Ian Power, the Membership Secretary for HMC and an inspector of independent schools, writes for Prep School magazine as he explores the changing landscape of initial teacher training…
The world of teacher training has changed, and probably, forever. Long gone are the days when sixth formers with the teaching bug would opt for four-year education degree courses, or final-year undergraduates consider a handful of PGCE courses at well-known university departments up and down the country. Of course such courses and options still exist, but a quick look at the UCAS website, which manages all teacher training applications nowadays, will reveal literally hundreds of initial teacher training providers offering a wide range of qualifications and accreditations. In this brave new world of teacher training the currency is not the PGCE, but QTS, and the new training institutions are not university education departments, but schools. Ever since Michael Gove heralded the first ‘teaching schools’ a revolution has started with schools taking control of teacher training, whether in large consortia linked through multi-academy trusts such as United Learning or Ark, or in small local groups of schools forming their own School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) provision.
The figures speak for themselves. Throughout its ten-year history, IStip (Independent Schools Teacher Induction Panel) has provided statutory induction for over a thousand newly qualified teachers (NQTs) every year for schools within the ISC associations. For eight of those ten years, the proportion of NQTs with a PGCE qualification or an education degree was 75%, with only a quarter coming from a small number of ‘on-the-job’ training routes. These figures mirrored very closely the national figures for the maintained sector, where a slightly higher proportion of NQTs came through traditional university-based PGCE courses. The most recent figures for IStip show that this proportion has fallen in a single year to 55%. The latest national figures confirm that nearly half of all NQTs now come from teacher-centred on-the-job training. All the indications are that this figure will only increase year on year.
Successive education secretaries have reaffirmed the Gove mantra that teacher training should mirror the medical profession where the best new medics are trained in teaching hospitals, i.e. the best place for teacher training should be in the best teaching schools. The introduction of the School Direct funding mechanism for new trainees and greater freedoms for maintained schools to develop their own training programmes and access this funding have seen the best schools take the initiative and become serious players in the teacher training game. At the same time, university education departments have come under immense pressure, having lost their training monopoly and with many facing radical restructuring and even closure. Furthermore, having been the drivers of initial teacher education, many now have to tailor their programmes to the needs of schools. In simple terms, the money follows the trainees and as more trainees move into school-based training so does the funding. Universities have suddenly found themselves with reduced allocations of training places and a very uncertain future.
To add insult to injury, during the 2015-2016 recruiting cycle in several over-subscribed subjects such as history and PE, the government cut university allocations by 20% in early November, before many had even started recruiting! The ever-growing number of school-centred providers had started recruiting early, secured the funding and in effect took places destined for the universities. What is more, those departments face the real prospect of further reductions in their allocations for the 2016-2017 cycle as more school-centred consortia market aggressively and recruit early.
What are the implications for the independent sector? The figures show that across the sector around 50% of vacancies each year are filled by NQTs, a figure mirrored in the maintained sector. NQTs are a vital source of new teachers for all schools and the real danger is that the independent sector is falling behind in the race to secure the brightest and the best of the newest recruits to the profession. The number of NQTs inducted in ISC association schools has fallen by nearly 15% in the course of the past three years. Is it a coincidence that this fall occurs at the same time as the rapid rise in school-centred initial teacher training and a 30% fall in the number of trainees with university PGCEs? The need in the independent sector for NQTs has not diminished, but the pool of potential university-trained candidates certainly has.
What should the sector do? The answer is obvious; more of our schools have to engage with school-centred initial teacher training. For schools that are part of groups that span both the maintained and independent sectors this is already happening, and on a large scale, for example United Learning is training over 100 teachers every year. For schools with a longstanding commitment to on-the-job training, there is already an infrastructure with dedicated induction managers and mentors and the past few years have seen these schools increase this capacity. Others have actively sought to join the growing number of local SCITTs, often specialising in shortage subjects such as physics and modern languages where our schools have real strengths and expertise.
HMC launched its own teacher recruitment programme in 2014 known as HMC Teacher Training (HMCTT). The main aim of HMCTT is to gather a pool of high quality recent graduates and potential career changers keen to work in independent schools. This has involved a significant investment in marketing and communications, and in developing a major presence online and at university careers fairs. The aim is that HMCTT becomes the interface between schools advertising vacancies and the graduate candidate pool. In the first two years of the scheme, over 100 graduates have secured jobs in HMC schools for on-the-job training, often in competition with NQTs and experienced teachers. The candidate pool now exceeds 3000. For its part HMC has offered pre-induction training and access to other bespoke training opportunities during the two years leading to statutory induction. For the coming academic year, HMCTT is offering schools even more flexibility in terms of the qualifications offered, access to QTS, and the choice of training provider.
In the past year, schools have asked for the HMCTT scheme to be extended to cover junior and prep schools. There is no doubt that the challenges for on-the-job training in the primary sector are even greater and there is the need for some innovative thinking in this area, probably by linking senior and junior independent schools in local consortia. What is clear is that the challenges facing the prep and junior sector are no less than those already experienced by senior schools. Places allocated to traditional four-year primary education degree courses are in terminal decline and the number of primary university-based PGCE places continues to fall. Many potential trainees are being drawn into sophisticated, well-funded academy-led on-the-job training schemes, many of which effectively take them out of the job market for several years.
The answer is indeed a statement of the obvious, but as a sector we ignore it at our peril. The HMCTT project has revealed that we need to allocate resources through associations and schools to develop the best marketing, recruitment and training programmes. We need to advocate the advantages of working in our sector and the excellent opportunities for career development and enhancement. In short, we need to demonstrate to new graduates and those career changers that working in the independent sector are different and hugely rewarding. Why would the best graduates not want to work in the some of the best schools in the world? Of course they would, but in the new world of initial teacher training to ensure that they do we all need to invest in on-the-job training and equally aggressive marketing.
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