The trouble with teacher training places

If only the Graduate Teacher Programme still existed

Posted: 18th Oct 2015

THE UK’S GRADUATE Teacher Programme (GTP) ran from 1998 until 2013. It allowed mature graduates with a bit of life experience behind them to retrain as a teacher in a school that would agree to fund them for up to a year as an unqualified (supernumary) teacher. In theory, it was possible for you to approach a school directly and persuade them to take you on, in your subject area of choice, and be paid (albeit badly) while you worked towards Qualified Teacher Status. Beyond that, an exciting new career might await.

If GTP still existed, it would certainly suit a friend of mine looking to return to the workplace after more than six years at home with her children. In her spare time, this mum is an amateur actress who has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and excelled in numerous plays with a local am-dram society. Her degree was in drama. She would make a bloody marvellous drama teacher. To become a teacher, she would need to earn and learn. The replacement for GTP – School Direct – makes this impossible.

In this government initiative, schools tend to band together to support a series of training places and the studies required to achieve the QTS qualification. However, only a fraction of these places are funded with a salary attached. Most are now subject to the same £9k-ish tuition fee it costs to do a traditional university-based PGCE. Writing to a school asking for a supernumary post is now unlikely to lead to success.

In addition, the subjects in which these highly desirable training places are allocated is fixed from the start. There are many more salaried places for the sciences, maths and technology – plus up to £25,000 available in bursaries for the non-salaried posts. The net result is that there’s little scope for someone who would make a brilliant teacher in a non-priority subject area to retrain unless they can afford to take one of the exorbitant non-salaried places.

In London and the South East, my research found just three salaried drama places, all beyond the capable travelling distance of this mum with school-age children.

Don’t get me wrong: it is right that sciences and engineering are prioritised – we will need so many more scientists, computer engineers and coders in an increasingly digital global age. But we also need to support teaching of the arts both as release/expression and a viable career option – creative industries have a gross value added to the UK economy of more than £70bn a year.

So why does the government insist on only funding priority subjects for mature students? Why should only very privileged people get to teach the arts from now on? This seems incredibly short-sighted to me. The profession will lose out on great people with excellent life experience, who would bring wonderful enthusiasm to the classroom. They will end up with only bright young graduates from wealthy backgrounds, just a few years older than the pupils themselves – the only ones who can take a punt on £9k tuition fees because they’ve still got parents to house and feed them.

If age/background diversity at the front of the classroom is as important to the development of great schools as science/technology, then the arts need a better look in than they’ve got at the moment.

I hope a future in teaching isn’t entirely out of reach for my friend. I want to know if anyone does corporate sponsorship of mature graduates to get into teaching, or if anyone has successfully crowd funded their way back to the classroom. Get in touch with me if you have any ideas, inspiration or advice: