When the Great War started and women became the new workforce in factories, offices, farms and shops, it was largely public perception and a couple of habit changes that stood in the way. It quickly became apparent that this new and yet untapped army of skill and expertise were just as capable as their male predecessors. The nation got used to seeing women driving lorries; hems were lifted, corsets lost and businesses were fully staffed.
Let’s look now then at the keen workers available to take up the mantle of teaching in the classrooms when nobody else wants to.
This week, Justine Greening revealed that her speech at the Conservative party conference will include plans to unveil a teacher training degree-level apprenticeship as part of a strategy to impact social mobility as well as bridge the enormous 20% gap of teachers we currently lack.
Backlash from the sector shows panic that learners will be left in the hands of untrained workers, but it may be that the success of this project, including the protection of our learners, is entirely down to how well school leaders plan their workforce.
The cash secret: why it’s an apprenticeship and not a new GTP or School Direct
“We need to train 35,000 teachers a year – that’s a group the same size as the British Navy… If each of the 22,000 schools in England trained one teacher we’d be half way there. If they trained two, we’d have 9,000 left over.” Sir Andrew Carter OBE
Make no mistake, this new teaching apprenticeship is economically driven. Justine Greening needs 20% more teachers to quell the school supply teacher spending, while there is a pot of corporately-raised cash earmarked ‘apprenticeships’ waiting to be spent.
In case you are not regularly moving in further education circles you might have missed the big news in FE this year which is that the Apprenticeship Levy is now generating hundreds of thousands of pounds from large companies with a salary bill of over 3 million pounds. Large corporations must now pay half of one percent of their salary bill as a tax ‘levy’ to the government to fund apprenticeships in the workplace, as part of the strategy to make ‘UK plc’ more of an independently functioning economy after Brexit. This new pot of cash is created not from the education budget or public sector budget but from corporate tax. If you believe that teacher training should be funded by tax from massive corporate businesses, this is it! Training providers can access this pot of cash but only if the course is delivered as an apprenticeship. (For more details, read my FEjobs blog at the end of this one.)
Qualification snobbery getting in the way?
This apprenticeship has been bubbling for a while. When Sir Andrew Carter OBE announced the project earlier this year, it was intended for graduates. However, the sudden shift to a non-graduate audience indicates that the appetite for an apprenticeship earning £3.50 an hour has not been strong enough to attract people already holding degrees.
Not all teachers are pleased about this plan to reinforce their ranks: initial response to a teacher training apprenticeship was negative, with many believing that teaching should remain ‘graduate only’, so it was necessary to bring this apprenticeship up to include a degree.
When looking at the mix of trainee types, the waters are often unhelpfully muddied with the age-old argument between whether school-based or university-based training produces ‘better’ teachers. The answer to this, of course, is that a mix is needed because of the different skills they bring to the table.
It’s important to protect the advantages of each. For example, the PGCE does contain genuinely different course content and many heads tell us they seek out the pedagogy and psychology afforded to PGCE students, as well as the Masters’ level work in a specialist field because, in practice, they can’t make CPD time later for such academic learning. Should the PGCE into teaching become less popular, this particular set of attributes could become diluted over time within the teaching community.
This does not mean that a teaching apprenticeship does not have a place – but it does mean that other training routes also need to be preserved.
According to the NAHT’s 2016 Recruitment survey, the two most common reasons given for difficulty in recruiting NQTs are still shortage and quality. Concerns about the quality of NQT applicants have increased by four percentage points, since last year.
“I’ve been quite clear in my mind that I do think we need to make sure that the profession is highly regarded and is seen as a high-status profession.” Justine Greening
It’s antiquated to claim that the ‘higher level thinking’ required to be a teacher, previously evidencable with a degree, couldn’t now be evidenced by other means. Arguably these apprenticeship teachers will, (when qualified) deliver as a good a learning experience as any other. For a start, it will open the doors to the smart cookies who haven’t been born into the privilege required to do a university degree. Until now, we have excluded this critical demographic whilst simultaneously complaining that we lack relatable or resilient teachers and all manner of other types who may simply be outside of the ‘university graduate’ group.
Secondly, our retention should dramatically improve as they experience more of the initial challenges in their supported years.
While earning their £3.50 an hour, these apprenticeship teachers will be gaining a degree as they train, so they will have the skills and subject knowledge of a traditionally-trained teachers… when qualified.
But how early in the apprenticeship is it acceptable to leave pupils in the hands of untrained workers?
Success is dependent on heads and HR
School workforce planning will change as a result of this shakedown. Does every type of class need to be taught by a ‘traditionally trained’ teacher? Different types of teacher can play different roles within a school and that school leaders will now need to structure departments strategically for skills sets and budgets as they do currently mixing their NQTs and experienced teachers.
The real motive
Greening claims that we need to blaze a trail for technical apprenticeships in all industries that reach all the way up to a degree, although teaching seems a risky place to pilot it.
Despite her claims of motive, this apprenticeship choice is financially driven.
What’s critical now is that the apprenticeship and the way that school heads use these new resources be regulated robustly enough to protect our pupils from being left with unqualified teachers on a long-term basis.
As for the long-term gains, it might be that we are on the brink of solving a dire need in our society, at the cost of only a shift in our attitude: we might need a ‘traditionally trained’ teacher leading every single class no more than 1914’s Britain needed all factory workers to be men. If workforces are planned strategically so that quality of each child’s education is not compromised, it may be that the lack of other choices has left us in a lucky position of discovery.
About the author
Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for eteach.com and fejobs.com. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.