The education secretary often says that we have the best generation of teachers this country has ever seen. I completely agree with him – I have visited plenty of schools during my time with the government and I have been really impressed by the skill, passion and sheer hard work of the teachers I have met.
They are one of the most important forces for good in our society, responsible for the education of millions of children and preparing them for the next stage of their lives. It is why I want to ensure that anyone who joins their ranks has the best possible chance to succeed.
I have joined the Teaching Agency as chief executive at an exciting time for teacher training – things are changing, and for the better. The very best schools are now at the centre of training and developing the next generation of teachers.
Through the new School Direct programme, headteachers can hand-pick the graduates they believe have the potential to be superb teachers in their school. This year schools have already been more selective in their recruitment of trainees than conventional providers – the proportion of graduates with a 2:1 or better training in schools is six per cent higher than in other provision. They can apply for training places based on their recruitment needs, diverting trainees to the schools with the greatest need within the partnership.
Schools are also free to choose the accredited training providers they want to work with, developing their training programme together. They can tailor their offering to the needs of the school, alongside the core elements of initial teacher training (ITT).
Special schools often have difficulties in finding new teachers, trained in mainstream environments, who have the experience of supporting children with special needs. With this new programme, they can build in specific SEN training to their ITT offering. Or, schools in tough areas with challenging pupils will be able to adapt their programmes to extra training in behaviour management.
It is proving to be a popular model – some of our best universities were involved in the pilot including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester.
School Direct programmes must meet the national ITT criteria to award qualified teacher status and many schools will want to offer a PGCE in partnership with their provider – the most widely respected teaching qualification.
I recently visited some School Direct trainees who had just started their first year at Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace. Their enthusiasm was awe-inspiring. They couldn’t wait to start teaching. And I saw them in action – their zeal and excitement was infectious in the classroom, their pupils fully engaged. I know from my own experience as a headteacher that engaging a room full of young minds can be a real challenge. For these trainees to have such a command of the classroom so early on in their careers was impressive.
What the Harris trainees valued most of all was the direct, day-to-day contact and support from excellent teachers at the school – seeing them in action, learning from them and getting their advice on handling tricky situations with pupils.
Many more trainees stand to benefit from the Harris experience, not least because they are expanding their School Direct offer next year. They, and many other schools, have clearly seen the benefits of training their future teachers in-house and value the opportunity to take ownership of the training programme, tailoring it to their needs.
Many of the schools involved this year and expressing interest for next year are outstanding schools with a range of schools in their alliance. This allows the combination of training in the best schools with experience in some that are more challenging.
One of the aims of School Direct is for schools to team up to provide training and recruitment opportunities to those interested in teaching.
We have seen a number of schools who have shown great interest in the programme and where a school is not “outstanding”, we would encourage them to team up with one that is. The Ofsted rating of the lead schools will be a determinant of whether requests for places are successful.
It is not a straightforward commitment for schools. It takes time and energy to support the development of trainees, as it does teachers. But the reward in terms of recruiting and retaining the very highest quality staff is beyond value. School Direct is the future of teacher training, and we will continue to improve our schools, by having the best trained teachers in the world.
Charlie Taylor is the chief executive of the Teaching Agency and a former headteacher.