Challenges with recruitment? Your TAs could be the answer

With no signs of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis easing, the answers for some headteachers could be closer than they think: teaching assistants. Find out how Tes Institute can offer your TAs the right support and development.

Tes Institute

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The current situation

According to the National Audit Office, 48 per cent of secondary schools in 2015-16 were forced to accept candidates without the required qualifications for teaching posts. In one in ten schools, they were unable to fill a vacancy altogether.

So it’s no wonder that headteachers identify teacher recruitment as a major struggle, with 62 per cent saying they find it hard to fill posts. The good news is that it isn’t your fault: you haven’t failed to make your school a sufficiently attractive place to teach. The bad news is that it is a systemic problem which is likely to get worse in the coming years.

Three factors are all working together to put pressure on the recruitment and retention of staff.

First, there is a demographic bulgeof higher pupil numbers moving like a wave upwards through the school system. Primary schools have already had to adapt to this change: the rate of increase in enrolments is now beginning to slow down for them although demand for school places is still growing.

The annual increase in pupil numbers at primary level is set to drop to 1.2 per cent over the next year, from 1.9 per cent on 2016-17. But in secondaries, the surge in numbers is only just starting. The secondary school population – not including sixth form – is projected to rise from 2.72 million in January 2017 to 3.3 million in 2025, a rise of 21 per cent. That would mean more than 90 extra pupils for every secondary school in the country, or three whole classes.

While the demand for school places is surging, teacher recruitment is falling behind. In 2017, the number of graduates joining teacher training schemes fell by almost 10 per cent – meaning 780 fewer trainees.

Only in PE and drama are the trainee numbers likely to have met the Department for Education’s targets, according to an analysis by Professor John Howson, an expert in the teacher labour market. In subjects such as maths, physics, biology, computing, chemistry and English, headteachers can expect more difficulties in finding candidates with the right qualifications.

The Department for Education is trying to fight back, spending £1.3 billion by 2020 to recruit new teachers into the profession. But it faces an uphill struggle because of the third factor in the recruitment crisis: teachers quitting the job. In 2017, 42,430 qualified teachers left the classroom, meaning the rate of entry into teaching and leavers out of teaching are now at the same level. That means schools face a vicious circle. Unfilled vacancies and teachers working outside their area of expertise add to the workload and stress. Staff burn out and leave the profession, making the problem worse for those they leave behind.

There must be another way. What school leaders need is another source of motivated, qualified staff who can get to work in the classroom without delay.

Teaching assistants: an untapped resource?

If you’re looking for a source of committed people who would make great teachers, the answer may be closer than you think: teaching assistants.

There were 381,500 people working as TAs in 2017, a potentially vast pool of classroom talent. No one knows better than headteachers that these aren’t the casual helpers of popular reputation – the “mum’s army” – but an increasingly professionalised workforce. According to a survey by Tes Institute, three out of ten TAs already have a degree and are interested in gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

Not only that, but 82 per cent of TAs reported that they have three or more years in the classroom.

When it comes to making the step up to being teachers in their own right, the average graduate trainee can’t compete with that kind of real-world experience.

These figures suggest that across the country there may be nearly 75,000 potential extra trainee teachers already working in our classrooms.

On average, every primary and secondary school leader would expect to find at least three TAs in their building with the qualifications and motivation to become a teacher. Every special school and PRU would expect to find at least seven TAs who fit the bill.

There may be nearly 75,000 potential extra trainee teachers already working in our classrooms. In other words, the answer to the recruitment crisis might already be within your school.

This isn’t a stopgap or emergency measure, either. There are good reasons to think that TAs can be among the best trainees you could find.

After all, they’ve seen what goes on in the classroom, the failures and struggles as well as the triumphs. No one has watched teachers at work more closely than their assistants.

For some of them, that means they’ve decided that they are happier where they are. Among TAs who told Tes Institute’s survey that they didn’t want to train as teachers, one of the most common reasons was workload.

“Teachers are too stressed, have too much pressure on them and take too much work home with them,” was a typical comment. But remarks like this are a strength of recruiting from TAs, not a weakness.

When a teaching assistant says they’d like to train as a teacher, they really mean it. They’ve seen the job intimately over the course of many years and they know exactly what they’re signing up for. The most common reason given for wanting to step up and take control of their own classroom? Because they are “passionate about teaching”, according to 40 per cent of respondents.

That passion, experience and their prior qualifications are a recipe for creating a successful teacher. All you need is a way to get them the right training.

How Straight to Teaching works

If you’re a headteacher at a primary, secondary or special school, whether you’re in the maintained sector or independent, you can keep your trusted staff at your school while developing them towards QTS with Straight to Teaching.

You can offer unqualified teachers, teaching assistants and cover supervisors a chance to develop their skills and climb the career ladder in teaching, all while they continue to work at your school and teach 50-80% of a full teacher’s timetable.

This ability to continue working is the most popular feature of the programme, with 71 per cent of respondents saying it was important to them. You may be surprised how many members of staff want to take on more responsibility when they discover they can gain new skills without putting their life on hold.

It’s also more cost-effective: the average cost of qualifying via Straight to Teaching is just £6,000 compared to £9,000 for a typical school-led initial teacher training programme. Either the learner or the school can fund it, or they can share the cost.

Since 2013, the programme has successfully placed over 900 qualified teachers in schools and its growth is accelerating fast, with an increase of 43% per cent last year.

Candidates will need to have some teaching experience to full-size classes as well as having at least a grade C/4 GCSE (or equivalent) in English and maths (and science if they want to teach primary).

They also need to have a degree, or be within the last 6-12 months of completing one.

Tes Institute provides each learner with a Pathway Tutor, who’ll typically have at least twenty years’ experience in education and are very familiar with developing trainee and new teachers. The tutor will work with the school and the learner to devise a personalised programme that builds on their existing experience as well as developing a portfolio of evidence against the Teachers’ Standards.

Preparing for QTS might take between one term and five terms depending on how much teaching the learner has already completed. When they have at least two years of evidenced teaching experience, and their school and tutor are satisfied with their development they’ll be able to apply for QTS assessment via the Assessment Only route.

A Pathway Tutor from Tes Institute will review the candidate’s portfolio ensuring that the Teachers’ Standards and AO criteria is met, before they start the 12 week assessment period. (Candidates who already meet the Teachers’ Standards – usually because they have extensive experience as an unqualified teacher – may be able to directly to our Assessment Only route. This means they could gain QTS in as little as 12 weeks.)

They can do all of this without leaving their school- building confidence and experience as well as potentially increasing their earnings.

As a headteacher, you’re able to take control of teacher shortages by developing your existing staff. You don’t lose them to a lengthy training process and they never leave your school.

And there are even benefits for your other staff too, as they gain new professional development opportunities from working as mentors. So your school becomes a place of learning and growth for everyone.

Can we help your school?

Our teacher training and development advisors are on hand to answer any questions that you may have about the programme and how it can help your school. Read more about the programme here.

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