Criticism of the teaching apprenticeship is short-sighted: the proposal makes perfect sense

by Sam Glanz, Assistant Consultant

Last week, the government confirmed that they are to press on with plans for a teaching degree apprenticeship designed to allow teaching assistants who have not been through Higher Education the opportunity to gain qualified teacher status. The proposals have come in for criticism; however I would argue strongly that it’s a case of ‘about time.’

We are, as many people know, in the midst of a major teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Government targets for teacher recruitment have been missed for five consecutive years and acceptances to teacher training courses for 2016-17 were down 7% on the previous year. Similarly, in the year up to November 2016, one in ten (50,000) teachers left the profession. These figures are no secret – particularly not to the government – and what better way to address this crisis than drawing on the army of experienced and able individuals that are already operating in the classroom?

What’s more, they’re already doing it. Teaching assistants are already teaching, and I should know – I was one of them. I couldn’t tell you how many times I was asked to cover the year 6 class I supported. Whether it was because the teacher was on a course or at a conference, because it was a P.E lesson and I was deemed better suited to lead, or even just providing some breathing space for marking and planning – it happened a lot. This sounds critical of both the teacher and the school – I don’t intend it to and have seen and experienced exactly the same thing in other schools I’ve worked in.  Much like the thousands of teachers opting for an alternative career, the need for TAs to step in and cover lessons is merely a consequence of the immense pressures teachers are under.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by research. Earlier this year, 78% of TAs surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers felt that the work they did was no different to that of supply teachers. This figure was up 14% on the previous year – surely not a coincidence when considered alongside the numbers of qualified teachers leaving the profession.

The other element of all this is that in my experience, teaching assistants are really good at what they do. They have the ability to find a balance between being a friend to pupils and commanding the necessary respect. Emotional intelligence, and an ability to relate to pupils, is key to the work of teaching assistants. It is developed through the interventions that TAs carry out with pupils who need additional support, and provides an ideal foundation for subject knowledge, among other things, to be built upon. A better foundation, one might argue, than the academic qualifications held by NQTs who have qualified through the traditional routes.

Critics of the plans suggest that it risks downgrading the status of the profession. I reject that notion entirely. Providing the course is just as rigorous as other routes, and entry criteria just as tough, newly qualified teachers who have gained their status through a degree apprenticeship are just as qualified as their graduate counterparts. Indeed, if they already have years of experience under their belts from teaching assistant roles, they are arguably more qualified.

The lack of a degree was the primary reason I left the classroom. My Headteacher said to me that there just was not scope for progression without first going through Higher Education – so I did. The problem is, I never went back.

This proposal is not a threat to the status of teaching. It is practical and progressive, and – if implemented correctly – could have a hugely positive impact on the sector.

 

Sam Glanz is an Assistant Consultant for Communications Management and a former primary school teaching assistant