Both parties also intend to use the research outcomes to inform recruitment practice, using relational predictors of success in candidate counselling and to personalise each trainees programme.

The research programme began in September 2017, with the first significant report scheduled for publication in September 2018.




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