Those Who Can, Teach
The training of new teachers is increasingly taking place in the classroom. But is it good for the children or the school to have 'green' wannabe-teachers in the classroom? Sally Hobbs explains.
In the past, to become a qualified teacher meant undertaking a BEd, BA in Education or studying for a degree before completing a PGCE. This all looks set to change. The Coalition Government, as outlined in the recent Education White Paper, have proposed that future routes into teaching will increasingly include Teach First, SCITT and Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) - all placing the onus on the school to provide training as well as work experience. The independent sector has long championed alternative routes into teaching and as a result has attracted some of the brightest and most ambitious teachers who might otherwise not have been attracted to the profession. But what does it mean to be on a Graduate Teacher Programme, or GTP, and how does this benefit the school, the pupils and the fee-paying parents?
Orchard House, along with many other independent schools, is regularly approached by graduates seeking a year's placement for the GTP. These would-be teachers may already be working in the school as an unqualified support assistant but they may also have gone into another career and then decided to go into teaching. Either way, they usually have several years under their belt since graduating and, whilst being highly motivated, they may be unable to afford the luxury of a year as a full-time, unpaid, student again. For the great majority of the time, he or she is at the mercy of his school-based mentor and the quality of this relationship is all important. During the year, the trainee teachers are required to spend six weeks in a maintained school; this provides them with valuable experience of different teaching methods, often in larger classes and with fewer specialist teachers. In turn we are able to take a GTP trainee from a state school. Ironically, GTP trainees from the state only have to spend two weeks at an independent schools, versus the six weeks a trainee from the independent has to spend in the state. Perhaps the excellence of the independent sector is all too evident in those precious two weeks!
Those coming into the independent sector do so because they perceive it to offer them the finest graduate training. Jackson Creegan, one of our GTP students this year says: 'I feel the independent sector fully appreciates the value of retaining the very best teaching staff and so investing substantial time and money into their GTP student teachers is of paramount importance. Knowing that I have the full backing of my colleagues at every step gives me the required confidence to submerge myself into the course and achieve the first class teaching standards one would expect from an independent school practitioner.' Another GTP teacher, already familiar with a maintained primary school, told me he appreciated 'the smaller classes, the additional teaching staff, the exceptionally high expectations the staff have of their pupils, the pupils' confidence and attainment, the diversity and flexibility of the curriculum, the large amount of sport, the number of specialist teachers and the wide choice of clubs and other extra-curricular activities on offer'. A not unsubstantial list of qualities.
It is clear that the independent sector is very appealing to those seeking a placement on the GTP but what is in it for the school itself? Certainly there is no financial incentive; indeed, it costs the schools thousands of pounds to take on a GTP student teacher who may well be at university one day a week and away on his or her second placement for half a term. The answer lies in the school's desire to remain at the cutting edge of educational practice and to invest in the future. The Head of Prospect House School in London, Dianne Barratt, commented to me: 'Independent schools have a duty to engage with the continuing professional development of those already in the profession as well as for those entering. We have a duty to engage in current educational thinking and to be constantly self-critical whilst analysing what make a good education. The GTP offers a chance to evaluate shared practice.' At Garden House, another London prep, the GTP has successfully produced some of the school's most inspiring and dynamic teachers. The school has many graduates who join the staff as teaching assistants. After a year in the classroom prospective candidates are interviewed by the Head for a place on the scheme. Up to three graduates could be successful but, as one Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) said, 'it has taken me almost as long as a doctor to train to be a teacher but it has been really worthwhile.' At Broomwood Hall, also in London, teacher taster days are held; they are advertised on the ISC website and are open to anyone who might be interested in exploring independent school teaching. The school welcomes a whole range of professionals who are interested in a change of career and are considering taking a year off work to take a PGCE, or possibly looking at the GTP or Teach First options.
But how does all this training affect the children? Is it good to have these 'green' wannabe-teachers in the classroom? The answer is, categorically, yes. Principally, they have the benefit of an extra person in the classroom who has time for them and who brings their own subject specialism to the pupils. For example, a graduate with a classical studies background can take a lead in organising a Classical Studies day. His or her familiarity with the myths and mores of the ancient Greeks will complement the knowledge of the regular class teacher who will be delighted to take a back seat on such an occasion. A history graduate currently on his school placement delights children with his knowledge of events and understanding of current affairs - a blessing on a trip to Windsor Castle or when the class were writing a journal from the point of view of a child brought up in medieval days. Geography graduates often become involved with sustainability programmes, helping their school to gain coveted eco-friendly awards. A cross-country athlete who competes in national events is a role model and encourages children to be more involved in competitive sport.
Experience of Special Educational Needs is particularly welcome so that the school can offer first class support for children with reading or writing difficulties who may not need expensive individual lessons. Whatever their subject, the trainee teachers bring new resources, often ones they have made themselves, and fresh ideas; he or she will have spent time in different classes and will not only expose the children to different teaching styles but also have the time to give greater attention. There is always a need for adult chess players in the run-up to chess tournaments! In most cases the GTP teacher will have worked in other jobs or professions and can draw upon previous experience when faced with a challenging question for the class. The extra adult will bring his or her own specialisms in many curriculum subjects and will certainly be very motivated to produce an excellent lesson.
At the end of the GTP, there is often the prospect of a job for the trainee. In the first two months of the year, I know my recruitment needs and what better place to start the search than with trainee teachers whose work ethic and team spirit is on full view? Successful GTP teachers are often the first to secure contracts; their lack of experience is balanced by their ability to work and study hard, their practical experience and their knowledge of the school offering the post. But is the independent sector whole-heartedly behind school-based teacher training? No. Most of the heads I spoke to wanted to keep the university route too. The reasons cited included a concern that the students lack exposure to child development and to theory. In addition, their knowledge of teaching is based almost entirely on their classroom mentor's interpretation of pedagogy. There is also the question of an unreasonable work burden placed upon the mentor. The costs - both financial and in time - are considerable.
But despite this, I feel the advantages of school-based teacher training are worth all the effort and help develop the careers of those who will become the next generation of brilliant teachers for our schools.