Teacher training: Growing your own

Written by: HTU | Published:

The government’s School Direct teacher training scheme will train more than 15,000 teachers next year. Headteacher Tom Donohoe explains why his school has embraced the approach.

If you’re looking for school-led training, School Direct is the option for you. With School Direct you’ll be training in a school from day one.” 

This is what the Department for Education (DfE) website says about School Direct, a statement which shows clearly the high priority being placed on the scheme by the powers that be.

Despite the obvious emphasis that the government is placing on School Direct, I am constantly surprised by how many headteachers I meet who still seem unaware of this Initial Teacher Training (ITT) route into our profession.

In this article, I will attempt to explain how schools can get involved in School Direct and while I do not want to be seen to be showing a preference for one ITT course over another, as a headteacher who has been involved with the GTP (Graduate Trainee Programme) and now School Direct for more than 10 years, I will outline what I consider to be the advantages of signing up to School Direct.

At a recent headteachers’ meeting, there were a number of heads bemoaning the lack of quality applicants their schools had received for vacant NQT positions. When I suggested that School Direct may help provide a solution, they looked at me completely blankly. I explained that, in my view, School Direct gives schools the opportunity to select candidates for ITT that they feel will best fit their school and then enables the school to shape the way in which teachers are actually trained – therefore growing the teachers of tomorrow.

School Direct is an approach to ITT that gives schools more influence over the ways teachers are trained. You may be aware that School Direct took over from the GTP in 2012 and since then the numbers of people training to be teachers via this work-based route have increased. The most recent data shows that there are now more than 900 School Direct partnerships offering more than 15,000 training places.

The school in which I am headteacher, Anton Junior in Hampshire, leads one of those 900 partnerships and we have 12 schools in our consortium. This number has grown from the nine we had in the first year and I anticipate it increasing again to 20 for the next application round. 

The way that School Direct works is through a partnership between a lead school, other schools and an accredited teacher training provider; ours is the University of Southampton. If your school were to become involved in School Direct you would need to decide if you want to join an existing partnership or become a lead school. The lead school must be a local authority-maintained school, special school, academy or a free school. Partnerships led by outstanding schools such as Teaching Schools or by academy chains are encouraged.

The DfE is encouraging schools to join an existing School Direct partnership because it enables greater opportunities to share expertise, meet the employment expectation (more of that later) and implement efficient management and administration of the programme. 

The lead school has overall responsibility for requesting places from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and ensuring that the criteria for School Direct are met. 

My advice would be that if you have limited experience with GTP/School Direct, you should join an existing consortium, as I have found the leadership and administration of a network of schools, liaising with NCTL and UCAS, very time-consuming. 

In our experience of School Direct over the last two years, we have found that there is no shortage of applicants who want to be considered for the course. This year, we filled our 12 places at the first time of asking at our interview day at the end of November. The quality of applicants was impressive and while their previous experience varied, they all had sufficient primary experience to draw upon at interview. 

A large proportion of the applicants had previously worked as learning support assistants (LSAs) and several of the schools in our consortium have replicated the process that we operate at Anton – employing LSAs with degrees for a year with the intention of subsequently supporting them on School Direct. 

For potential trainees there are two School Direct options. First, the School Direct Training Programme is for graduates who want to feel part of a school team while training. As with PGCE, the trainee will have to pay fees (up to a maximum of £9,000) but may be eligible for a bursary depending on the classification of their degree. As with other university courses, student loans are available for School Direct.

Second is the School Direct Salaried Programme, an employment-based route for high-quality experienced graduates with at least three years’ work experience. The course is exactly the same, but on this programme trainees will earn a salary (up to around £16,000) while they train.

As a headteacher, it is important that you understand the difference between these two routes for you as a school. In the first example, when the trainee has to pay fees, a proportion of these fees are passed on to the host school. In our consortium this is around £5,000. This means that if a school employs one School Direct training programme trainee, the school will not only have a “free” member of staff, they will also receive around £5,000.

If a school supports a School Direct applicant on the salaried programme, the school has to pay a contribution (for us around £6,000) towards the salary of the trainee. 

I tend to look for two School Directs each year and am happy if one is on the training programme and the other is on the salaried route, as this means we get two members of staff at pretty much no cost. Both of these routes carry the award of qualified teacher status (QTS) at the end of a successful training year and in our consortium (and many others) it will also lead to the award of a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). 

This latter qualification is up to each consortium to decide whether they want to include or not. Personally, I think it makes our network attractive for trainees to apply to, as PGCE is recognised more internationally than QTS and teachers who want to travel are aware of this.

Other advantages of employing School Direct trainees in our schools include: 

  • School Direct enables you to select and recruit your own trainees, unlike on the PGCE course where students are selected by the university and sent out to schools on a placement.

  • There is an expectation that trainees will be employed by the school or partnership of schools once they are qualified and while there doesn’t seem to be anyone who will hold you to this the advantage is of course that you are “growing” your own staff.

  • With School Direct, schools are able to choose which teacher training provider to work with – as I said earlier, we work with the University of Southampton, but locally we are spoilt for choice as Reading, Winchester and Chichester Universities all run School Direct.

  • Teachers in my school relish the opportunity to have a School Direct in their class. They see the opportunity of mentoring trainees as a development to working with traditional university students and enjoy supporting them through their whole training journey.

  • In our school, we have not used a supply teacher for seven years. While our School Directs are based with one class in one year group, in emergency situations, they are able to cover for absent teachers when needed. 

  • This year, when I had a teacher go on a secondment to a deputy headship, I had no hesitation in asking one of my School Direct trainees to take over the responsibility for this class for the remaining part of the year. Unlike with GTP, School Direct are allowed to teach classes and do not have to be supernumerary.

One of the biggest benefits of School Direct is the training programme that a group of schools can offer. In our consortium here in Hampshire, trainees have one day a week out of school for their professional development. Twenty of these 40 days a year are provided by the university and are high-quality.

The other 20 days are provided by the schools in the consortium, taking into account the strengths of these schools. This means that, for example, trainees in our schools have all had two days in school specialising on design technology and another two days in a different school focusing on PE; all of this training was provided by advanced skills teachers in these subjects.

At the end of each school-based training day, trainees are expected to complete an anonymous survey evaluating the quality of the provision, so that we can constantly improve and develop the training programme. These evaluations have been hugely positive and as well as trainees commentating on the quality of the training, they have also praised the opportunity to have learning walks in all the other partnership schools. 

Whatever headteachers think about School Direct as a route into primary teaching, I think they need to recognise that it is here to stay. The shift from university-led to school-based teacher education continues for 2014/15; the number of places for graduates to train as teachers on the university-led PGCE will fall by almost a fifth, from 20,005 to 16,342 for courses starting next September. Meanwhile, places to train through School Direct will go up by three-fifths, from 9,586 to 15,254. There is no doubt that this government is prioritising this work-based route into teaching.  

  • Tom Donohoe is headteacher of Anton Junior School in Andover.

Further information

School Direct: www.education.gov.uk/schooldirect

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