No more hunter-gatherers: It's time to grow your own

Kai Vacher


Roughly 15,000 years ago, a major agricultural revolution took off. Instead of living hand-to-mouth, people began to think ahead, and use a wide variety of tools and resources to plan their harvest for all year round . For the two and a half million years before that, we had lived as hunter-gatherers, taking food at any chance, and only thinking of the day ahead.

As a geographer, of course, I’m drawn to this as a metaphor. This historical shift is parallel to the change that needs to occur in the way that we hire and develop teachers. We’ve operated as hunter-gatherers for a while now: the drive to recruit quality teachers has gained momentum. Now, there’s an opportunity to grow your own: to nurture your talent within your own community. 

Growing your own, albeit simple as an idea, is a compelling solution to a problem we’re all facing.

The Problem We Are Facing

The international schools market is growing rapidly, yet the supply of teachers who are qualified for international schools is not expanding. Recruiting is becoming increasingly challenging as more and more hunters are trying to spear a limited number of fish, in a shrinking pond. 

Along with demand far surpassing supply in the recruitment process, we have not been equipped with adequate tools - our spears are blunt. Through talking with other schools, iPGCE providers and BSME and COBIS, I’ve found that iPGCEs (although valuable qualifications in their own right), do not come with Qualified Teacher Status. I then began to hear about the ‘Straight to Teaching CPD programme’, which can help prepare for entry on to the ‘Assessment Only Route to QTS’

These routes, however, were not well known, and were offered by only a small number of providers. In trying to learn more about them, I found it challenging to establish how they could work in an international school setting.

Why Now Is The Time To Start Growing Your Own

One of the practical benefits of meeting all the standards of the British Schools Overseas inspection framework is that once accredited, schools can recruit and induct Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) from England. Once recruited, accredited bodies, such as the Tes Institute, can support your school mentor and NQT through a quality controlled process to complete their induction year. 

The ability to recruit NQTs clearly extends the reach of our hunter-gathering when looking for teachers to fulfill vacancies. Perhaps even more importantly, this ability to offer NQT induction also gives schools the scope to grow their own teachers. 

The Promised Land Of Growing Your Own

Domain 4 of the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers (Department of Education, 2015) refers to self-improving school systems, in which we shape the current and future quality of the teaching profession through high-quality training and sustained professional development of all staff. Following this guideline by growing our own teachers, at British School Muscat we are also more able to fill our vacancies with quality teachers, and be more flexible when needing to respond to the sudden departure of a teacher. 

For example, meet Elea. Elea joined BSM as a teaching assistant five years ago, with a degree and extensive teaching experience in three international schools. She had aspirations to become a teacher, and came to me requesting support to do an iPGCE. Through working with a Tes Institute representative, all our questions around the possible routes Elea could take to become a teacher at BSM were answered. 

What does the grow your own philosophy mean at BSM? To go back to our metaphor, our yield has been overwhelmingly successful. In the last three years, with the support of TES Institute, we have grown seven of our own teachers from Teaching Assistants to fully UK qualified teachers with QTS, with two currently undertaking the process. These teachers have received the same QTS and NQT Induction qualifications and certificates that a teacher in the UK would receive, following a UK based Teacher Training Programme and NQT Induction. 

How Do We Grow Our Own?

Whilst facing the hurdles around applying the ‘Straight to Teaching’ and ‘AO Route to QTS’ to an international school setting, I met a representative from the TES Institute. With her guidance, we began our journey with Elea to taking the first steps in growing our own.

Tes explained the ‘Straight to Teaching’ and ‘AO Route to QTS’ to me. In its simplest terms: staff who currently hold a teaching qualification but no QTS status could take the ‘AO Route to QTS’. However, staff who did not hold a teaching qualification needed to complete a personalised Straight to Teaching CPD programme before they could start the AO Route.

The practical steps involved:

1.GCSE (or equivalent) in English and Maths (In addition to Science for Primary)
2.Degree (BA or equivalent)
3.Skills Tests to be completed in the UK
4.Four-week placement in an alternate teaching establishment.
5.Assessment of evidence against the teacher standards by TES Institute
6.Evidence of teaching whole classes for at least 2 years

At this point, ‘Straight to Teaching is completed’. If you already had a teaching qualification you could start at Step 7 having met Steps 1 - 3.

7.Assessment period (AO Route)
8. Department of Education QTS awarded to the teacher
9. NQT Induction year

Why Growing Your Own Is So Important

“The most important development in education in the 21st century is our growing understanding of human capability” argues Professor Deborah Eyre, global educator and the architect of High-Performance Learning. This mindset shift in our understanding of human capability applies to growing the minds and talents of both our students and our colleagues, and underlines how and why we grow our own here at BSM.

The AO and Straight to Teaching Routes provide us with the tools to grow and develop colleagues and talented people in our local communities. No longer fishing from smaller pools with blunt spears, we are now expanding the talent pool of qualified teachers for our own schools and for schools in the UK and the wider international schools sector.

We all know the satisfaction of growing your own, and this is especially true in a school setting. Being a headteacher is the best job in the world when you see not only students, but also colleagues grow their abilities, attributes and confidence as learners and professionals. Just as a farmer's’ crop is his sustenance, the quality of good teaching staff is the sustenance of any school.

Growing your own, rather than simply being hunter-gatherers and living hand-to-mouth, allows me to nurture the school community around me, creating a self-improving school system that is the most rewarding it can be.

This article was originally published on the British School Muscat blog, the original post can be found here.