Changing Trends in Teacher Training – and Why It Matters
It has been widely accepted for some time that Britain faces a shortage of skilled teachers, and that this has led to the country lagging behind other developed nations in terms of workforce skills. As shortages in some subjects, such as maths and science, become more acute, the government is keen to put its weight behind a variety of new teacher recruitment drives. However, the way in which teachers train is changing – what kind of impact can we expect this to have in the future?
Routes into Teaching
There are two principal routes into teaching: a university-based post graduate qualification, or a school based training course. Both lead to a PGCE qualification and Qualified Teacher Status or QTS – but for many new teachers, the attractions of a school based training course far outweigh the more traditional, university based route.
Statistics show that in 2015, for the first time, more than half of postgraduate teacher training places will be in schools-led schemes. There are a variety of options here, from School Direct to Teach First and other variations, but the core point is the same – getting new teachers up to standard and in front of classes quickly, while they earn on the job.
The shortage of maths and science teachers in particular has led to the creation of a new schools-led teacher training scheme, called Researchers in Schools. Through the latest salary uplift programme, PhDs in maths, science and computer science are promised a salary of around £40k for their first two years of teaching, as compared to the normal starting salary of £17k.
Having better qualified, more incentivised, more innovative science and maths teachers should in theory lead to a greater uptake of these subjects, which in turn will filter through to a greater university uptake, eventually helping to fix the nationwide skills shortage in our work force.
Universities Voice Concerns
Not everyone is in favour of more teacher recruitment schemes, however. In September 2014, Bath University became the first university to drop its well respected PGCE course, and other universities may well follow suit. The Russell Group, in a submission to the Education Select Committee, have recently voiced concern about the growing emphasis on schemes such as School Direct.
Does it matter where teachers train, so long as they train well and are effective in their jobs? Well, yes, some would argue, it does. Universities maintain that teachers need stronger research and academic pedagogy backgrounds than entirely school-based training can provide. After all, it’s not enough to be an expert in your subject if you are not also an expert in teaching methodology and theories. An increasing focus on schools-led training, some believe, will actually lead to a generation of teachers who are less innovative, less effective and less able and willing to take risks.
The Lure of League Tables?
Supporters of schools-led training schemes dismiss this as scaremongering, and point to the generally excellent results their teachers achieve. Schools themselves tend to be strongly in favour of school-led training, particularly for maths and science teachers, where the hope is that these teachers will provide an immediate upswing for the school in the new league tables, due to be introduced in the 2015/16 academic year.
Schools will be required to publish a variety of performance indicators, including “Progress 8”, “Attainment 8” and the EBacc – all of which measure not only how many pupils are achieving grades A-C, but in which subjects, with an emphasis on the core curriculum subjects of maths, science, English, computer science and history.
Nevertheless, among universities and traditionalists, fears remain that the increasing number of schools-led recruitment schemes may lead to a long term drop in the standard of teaching – the exact opposite of their stated aims. Some might consider schools to be short sighted in favouring on the job training over the university route – after all, a recent survey for the NASUWT found that fewer than one third of parents actually bother with league tables when selecting a school.
For the consumers in all of this – the children themselves, and their parents, the over-riding concern is simply that teachers do a good job. Whether the training for that should be university based or school based, however, is likely to continue to be a cause for debate among professionals for some years to come.
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