School Direct – A Deliberate Attack on Teacher Education

Worries about the new School Direct (SD) scheme for training some teachers are escalating.The scheme is a deliberate ploy by Gove and the government to remove trainees from the centres of excellence in Universities and put them into schools with far less support than under the previous Graduate Training Programme and university based courses.

The School Direct training programme is open to all graduates, and is funded by tuition fees paid by the trainee, who may receive a bursary from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). There is also a small salaried School Direct training programme for graduates with 3 or more years’ work experience who are employed as an unqualified teacher by a school.

School Direct places are usually given to lead schools on behalf of partnerships of schools. The lead schools arrange for the training and employment of School Direct recruits, and many have organised this with the their local Higher Education providers, recognising that they are unable to do it themselves.

Major criticisms of the scheme were voiced even before the scheme started and new data bears these out.

Nine thousand teacher training places were transferred from universities to schools in 2012-13 with an expectation that schools would recruit trainee teachers starting in September 2013. However, figures reported to an Education Select Committee session this September show that SD has under-recruited by around 3000 places and overall provision is short by just under 6000 places. The shortfall is very serious in subjects such as maths, physics and biology and also comes at a time when the pupil population is rising. Prof John Howson, head of Data for Education, said: “We could be looking at the worst outcome for teacher supply for more than a decade.”

Ministers have lost sight of any sort of planning for future places. Universities now have to take all the risks with no guarantees of numbers.These fears seem to be backed up by a letter sent out from the University of Bath to partner schools, proposing to end its PGCE programme in 2014 – and this may be only be the first of many providers to pull the plug on training.

While there will be schools which try hard to support and train their students, there will be other unscrupulous heads who cut their paid and qualified staff and employ inexperienced students to teach almost fulltime from the word go. Already at least one University has experienced unprofessional behaviour from schools who are reluctant to let students go for training and in one case has used a student to strike break. Parents and staff need to be aware of this and unions must make sure they recruit School Direct students, while governors and PTAs must monitor how their school is using them.

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