Continuing our series of interviews with teacher training professionals, we spoke to Sophie Allchin of Mid Essex Initial Teacher Training. Sophie is Director of MEITT, and also works as a Support Partner for The National Association of School Based Teacher Trainers. She is a Professional Affiliate Member of the Chartered College of Teaching and also a Trustee of the London Nightline Charity.

What brought you to work in education?

Whilst completing my BSc in Psychology at UCL, I volunteered at London Nightline, a telephone helpline for students. When I graduated, I was fortunate enough to be employed by the charity as their Programme Coordinator, overseeing 80 volunteers working with over 20 universities across London. Although most of the service users and volunteers were only a little younger than me, I had to take on a lot of responsibility. I am now a trustee of the charity which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

A role at Mid Essex ITT came up when my children had all started at school. The role focused on marketing and recruitment which were a real challenge at that time – seven years later and recruitment to teaching is still a challenge, but our cohort has actually tripled in size. Since starting, I progressed to Programme Manager and then Director. I love my role and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with our schools and the trainees.

Who are Mid Essex Initial Teacher Training?

Mid Essex ITT has been operating for over 25 years as a consortium of secondary schools who are passionate about training new teachers. We are one of the oldest SCITTs in the country and currently have a partnership of 14 schools who are all hugely supportive and want to drive the scheme forwards. We are a mid-sized SCITT with a close-knit team focussed on delivering the best possible training for the teachers in our region. We never sit on our laurels and are always seeking to improve, tweak and improve our provision. Our Course Tutors are all hugely experienced and are all still practising teachers so they know the current challenges trainees experience. The team has a positive ‘can do’ attitude with an emphasis on teamwork so you are never really working on your own. Someone is always there to support you, whether you are a trainee, mentor or staff member.

You have experience of working with people suffering from mental health or wellbeing problems in your previous role. How have you been able to bring that experience to your work?

I initially thought I would not be able to use my skills in mental health and wellbeing in my role at Mid Essex ITT. However, I have seen such an increase in awareness in the importance of mental health awareness in both students and teachers. I am amazed at how often I can bring the skills from my previous roles in. It is becoming more openly discussed and I have been able to use my experience to inform what we do as a training provider.

At MEITT we have always pushed trainee wellbeing to the front of the agenda and treat it as a priority. We have put resources in place for trainee teachers such as free and speedy access to a counsellor who can be booked at short notice and chances to informally chat with a dedicated Course Tutor and other staff using our ‘open-door’ policy.  This year we have focused on celebrating the highs, starting a Trainee of the Week scheme and sending out postcards to both trainees and mentors celebrate other achievements.

In 2020 MEITT also produced a wellbeing booklet covering all the basics on how to look after your wellbeing when training. We also circulated some guidance to trainees during lockdown about looking after yourself when you are working from home. 

What tips can you give anyone embarking on teacher training this year?

Be honest and ask for help if you are struggling. If you have had difficulties with mental health or wellbeing previously, or if you are experiencing something for the first time, bring it up early on with your training provider and have an open and honest conversation. If you need additional support, don’t be shy about using the services.

Aside from mental health, you may also find you struggle at times with the workload – similarly, please do ask your mentors and Course Tutor for help. They are there to help you to be the best teacher you can be and often will have some tips and tricks they can share with you. In the training year your wellbeing can often be challenged by workload and related stress; however:.

  • Speak to other trainees and share the highs and the lows
  • Reflect – there will always be good days and bad days in every job
  • Do not let one lesson good or bad define your day

What next for MEITT?

We have been really missing our in-person events. Normally we have a very busy calendar of coffee mornings, school experience days, recruitment events, interviews etc. Until we can resume them, we have a rolling appointment schedule of virtual ‘coffee mornings’ available on the website. We set them up so people can talk through all the different options and ask any questions – applying for teacher training can be quite confusing with all the different routes available. I would definitely recommend booking one submitting an application, or just to find out if Mid Essex ITT is the right provider for you. Our applications for our September 2021 programme close in June.