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Why we need a coaching and mentoring culture

20 June 2024

By Rachel Whitton, Curriculum Manager: Professional Studies and Education at Warrington and Vale Royal College and Research Further Scholar.

Educational reform has now returned full circle with decision by the Office for National Statistics in 2022 to reclassify FE Institutions as public sector organisations again.

At the time, Association of Colleges said: “Colleges shall continue to be self-governing corporations with charitable status and with responsibility for their educational character, their own courses, contracts, and relationships with staff and students”.

However, there is still an increased demand for FE colleges to run as businesses, rather than public sector funded institutions. Perhaps, then, we should be embracing the coaching and mentoring models used in business to help develop our staff? Afterall, they are widely recognised to increase performance, help support individuals to achieve goals and empower the workforce overall. The literature, research and innovation in business all lead to how effective coaching and mentoring can be in the current climate, so should the FE sector take it more seriously?

Whilst Garvey et al. (2014) reflect that coaching and mentoring can often be seen as a “nice to have” option within an organisation, I believe it should be recognised as a central and legitimate work activity. Hobson et al. (2015) research reported that “mentoring and coaching are amongst the most effective means of supporting the professional development of teachers.” I would suggest that in the current turbulent climate, where recruitment and retention of vocational staff in the FE sector is a significant issue, the offer of robust mentoring and coaching should be embedded within the heart and culture of any FE Institution. As Parsloe (2023) succinctly argues “the pace of change and the fluid nature of the modern workplace require leaders and managers to communicate this change clearly and effectively”. Furthermore, Parsloe suggests that they should develop “excellent listening, questioning and feedback skills, the bedrock of effective mentoring and coaching conversations, to create engagement, commitment and accountability to implement the latest strategy and shifts in organisational culture effectively.”

It was refreshing to see the Department for Education (DfE) announce another £14 million to provide mentoring for new FE teachers, alongside a support programme for leaders and governors over the next two years. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has been offering mentoring programmes as part of a strategy to drive professionalism across the FE sector, and their commissioned development of a National Mentoring Framework in 2021 seeks to bolster the concerted efforts already taking place within the FE sector, with a developmental and nurturing approach at the forefront.

It is even more refreshing to see that the new Level 5 Diploma in Teaching (FE and Skills), set to launch in September 2024 and replacing the existing Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training, includes the mandatory requirement for mentoring. Not only will providers need to ensure that a subject specific mentor is able to allocate a minimum of 30 minutes every week to every early careers teacher, but a pastoral mentor must also be available too. At last, this feels like a move in the right direction to ensure our new teachers get the right support they need in the demanding role of a dual professional in the FE sector. Furthermore, a module on coaching and mentoring is now embedded within the qualification, supporting our new generation of FE teachers to understand the key knowledge, behaviours and skills which foster innovation, creativity and enable learners to unlock their own potential.

Avoiding the “judgementoring” approach and seeking to support our new early careers teachers in FE will contribute to the overarching agenda in the UK to create a workforce of skilled and talented teachers to inspire the next generation of post compulsory education learners. The role of a critical friend has never been more important.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.