The quality of teachers, alongside leadership, is one of the most important factors in improving the education our children receive. And the people who know best how to raise standards in our school are outstanding teachers and leaders.
Therefore it is heartening that more and more schools are getting involved in training the next generation of teachers through School Direct. Launched in 2012, School Direct is a school-led initial teacher training programme that puts schools directly in charge of finding and training their own teachers.
It is a great example of schools taking on a greater role beyond their own school gates – a self-improving, school-led system where our best schools lead the way in initial teacher training, continuing professional development, leadership and school-to-school support.
Developing skills School Direct enables you to select the very best talent for your school and decide how you want them to be trained. Working with a teacher training provider of your choice, you can develop a tailored training programme, customised to suit the needs of your school and your trainees.
Trainees work in school from day one alongside your existing team. This provides a great opportunity for them to gain a real insight into life as a teacher and to be supported by those already doing the job.
As Nicola Shipman, executive principal of the Steel City Schools Partnership in Sheffield says: “Having someone virtually full-time in school means we have the scope to support them very deeply and it makes a tangible difference in terms of their readiness for the job. Being in school four days a week means they are very well prepared in terms of depth of knowledge, skills and application.”
The programme also offers opportunities for experienced teachers to develop their own practice further. Helen Parkinson, assistant principal of Ashton-on-Mersey School – which leads an alliance of 11 schools – highlights how being a professional or subject mentor is excellent CPD for staff: “Coaching and mentoring skills and experience in things like handling difficult conversations are transferable to other areas of people’s work. And the more you reflect on other people’s teaching and learning, the more you reflect on your own.”
Growing demand School Direct was introduced in response to demand from schools to have more influence and control over the way new teachers are trained. The appetite for schools to become involved has been quite staggering – with requests from schools rising from 1,000 places in 2012-13, to over 9,000 in 2013‑14. And for the next academic year, 15,300 places have been allocated.
School Direct presents a fantastic opportunity to attract the best graduates into teaching – with groups of schools and academy chains offering real career development to compete with the best graduate employers.
“Come and work for us,” they are saying, “and we will offer you great initial teacher training support as a newly qualified teacher, continuing professional development including options to undertake a Masters or PhD and potentially training to become one of our school leaders in the future.”
Pooling resources This is one of the reasons why School Direct works best when a group of schools work together – not only do larger partnerships enable you to predict requirements more effectively, they also make it far easier to recruit trainees, organise training, create more opportunities for trainees to learn in different environments and ensure trainees can find work when they qualify.
For any school keen to get involved, I would encourage you to consider this route – working in a partnership led by outstanding schools, teaching schools or an academy chain. This way you can overcome any concerns about capacity as well as being in a stronger position to tempt the best trainees to your school.
The partnership between schools and training providers is also critical and there are some great examples of successful partnerships emerging or, in many cases, existing relationships being strengthened. Examples include the team at Nottingham Trent University who have always seen strong relationships with schools as essential for successful teacher training and are working with their local schools to create bespoke, cutting-edge programmes.
Just the beginning Other universities are also investing in closer school partnerships – the new Deanery at Oxford and the Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam were conceived with the idea of strengthening and deepening the work they do with local schools, and Birmingham is opening a university training school which will become a beacon of good practice in teacher training.
And for some, School Direct is just the start of the journey, with a number of schools and academy chains choosing to take the next step and applying to become accredited school-led and school-centred ITT providers themselves (known as SCITTs).