The Guardian has an interesting report on the new School Direct teacher training scheme, which has come under attack with critics saying it will cause chaos. This is an extract describing a visit to Balcarras teaching school …
School Direct is the controversial scheme introduced by Michael Gove, the education secretary, as part of his plan to train more teachers in schools. It has come under fire because of fears it cannot train enough teachers and there may be a teacher shortage on the horizon. Worries have also been expressed about whether this sort of training lacks some of the essential grounding offered by a university-based PGCE.
All the women here at Balcarras rate highly the quality of their learning experience as the school’s first cohort of School Direct “guinea pigs”, and value the way the school embraced them as respected members of staff. They have also secured their first jobs: while Scott is moving to a school in Wiltshire, McGlade and Hencher will start as newly qualified teachers at Balcarras this September.
Why did they choose to train through this scheme rather than opt for the more standard PGCE based in a university?
“The head wrote to me about it during my final year at uni to ask if I’d be interested,” says Scott. The same letter landed on McGlade’s doormat. Both had been students at Balcarras, and having registered the fact that they were keen on a teaching career, the headteacher, Chris Healy, clearly wasn’t going to miss the chance of getting two of his high-achievers back.
Scott jumped at the chance. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t want to do a PGCE after just having done four years of uni. I wanted to work,” she explains. “I was looking at the Graduate Training Programme [another training-on-the-job method], but places were much harder to come by. And I was looking at other careers as well. So when the letter came from Balcarras it felt like a sign.”
McGlade had already been accepted on to a PGCE course, so had to swap. “I’d wanted to do my training placement at Balcarras but was told I couldn’t [by her PGCE provider],” she recalls.
The reduced cost of School Direct can also be an incentive. “Fees are £3,000 cheaper than a PGCE,” observes Hencher, who lives locally and heard about the scheme from a teacher she knew. “And we don’t have do the big written assignments.”
Given lower fees, less onerous written work and the attraction of being able to choose – or at least apply to – the specific schools where they hope to train, it is easy to see why prospective trainees might choose the School Direct route.
A quarter of all training places, 10,000 in all, have been assigned to schools from this September, which has left universities worried about the future of their teacher training courses.
“The School Direct programme allows [the DfE] to marginalise education departments in universities in a way that doesn’t involve them doing anything,” says the director of Birmingham City University’s centre for research in education, Prof Martin Fautley, wryly. “Vice-chancellors are going to have an eye to their Excel spreadsheets, and if numbers don’t work, then universities aren’t going to be running those courses. In the final analysis, only the research-intensive universities would be able to sustain their departments because they can generate sufficient funds independently. That would take out a whole layer of education research and thought.”
But the scheme has hit a snag, with estimates suggesting only 5,000 of the 10,000 places have been filled by schools, and fears of a future teacher shortage.
If Gove is concerned about this, he is not saying so. He recently told the Commons that School Direct had “achieved a dramatic increase in the number of highly qualified graduates entering the profession.” According to Dr Jonathan Savage, however, reader in education at Manchester Metropolitan University, “this is clearly untrue. In this academic year, there are only around 500 graduates undertaking School Direct placements – similar to the secondary PGCE course in my university and clearly tiny in relation to the number of teachers the country needs. There is no way of knowing whether from September 2013 there will be a ‘dramatic increase’ in ‘high-quality graduates’. And all the evidence to date is pointing in the opposite direction.”
Prof Tim Brighouse, the former schools commissioner for London, has warned of chaos. “The network we had of [initial teacher training] provision was built up very carefully … in the knowledge that 80% of those who train somewhere get jobs in that locality,” he says. “That is now in the process of being deconstructed. You’ll probably get gluts in areas you don’t need, and shortages in others. School Direct is going to make the supply of teachers more random.”
Balcarras illustrates the emerging problem. It was allowed to recruit to 12 positions last year, but actually found just four candidates it wanted to train. This year, it was permitted the same number of possible placements and has to date recruited six, with just two months left…
What are your thoughts about School Direct? Does it have potential to improve the training of teachers or are there fundamental flaws with the approach? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…