Supported induction: is the fast-track into teaching working?

Staff shortages have led the Scottish government to develop alternative routes into the profession, including supported induction, which involves new recruits being trained in schools alongside experienced teachers and gaining fully qualified status in just one year. Emma Seith reports
5th April 2019, 12:03am
Is The Supported Induction Fast-track Route Into Teaching In Scotland Working?


Supported induction: is the fast-track into teaching working?

A 55-minute lesson isn’t really 55 minutes, Catharine Fleming has quickly learned. You can write off the first five minutes while students arrive, coats are removed, jotters are taken out and pencils are retrieved from cavernous bags. The final five minutes are also lost, too, she says, when they do it all in reverse.

Sure enough, when chemistry student teacher Fleming starts her S1 general science lesson at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline, the first thing that happens is that Donna* has to pop up to biology to retrieve her jotter. But it isn’t Fleming who deals with it. On this occasion, it is her mentor, Christina McGarva, a chemistry teacher of 10 years’ experience, who gives Donna a short lecture about the importance of being prepared for lessons and dispatches her at top speed to retrieve the elusive book.

McGarva and Fleming are co-teaching. Fleming is leading the lesson, in which the pupils are learning about radiation as part of their energy topic, and McGarva is supporting her.

Fleming, therefore, is front and centre. She sets the scene, explains to the pupils what they will be learning about and even gets them acting out a short mime before getting the experiment they are doing underway. The pupils’ task is to discover if boiling water will lose its heat faster in a light, shiny flask or a black one.

McGarva, however, is ever-present in the background, ready to step in and support when needed. So, when the experiment starts, she works alongside Fleming, helping the pupils to gather the equipment they need and fielding her share of the myriad questions they have.

It is impossible to tell who the “real” teacher is. The pupils are oblivious, assuming Fleming is a highly experienced classroom practitioner because she is a “good teacher” but also because she goes by the title “Dr”.

In fact, 32-year-old Fleming, who has a PhD in chemistry and whose last full-time job was as an educator at the Dundee Science Centre, started teaching just five weeks ago as a student on one of the newest - and most controversial - routes into teaching in Scotland, the Supported Induction Route (SIR).

The course, now in its second year, begins with a three-week summer school and is “a radical departure” from the traditional route into teaching, according to an independent evaluation shared exclusively with Tes Scotland.

For decades, there have been only two ways to enter teaching in Scotland: a four-year undergraduate or one-year postgraduate course, followed by probation. But the teacher shortage has led to a shake-up of initial teacher education and the development of 13 new routes into the profession (see box, page 18).

This new route has been developed by the University of Dundee and is a fast track for teachers of physics, maths, computing, chemistry and home economics. It takes its inspiration from England’s School Direct on-the-job training scheme and is aimed at career-changers.

So, come January next year, exactly one year after Fleming started to train as a teacher, she will emerge as a fully qualified member of staff. She will have completed not just a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) - which is one step up from the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) that most Scottish teachers who enter the profession through a postgraduate route hold - but also her probation, something that usually takes at least one school year.

Hard sell

However, despite the acute Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) teacher shortage, the notion of a fast track has not been an easy sell.

When the course was first introduced, the response from the teaching unions was that English on-the-job training schemes had been discredited and Scotland already had a fast-track route: the PGDE.

Their concern was that, if things got any faster, new teachers would end up missing out on either pedagogical experiences at university or practical experiences in school, and they would therefore be ill-prepared for their new profession.

So, with the first SIR cohort of fully fledged teachers, has the route been a success?

Michael Wood, Dundee City Council’s former director of children and family services, who carried out the evaluation of the route, believes so. As does the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), which is responsible for accrediting all initial teacher education programmes, including this one, to ensure they hit the required standard.

Ellen Doherty, the GTCS’ director of education, registration and professional learning, says SIR has succeeded in attracting “very motivated, high-calibre individuals” and that those who entered the profession in January were of “the highest professional standard” (see box, page 19).

“I expect them to be a significant asset to the schools in which they are now teaching in Scotland,” Doherty adds.

Wood, for his part, acknowledges that the SIR programme is “very intensive”, but maintains: “Any critics who say we should have stuck with the status quo have to be asked the question: why would we do that when it wasn’t working? I did not speak to anyone who thought this training was a shortcut.”

His report concludes that SIR has “met the challenge of addressing the aim of increasing the number of Stem teachers in secondary schools with a group of highly qualified and well-motivated graduates”.

According to Wood, there are three main features that set the programme apart: that students spend the entire year working in the same school as opposed to embarking on three six-week placements; that they become fully fledged teachers in just a year; and they are paid as they train.

Fleming earns a wage - although it is technically not allowed to be called that - of about £22,500, the equivalent of a probationer teacher’s salary. As she is the mother of two young children, it was this money that made training to become a teacher possible, she says. Without it, she would not have been able to afford the necessary childcare.

Wood, who interviewed SIR students, mentors, university staff, host schools and local authority employers for his evaluation, says: “Everyone I spoke to was very clear: if it had not been for this particular programme and the funding aspect, they would not have been able to access initial teacher education. If you have family commitments or a mortgage, you simply can’t step off the merry-go-round for a year without some funds to back that up.”

The other aspect of the course that career-changers like is knowing where they are going to be based for the duration of their training, says Neil Taylor, one of the SIR course leaders at the University of Dundee. There is no uncertainty around where the trainees will be for school placements or for probation because it all takes place in the same school.

