Diary of a headteacher: Growing your own

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
Photo: iStock

The opportunity to train and develop your own teachers was too good to miss, says Tom Donohoe

One of the things I enjoy about the autumn term is watching new staff settle in to our happy little school; I get pleasure from seeing them begin to form relationships with their new colleagues as well as with the children. Although we are only a two-form entry junior school with just eight classes, since we have engaged with School Direct, each September sees a little flurry of new staff joining our team.

This September has been no exception, as two graduates have joined us straight from university to work for a year as teaching assistants, two staff who worked last year as teaching assistants have started their School Direct year, and two outstanding School Direct trainees have become NQTs. In addition, we were very excited to be approved as one of only 10 providers nationally to run a new Primary Teacher Training course specialising in PE, so we also have four sports graduates working with us for a year until they gain their QTS and a PGCE for good measure.

When the coalition government brought in School Direct it seemed logical for us to engage. We became a lead school and the consortium of schools working with us quickly grew to around 20. Headteachers in local schools could see the obvious advantages in employing a School Direct trainee in their school; most obviously a good trainee who works with you for a whole year can very quickly became an effective extra member of your staff team, immediately increasing your capacity and enabling you to release other staff for strategic work, as well as covering for absent colleagues.

We always try to place the School Direct trainees with teachers who we feel would benefit the most – for example my literacy team leader has a couple of meaty whole-school initiatives she wants to work on this year, so having a trainee in her class provides consistency for the children when she is out doing her literacy bits.

One aspect of our provision that has appealed to consortium headteachers is their opportunity to get fully involved in the interview process. As the lead school we take responsibility for advertising and marketing the course, including meeting interested candidates and answering their 1,001 questions! We will check qualifications, handle paperwork, scrutinise references and shortlist applications, but every headteacher is invited to the interview day.

In effect this means that heads all get the opportunity to watch the applicants in action either doing a presentation, teaching a group of children or in the interview itself. At the end of the day we reconvene and we go through each of the applicants in turn to try to match candidates to schools. Though this finale to the day might sound like a bit of a bunfight, so far we have managed to allocate trainees without it coming to blows!

If you choose a School Direct trainee on the Training route they will cost your school nothing, the trainee will have to take a student loan to pay their fees as they would if they were doing a PGCE at university.

If you want to employ a Salaried trainee it will currently cost you around £10,000, though the government has just announced a reduction in the financial contribution of £5,000 per salaried trainee so you would want to check these details with the lead school, as it could mean you end up paying up to £15,000. During conversations with the lead school, you would also be sensible to check out how much training the trainee will be attending and how long they will be spending on their second school placement. It is important to know when they will not be in your school, so that you are going into the process with your eyes open.

You have probably, and rightly, concluded that I am an advocate of School Direct. Bringing in high-quality, fresh, enthusiastic trainees creates a real buzz around the school – matching them with more experienced and effective classroom practitioners really does mean that you can “grow your own”.

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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