The School-driven teacher training system is producing some excellent teachers just as the university-led system has done for many years. This blogpost is not a criticism of any of the remarkable students nor the brilliant schools with whom I am privileged to work. Where Teaching School Alliances invest in students alongside the university, the excellent PGCE qualification is enhanced even further. School Direct has the potential to make the PGCE what it should always have been: a true partnership between committed schools and universities. There are, however, problems emerging nationally because schools are being encouraged to ‘grow their own’ teachers from within their existing Teaching Assistants and volunteers. While developing talent, this approach is narrowing the teacher ‘gene pool’ and is not sustainable.
Many teaching assistants make brilliant teachers and, training largely in a school they know, take the PGCE course in their stride. Knowing the staff, children and parents of the school in which you are spending most of your course is a significant advantage when being observed and assessed against the Teachers’ Standards. You already have the status of an employee rather than student and psychologically that can make a big difference. You are an insider in whom the school is investing time, money and (among your colleagues) emotion. This is not to downplay the difficult transition from teaching assistant to teacher. It is not unusual to hear experienced teacher assistants exclaim that they had no idea how hard and involved classteaching is, despite having worked closely with teachers over a long period.
One of the problems of the ‘grow your own’ idea is that once you’ve trained one or two cohorts of teaching assistants, you either run out or you are recruiting less experienced staff who have only joined recently to replace the support staff you are now training. For Teaching School Alliances, faced with a recruitment crisis (and a DfE marketing campaign that stresses money above professional status), attracting applicants from outside their staff/school community is very challenging.
Another problem with the current policy is that students who are valued and do well because they know a school, may not develop the pedagogical breadth in their training that comes from exposure to new ideas from different settings. Schools often want students to learn one way (their way) of doing things. It is easy to come to believe that there is only one way of doing things. OfSTED reinforces this notion because schools have to confidently articulate their approach to outside inspectors so become good at promoting their ‘way’. When you are part of the school staff, it is important to buy into this ‘way’ so you make a full contribution to progress. What schools cannot afford to spend time on is the idea that there is no one single way that meets all children’s needs. To acknowledge this possibility is to invite a critical OfSTED report so any thought of a need to broaden pedagogical understanding outside of the narrow parameters of a School Improvement Plan is suppressed. Some heads do not want their students exposed to other schools’ approaches because they do not see the point. By law, every student has to have a second school experience but, for some headteachers, this is an unnecessary imposition on their staffing arrangements.
Under the university-led system, students often spread ideas into schools. Students can carry with them an understanding that there is more than one approach and are an important part of the profession’s autonomy. With some students now spending more time in a single school and little time elsewhere, the range of ideas coming into the school can reduce alongside the professional autonomy of new staff. The resultant narrowing of pedagogy can mean that where one approach does not meet the needs the child, there are fewer alternatives available to the staff.
Students in the university-led system are drawn from a wide geographical area to be trained as professionals who could continue their development in an early career anywhere. Where schools are growing their own, those who do not know or are not known by the setting are less likely to apply. To get voluntary experience, it is useful and sometimes necessary to have contacts in a school. In this internship scenario, knowing a teacher can be the key to entering the profession. For this reason, the best Teaching School Alliances run structured pre-course school experience programmes open to all. Where these opportunities are not offered, some people with excellent potential may be lost to the profession and the teacher ‘gene pool’ reduced.