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An eye for the eager

They can't get enough of school-based trainees in Milton Keynes, reports Nic Barnard

Neighbours don't often complain about Two Mile Ash middle school, but sometimes they just get pushed too far. The reason? It isn't noisy children (there don't seem to be any). No, they get upset when headteacher Jim Hudson tries to recruit trainee teachers. Last time he held an open evening, 250 people turned up - and if there's one thing you don't do in Milton Keynes, it's hog the parking spaces.

Residents had better start getting home early, because another advertisement is due to appear in the MK Citizen soon. "I'm driven about school-based training because I've seen what it has done," says Mr Hudson.

"I could never have forecast the benefit it would have on the whole-school community. In terms of pupil attainment it's been fantastic."

For five years, Two Mile Ash has been part of the national Outstanding Schools Scitt (school-centred initial teacher training) consortium. It takes six trainees a year, plus two more on the graduate teacher programme (GTP), and processes GTP applications for other local schools. Mr Hudson chairs the national Scitt council, now expanded into the National Association of School Based Teacher Trainers. Unsurprisingly, Two Mile Ash is an officially designated training school.

Eight trainees sounds a lot, even in a school as big as Two Mile Ash, which has 740 pupils. But Mr Hudson argues the programme is not a drain; quite the reverse. "It does raise standards," he says. "Everybody becomes a mentor. It makes everybody look at their own practice in a way they didn't before. I take the hard-edged view that standards in our school are rising, and that's clearly the acid test. I can't allow myself to be a philanthropist. If our school suffers, while others around us benefit - that can't happen."

Staff agree the programme has helped raise standards; there's the extra pair of hands in some classes for a start. But there's more. "You learn from them," says special needs co-ordinator Verity Tranter.

"Inspirational," says Clare Bunston, who qualified less than two years ago but who has a trainee of her own in her Year 4 class. "It's a great way for fresh ideas to come in. It keeps my enthusiasm going. Trainees go that extra distance. They might have a day to plan a lesson and they'll make an amazing resource, and you think 'Wow!'" And what of the children? Year 7 pupils Aaron, 12, and Lauren, 11, are used to trainees working alongside their teachers or taking their own classes.

"They're very helpful," says Lauren. "Sometimes they're stricter than normal teachers. Others are too soft and then we just mess around. But usually they're all right and they're all a good laugh."

"Sometimes you learn more and get more work done," adds Aaron.

Not all schools trumpet the virtues of training for its own sake. Some do it because they have to. In Colchester, one of the country's newest Scitts is preparing for a September start. Every secondary school in the town has signed up for a share of its 36 trainees, but the co-ordinator and assistant head of Philip Mourant school, Peter Gibbon, admits they're not motivated by altruism or the joy of seeing eager-faced students. He just wants warm, preferably qualified bodies in front of pupils.

"There is the greater noble cause, but a lot of it is driven by self-interest because of the dire recruitment situation in the south-east," he says. "Unless we start training our teachers ourselves, we face having no one to go into the classroom to teach that subject. Yes, we'd like to have experienced classroom teachers all the time, but that's just not possible."

Part of the appeal for Mr Gibson is that Scitt and GTP programmes attract local people, who are likely to want to stay on when they finish the course. And they're keener. According to Jim Hudson, only 12 of the UK's 450-plus Scitt graduates have left teaching, and two of those were deaths; the drop-out rate among PGCE-qualified teachers is about one in three. But, for all the visionary zeal, Mr Hudson can read the bottom line. Newly qualified teachers are cheap or, as he puts it, "cost-effective".

"Somebody at the top of the scale is twice the cost of an NQT," he explains. "We can afford to provide things like quality time (his staff get one afternoon off a week) because we've got more staff. So it's become an essential core activity for the school."

Two Mile Ash used to take its share of university students on teaching practice but didn't enjoy it. "It was very much on their terms," says Mr Hudson. So when the then chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, asked for volunteer schools for a national Scitt, Two Mile Ash signed up enthusiastically. Now, it's so heavily involved in training that deputy head Ann Tobia was promoted to "associate head" to oversee that part of the school's work.

Mr Hudson and Ms Tobia accept there is a negative side to the set-up. They criticise the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the checklist of outcomes that even they wouldn't meet. And there are hints of mild resentment between Scitt trainees (bursary: pound;6,000) and their GTP colleagues (salary: pound;13,000).

But, in her office, Ms Tobia flicks through a stack of messages; she's received a dozen queries that morning alone: "Here's a Pakistani-trained teacher from Ilford who wants an application pack. Someone ringing on behalf of his girlfriend; are there any training courses she can do while employed as a teaching assistant? Someone interested in a two-year BEd course, has an HND already. A headteacher wants to speak to us about graduate teacher training. It's like this every day."

Clearly, the residents of Two Mile Ash can expect periodic parking trouble for some time.

The National Association of School Based Teacher Trainers conference is in London on Monday (March 3). Email:

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