However, despite these apparent advantages, only 16 students embarked on the programme in its first year, 11 of whom completed it in January. But the universities say that small numbers are typical of new programmes; as knowledge of the routes grows, so will numbers.

Educational echoes

While the numbers remain low, there are 26 students in this year’s new SIR cohort, who began training in January.

Fleming is, of course, one of these 20-plus new recruits. When I visit her, it is her fifth week in school and she has gradually been taking on more responsibility for classes. Now she is in charge of two S1 classes and two S2 classes, teaching for around nine hours a week, Monday to Thursday, with Fridays dedicated to university work - a mix of face-to-face tutorials and lectures, independent study and reading, assessment tasks and preparation time for school-based teaching.

As the weeks roll on, Fleming will gradually build up her S1-3 class contact time and, come the summer holidays, the expectation is that she will be teaching around 16 hours a week. After the summer, she will begin working with senior pupils and the whole process will start again, with her responsibility for classes gradually building until she attains qualified teacher status in January.

The course is hard work - she is working every evening as well as at the weekends - but Fleming says she loves it. A bump in the road lies ahead, however, because her mentor, McGarva, will move to a post in another school as of August.

Fleming seems sanguine about the prospect: a similar situation arose last year and the assumption is that one of the other teachers in the department will take over the role. For now, all the planning and delivery of lessons continues to be done in tandem with McGarva, who gets two extra free periods of 55 minutes a week to support her mentee.

It is sufficient to carry out her mentoring role, says McGarva, who also mentored Craig Martin, another SIR student, last year. He is now teaching chemistry at Larbert High in Falkirk.

McGarva points out that, because the classes Fleming takes are hers, she would be planning for them anyway and the extra time allows her to plan with Fleming.

However, such is the intensity of the new training programme that candidates have to be of a certain calibre, McGarva believes, otherwise they would struggle, and that would make the role of mentor more onerous.

“The university is selective and that’s their big responsibility - that they are selecting the type of person who is prepared and willing to do the extra work that is required on this route,” says McGarva. “Both Craig and Catharine are self-critical and take on board advice. It would be difficult to mentor someone who was not able to do that.”

SIR embodies some aspects of the recommendations Graham Donaldson made in his seminal review of teacher education in Scotland, Teaching Scotland’s Future, almost a decade ago. It advocated a “hub school” model, where certain schools specialise in teacher education, taking on a larger number of students, with university tutors based on site during placements. The idea behind hub schools was to attempt to ensure more consistency in the quality of placement that students experienced and to better interweave the theory learned on university campuses with school-based practice.

The SIR route has “echoes” of the hub school model, says Donaldson, who is now an honorary professor in the University of Glasgow’s School of Education and one of the Scottish government’s team of 10 international education advisers.

‘New lease of life’

He sounds a few notes of caution about SIR, however. If schools are to take on more responsibility for teacher education, they have to be properly prepared, he says, and because students will be based in one school for the duration of their training, they have to be aware that a change of context will require them to change their practice.

“The only downside of being located in one school is that, in your preparation for the profession, you are seeing only one context,” says Donaldson. “Therefore, the nature of the schools involved would have to be thought through and they would have to be chosen so they are not too atypical. Teachers have to be sensitive to the nature of the communities they are in and the nature of what children are bringing to school.”

Both Queen Anne High depute head Pam Davie and McGarva insist that taking responsibility for the SIR students has not been too burdensome. The hardest part, according to Davie, is freeing up staff to support students in departments that are already more prone to being understaffed. But the mentors benefit from being involved because they acquire the skills needed to develop staff, she says.

“They have to think about how to give feedback, how they are going to have potentially challenging conversations,” says Davie. “My job is to support the teacher mentor with these things.”

McGarva received training from the university to be a mentor and now has the option of completing an online module and assignment to gain 30 master’s-level credits. She says it has been the best continuing professional development of her career and has given her “a new lease of life” in her job.

“You get into your ways when you are a teacher but when you are new, you look for ideas more. So, [Fleming] brings those ideas in and it’s made me reflect on my own practice and think, ‘maybe that’s a better way of doing it,’ ” McGarva says.

“It has been a really positive experience for me and for our department.”

An example of an aspect of Fleming’s teaching that McGarva plans to adopt is her use of “starters and finishers”. When Fleming opens her lesson on radiation, for example, she starts with a multiple-choice quiz about the previous lesson. At the end of lessons, she often holds a plenary and challenges pupils to recount what they have learned in exactly 10 words, or runs “keyword scrabble” where they get points for identifying the keywords from the topic they have been learning about.

Today there is no time for a plenary. There is just enough time to write the results of the experiments on the board but, as the groups report their findings, it transpires that things have not gone to plan: the light, shiny flasks seem to have lost their heat faster than the black flasks.

Science experiments that go wrong are the bane of her life, sighs McGarva. But they can be used to have discussions with the pupils about why they didn’t work, she says.

However, both McGarva and Davie agree that the larger experiment taking place in the classroom today, involving experienced teachers mentoring trainees, is going to plan.

As Wood puts it, the first two cohorts of SIR combined will produce close to 40 Stem teachers who, without the programme, could not have gone into teaching.

And when you’ve got schools that are struggling to put teachers in front of all of their classes, it is hard to argue with results like that.

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland. She tweets @Emma_Seith

*The names of children in this story have been changed to avoid identification

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