Teacher training: Keeping the pipeline open

Written by: Emma Hollis | Published:
Crucial work: Emma Hollis, executive director, National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers

Initial teacher training providers and trainees are pulling out all the stops to make things work and to keep the teaching supply chain open, says Emma Hollis

On March 23, the government announced that schools would be closed to the majority of pupils for a prolonged period of time to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Media attention has inevitably, and rightly, focused on the implications for children and home-schooling, as well as the efforts of our teaching and school staff to maintain provision for our key workers and vulnerable children.

However, an untold story is the efforts of initial teacher training (ITT) providers, who have responded to confirmation that they will be able to award qualified teacher status (QTS) at the end of the year in the normal way, based on the trainee’s trajectory at the point their programme was interrupted.

In only a matter of days ITT providers have had to completely change their delivery models for current trainees as well as overhauling all processes for recruitment and interviews – and they are pulling out all the stops to make things work and to ensure the supply of NQTs continues.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight what they and their trainees are doing during these challenging times to ensure that we continue to provide a flow of new teachers into the profession. I want to shine a spotlight on their hard work, which goes above and beyond the norm.

The crisis has meant that significant resources and energies have been diverted to support the current cohort of trainees through a very difficult time. Not only have providers had to invent and deliver an entirely new, distance learning programme of ITT (quite literally overnight), but they are also managing the mental health and wellbeing of trainees, trying to support schools within their partnerships, and managing their own staff and their reactions to the pandemic.

Like all of us, the professionals delivering ITT are also managing families and vulnerable relatives, the adjustment to the new ways we are all being asked to live our lives, and massive adaptations to the way they are being asked to work and communicate. On top of the personal and professional pressures they face themselves, they are relied upon to provide additional support to the trainees, who in turn are dealing with all the same issues.

Assessment processes are also having to be reinvented at extremely short notice and there is a lot of anxiety across the sector about getting this right and making it fair. Additionally, without formal guidance yet being published on how to manage those trainees who are not on a trajectory to meet the Teachers’ Standards, providers are coming under significant pressure from those weaker trainees who are on a cause for concern (or at risk of being placed on one) because we do not have answers to their (understandable) questions about what will happen to them.

Providers are also recreating their recruitment processes at extremely short notice and this is often proving to be extremely complex and time-consuming. They are being innovative in how they manage this (invigilating testing via video-conference, for example) but all of this takes a lot of time and energy and generates significant anxiety as normal recruitment processes which ensure we get the right people in front of our children, such as observing applicants’ interactions with children, cannot be incorporated.

Despite all these considerable hurdles to jump, I have been hearing of many incredible “on the ground” responses from ITT providers.

At Keele and North Staffordshire Teacher Education the programme adjustments were quickly established to support trainee teachers to meet the Teachers’ Standards and so secure their award of QTS:

  • A clear programme of professional enquiries that relate to the knowledge that underpins the Teachers’ Standards.
  • A subject knowledge programme, so that teachers continue to develop their own curriculum understanding.
  • Weekly group tutorials to share teaching experiences.
  • Weekly Zoom-teach opportunities to enable teachers to develop their practice and pedagogy. We have used a metacognitive framework called Thinking Moves (https://dialogueworks.co.uk/thinking-moves/). Each week the ATs either teach in relation to a move and a subject or co-analyse the teaching of others, so that they continue to develop both their teaching and their reflective capabilities.
  • One-to-one contact for trainee teachers with a focus on wellbeing and progress through set tasks.
  • Support for the final assignment included in the weekly online group tutorial and the revised reading list to include online sources.
  • Alternative enquiries have been provided for Lesson Study, Switch on Reading, Phonics and Safeguarding.

Diane Swift, director at Keele and North Staffordshire, said: “The safety and wellbeing of the SCITT community and partner schools were our highest priorities as we rapidly implemented reasonable alternatives to replace face-to-face sessions and school placements.”

Meanwhile a primary trainee at the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance has made some PE videos for YouTube and a secondary trainee has been involved in making a short animated book for young children to explain the need for isolation.

Teaching School and SCITT director Patrick Garton explained how their provision has been rapidly adapted with more regular email updates, online webinars to keep in touch and continue learning, and lots of individual phone calls and emails. He added: “An amended and very flexible set of expectations keeps everyone feeling a sense of purpose and identity.”

And at the Colchester Teacher Training Consortium, many of the trainees are supporting schools with online lessons/video-conferencing teaching and helping the NHS volunteering. As such, the programmes for 60 trainees are being conducted very much on an individual basis.

Secondary director Samantha Torr explained: “I have set some tasks they must all do for QTS, i.e. home-school lesson-planning and sequence planning for schemes of work. We are going to share the best ones for each subject for parents on our Facebook account.

“Central training and subject studies continue online, as we are using exam board resources to support marking and feedback. We have one meeting a week to discuss research on the Teachers’ Standards. They will record all of this in their evidence.”

Never have we needed teachers more than now and never has the hard work and dedication of ITT providers been more vital in protecting the flow of entrants to the profession.

None of us can know what the world, and our schools, may look like over the coming weeks and months but what I can confidently say is that the ITT sector will continue to rise to the challenge, surpassing all expectation and continuing to ensure our children have the very best teachers in front of them (or at least for now at the other end of a computer!).

  • Emma Hollis is executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT).

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