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Case study: the GTP route

Why did we become a graduate teacher training school? Desperation, I guess.

The recruitment daymare that is bankrupting my school didn't leave us with too many options. For almost five years, working in the golden triangle of Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey, it's felt more like being adrift in the Bermuda triangle. Only it's teachers rather than ships that disappear without trace.

When the "bog standard" debate hit the headlines, we unfurled our own banner emblazoned with our dream of becoming "the best real comprehensive".

But a real comprehensive needs to guarantee a school fully staffed with effective teachers; if we wanted to get seriously good, relying on the educational lottery of temporary agency staff to fill the gaps wouldn't do.

I'd heard about the Graduate Teacher Programme but discounted it; it seemed like yet more work for an already overworked staff. Our assistant head in charge of training knew better. When I started to panic at having nowhere near enough teachers to start the 2002 academic year, he suggested we look at the programme. I agreed. It wasn't strategy, it was raw instinct.

All the vibes were good. We'd get quality candidates who'd made a mature choice to become teachers. They'd learn their trade with us rather than some anonymous provider, and we'd indenture them at the end of a year's apprenticeship. There were two possible routes: link up with a training provider, such as a university or local education authority; or go it alone. A local school had done the latter - sought registration, recruited locally, and applied to the Teacher Training Agency for funding.

I went for the easy route, partnership with a local university. But there was no room at the inn. We decided to apply instead to become a training institution and sent off for the forms. What do you mean they can't teach a full timetable on day one? How unreasonable. And we have to create a training programme that will help them in just one year to become effective teachers who we'll want to keep? What began as the shortest of short-term solutions became a strategy to help train staff who would help us reach our outrageous goal.

The quality of the candidates was better than I could have hoped. We put together a training package and 14 of our staff volunteered to work with our first three recruits.

Looking back, that was one of the biggest wins. I'm convinced that having people volunteering to observe, to be observed, to team-teach and simply to buddy has had more impact on our culture than almost any of the deliberate development strategies we have in place.

So who did we get in year one? Carol, one of our own learning support assistants; Dawn, an ex-army officer and engineer; and Karen, a member of an endangered species, a modern linguist. We got funding for two of them, we stood the cost of the third.

They were followed by Katherine, who came for a job as a learning support assistant and was persuaded to join the programme. In September, she'll be followed by Ed, our very tall learning mentor and, with luck, a design technologist.

We're still in the grip of the recruitment crisis: my head of key stage 4 science was recruited from Borneo on the strength of a half-hour telephone conversation. But we now have another solution. And while I didn't get my quick fix, and my staff did have to do more, our trainees didn't teach outrageous timetables and we now have access to a new supply of potential teachers.

Spokey Wheeler is head of the Wavell school, Farnborough, Hampshire

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