Opinion 01112017b

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 The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers

“The Voice of School-Based Teacher Training”
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Three-year undergraduate apprenticeship is better, but the devil is in the detail 

Justine Greening’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference around plans for a new teaching-apprenticeship route to QTS marks a major shift in ministerial thinking. The education secretary wants higher apprenticeships to be seen as equivalent to university degrees, and envisages them working as a route into teaching, even for those who have never set foot in a higher education institution.

That teaching apprenticeships will have parity of esteem alongside graduate routes has divided teachers, teacher educators and commentators since the announcement was made. A recent poll of over 750 teachers by Teacher Tapp found that 82% of teachers believed the profession should remain “graduate only”, but whatever the case teaching apprenticeships are definitely on the way and we must respond.

My view is that an undergraduate apprenticeship, where trainees first obtain a degree (awarded by an HEI working in collaboration with partnerships of schools) and then go on achieve QTS, is the best option. There are examples of this working already, with many small-scale informal schemes in place which lead to part-time undergraduate degree qualifications and progression to School Direct. This type of provision is well represented on the employers’ group currently developing the level seven teacher apprenticeship, led by Sir Andrew Carter, who have been vocal in their demand for undergraduate and postgraduate entry to the scheme. But, generally, we need to ease the complexity of the teacher training system, not create additional routes which fail to solve our problems around recruitment and retention.

Naturally, there are some issues to work through. It is well known that school leaders are concerned about the cost of the apprenticeship levy. Since April, schools with large wage bills have paid the levy that they can then claim back to cover the cost of training new apprentices. Those with more than 250 employees have to hire a certain number of apprentices every year under new public sector apprenticeship targets. For smaller organisations, the message that 2.3% of employees must be apprentices does not work so well and their appetite for utilising the levy for teachers (whose salaries will cost more than other types of apprentice) is not as strong.

There is a lot of work to be done in ironing out the detail of what the teaching-apprenticeship route to QTS will look like. What we do know is that the Department for Education is very clear that teachers require a combination of knowledge of teaching – grounded in pedagogy, knowledge of curriculum and developing critical skills for the teaching of children; and knowledge of their specialist subject – to have higher-level knowledge beyond the curriculum. Yet we also know we need to appeal to a wider pool of talent – older people, career changers, mature support staff in the classroom who are keen to develop. A three-year undergraduate teacher training route, complete with apprenticeship and fostering partnerships between schools, SCITTs and HEIs, is one model that could work.

Within this model, which we have scoped out, in year one we would have school-based practice focusing on pedagogy and relationship-building running alongside an academically rigorous programme of study investigating the subject knowledge required to teach the apprentice’s chosen subject or subjects. An in-depth understanding of the curriculum, and its development and rationale, would sit alongside real-life school experiences which look at the realities of the classroom with practical advice on class management, time management and an early understanding of child development.

In year two, time would be set aside for academic study with a focus on reflection. At this point, they have some ‘practice’ to reflect on and can assimilate the theory behind many of the practical techniques they will already be aware of. Apprentices will be exposed to ways of thinking that might differ from those they have been exposed to in school and will widen perspectives from a place of practical knowledge. Subject knowledge for teaching would remain a focus with a sound understanding of progression within the subject(s) taught forming the core of academic research.

In year three, teachers will have a clearer sense of what interests them, what type of teacher they are or would like to become. Alongside increasing teaching responsibilities which prepare trainees for the realities of whole-class responsibility in their NQT year, their academic focus will be on a research area which either meets their personal interests or a need within their school. Studies into their chosen subject will extend beyond the curriculum, encouraging higher level thinking and critical reflection.

This layered approach would mean that NQTs are better prepared to face the realities of life as a teacher and give schools what they need from their staff, improving retention in the process. Under this model, we would need a group of employers to request a new undergraduate apprenticeship who would then put a proposal to the Institute for Apprenticeships. NASBTT would support that.

However, there is also a bigger job to be done in changing perceptions of apprenticeships.  That they somehow “dumb down” the profession. Whilst we have seen recent developments such as the National Institute of Education launching to offer a teaching apprenticeship, a “master teacher” degree apprenticeship and a master’s degree apprenticeship, we need to look at, and promote, examples of where apprenticeships are working in other professions in terms of supporting recruitment and retention.

Schools themselves need to better understand the financial benefit of apprenticeships and the cost-savings of ‘growing your own’, but importantly they need to be accredited by ITT providers – SCITTs or HEIs with experience of undergraduate provision. What also needs to be made clearer is the link between apprenticeships and the opportunity for schools to demonstrate to Ofsted how they are supporting the system.

Emma Hollis is Executive Director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)

First published in Primary School Management 1st November 2017

 Notes for editors
Emma Hollis is available for interview via Phil Smith, NASBTT PR Consultant
Telephone: 01778 218180
Mobile: 07866 436159
Email: phil@philsmithcommunications.co.uk
 NASBTT contact details
Alison Hobson, Executive Officer
Address: The Priory Centre
63 Newnham Avenue
Bedford. MK41 9QJ
Telephone: 01933 627049
Mobile: 07925 805399
Email: office@nasbtt.org.uk