Posted by: mrlock | June 13, 2021

Do it properly: The Early Career Framework

The Early Career Framework is one of the biggest reforms to the teaching workforce in a generation. I don’t say that lightly.

But I feel the need to blog because I see significant variance in how seriously schools, teaching school hubs, and other organisations are taking this opportunity. Fidelity to the Early Career Framework is super-important if it is to have the transformational impact on the profession that is needed.

In 2017, I was invited to join an advisory group on the recruitment and retention strategy at the DFE. I am not sure why I was asked – probably because I’d been outspoken about this issue – but I sat around with about 15 far better qualified smarter people than me. On about our third or fourth meeting, we reflected that the demands to become a teacher, in terms of expectations, are actually minimal. Almost everyone passes ITT, almost everyone passes NQT.

And we looked at other countries and other professions, and concluded that we can do much better. We can be much more professional.

At around the same time, my friend Jon described visiting a friend of his in London who shared a flat with someone who was training to be a lawyer.

Jon had asked about several bookshelves filled with files. I may be misremembering the detail, but one big bookcase was what one had to know in order to become a lawyer. Every lawyer knows all the stuff on those bookshelves – it’s assumed shared knowledge of the profession. And a doctor could fill similarly oversized bookshelves with all the stuff understood to be fundamental knowledge to their profession.

The teachers reflected that the total stuff that we have to know, the total number of things that we all share as a profession which is codified and that we are all taught… is zero. There is no content that we share, no shared, expected professional knowledge.

Back at the DfE advisory group, we explored how this situation was insufficient to be a mature profession. And amongst other things, a mature profession is what we need to be to retain teachers. At this point, someone smart asked ministers what they really wanted from us: were we there to rubber stamp some tweaks, or were they willing to consider something more radical, including taking seriously the challenge of significantly developing mentoring – something that people are often just left to get on with, and if so – would they fund it?

The civil servants came back from ministers, and said they were convinced by the group’s arguments for significant reform. From there, the Early Career Framework was put into a consultation to the profession and 88% thought that the profession should have agreed content. So, the DfE bods then appointed a group of a few of us to write it.

I have no idea why I was there. But there were some incredible people involved at various stages:

Becky Francis, Cat Scutt, Roger Pope, Jon Hutchinson Sam Freedman, Reuben Moore and Marie Hamer.

And me. I was more of a cheerleader, but it was intense and brilliant to be exposed to these incredible thinkers.

Over the course of nearly two years we wrote the framework, and we argued for it with a new Secretary of State. He visited Bedford Free School where I was then principal, and my colleagues and I put it to him that it was the single most important thing he should retain from the old secretary of state’s work – you know how politicians often feel the need to have ‘their’ own thing – and I do have respect for Damien Hinds and Gavin Williamson in that they’ve ensured continuity on this.

The ECF gives all early career teachers an entitlement to a broad and challenging body of professional knowledge and I think this is welcome. One of the great things about the group was that they recognised their responsibility to be informed by the literature reviews, rather than to rely on their own views and experience. It meant that genuine disagreements were rooted in evidence, and people changed their minds often. This was necessary so that the ECF was signed off by the Education Endowment Foundation.

This led us to propose at the DfE that it doesn’t stop there – that it becomes a part of the ‘golden thread’ of CPD that leads through to new, more challenging and more specific NPQs and beyond.

The new Headteacher Standards and the new NPQs, as well as the new Standards for NLEs (which have not been released yet) are now all directly correlated with the ECF and have used the ECF as the basis for lots of the content.

It will be game changing if we do this properly.

We know that no matter how good a new initiative is, the implementation of it will be a bell curve. Some providers will do it with total fidelity and understanding of the background research. Others will do it less well, and some will do a version of what they’ve always done. And the challenge of the system is that over the three years that the ECF contract is for, everyone needs to get up to where the top 10% is in the first year.  

Our challenge, for our school and our region where outcomes need to rise quickly, is to be in the top 10% from the start.

It is demanding: in our trust, we started delivering a programme based on the content of the ECF in 2019, and it was clear that even many of our experienced and best teachers had not come across the evidence-based research that underpins the ECF.

As someone who lived and breathed the construction of the ECF, I advocate for Ambition Institute’s Early Career Teachers programme in delivering the government’s Early Career Framework with fidelity, but I am hopeful that all of the six providers will turn to quality rather than compromising on quality and fidelity as they go for price.  

The reason I advocate for Ambition Institute is because they’ve been doing it for two years, they’ve Quality Assured the process.

In 2019/20, Ambition ran one of the first ECF pilots to around 400 participants and then scaled this up as part of the early rollout in 20/21 to 4,000 participants in the country – this has helped them to learn how to operate at scale and build the systems necessary to deliver quality across the country. It’s also helped to iterate the programme through feedback from partners (including us at Advantage Schools) ahead of the National Rollout. That’s two years to become one of the best providers.

Some of the smartest people in that room writing the ECF have effectively dedicated their lives to making this, the NPQs and further professional learning game-changing for the system, and hence they now work for organisations delivering it.

Why not Do It Yourself?

There’s quite a bit of chat about people doing their own DIY versions. To be blunt, this will be a car crash. In some cases, some Local Authorities are trying to partner with Appropriate Bodies and offer their own DIY version of the ECF. It is likely that this will disproportionately affect the poorest areas and the most underdeveloped schools or trusts.

And I think in turn their Early Career Teachers will get the worst deal.

I can’t understand why anyone would take on the expense, effort and risk of Quality Assurance to develop their own when there are funded very high-quality programmes available written by some of the smartest people, and ready to go. If you’re thinking of doing this, you need to be very confident that you’re producing something even better than some very well-resourced organisations, and I’d bet in most cases that it will be inferior.

So, this blog is really an urge to school leaders to be judicious, demand a lot from the delivery partners and lead providers, including Teaching School Hubs, that are delivering the ECF, and embrace the opportunity for this to be game-changing.

I do have some reservations about the future development of the ECF over the next few years, and I’ll blog about them separately.

But right now, implementing this well is one of our biggest priorities.



  1. A very thought provoking piece of writing. I absolutely agree about the need for fidelity. I, for one, will be taking this advice and using the excellent standardised materials to develop and grow ECTs with whom I will work. Thank you for this succinct piece. It was appreciated.


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