A government decision to class all teacher trainees as critical workers will ease the school placement shortage sparked by the coronavirus crisis, according to university-based trainers.
New guidance published this afternoon by the Department for Education states that all initial teacher training (ITT) trainees are "included in the definition of a critical worker".
This will help to remove a "perceived barrier" to schools offering placements, as they may have felt "nervous" about taking on trainees if it was possible they would "count as visitors", according to the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET).
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James Noble-Rogers, UCET executive director, said the change to trainees' status will "definitely" mean more students secure school placements.
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"While students weren't technically classed as 'visitors' before, their status was unclear and there was a worry that schools might treat them as such. So the clarification is helpful," he said.
Last month, a survey by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) found that a "worryingly high" number of schools said they were not in a position to offer teacher training placements in the next academic year.
At the time, NASBTT executive director Emma Hollis said: "ITT providers have told us, through our survey, that schools are not offering placements primarily due to concerns over the post-Covid-19 transition, including worries about having additional people in school, the reluctance to allow trainee teachers to teach, given the amount of time children have been away from school, the need to focus on other priorities, and uncertainty resulting from the pandemic."
Asked if the DfE clarification will go towards solving the shortage of student placements, Mr Noble-Rogers said: "Yes, it will help with that, because schools might have been nervous about having them in if they saw all these people count as visitors – and that brings all various restrictions and constraints with it.
"If it's now clarified that no they're not visitors, they're critical workers, they're part of the school, and therefore it removes one of the worries schools might have about bringing them in."
But asked how much of an impact the change will have on the current shortages, and if it could solve the problem, he said: "No...schools have still got a lot of other things to contend with.
"But the reassurance the DfE gave pointing out the benefits to schools of having student teachers, that will make them more willing to have people in.
"I think this one is potentially more important than that – it removes a perceived barrier, if not an actual one."