Teachers spend their days encouraging students to learn: to broaden their horizons, to discover new passions and to expand their knowledge and skills. But how much time do teachers dedicate to their own learning?
Elaine Battams is a course leader for teacher education at Barnfield College, in Bedfordshire, and she says it’s crucial that teachers take control of their own CPD, and constantly improve and develop.
“When you are a teacher, it's really important to keep yourself going and teach students about the need to continuously improve. I believe in the professional standards, which tell us we should be researching, reading and improving practice,” she says.
Further reading: How QTLS opens doors for FE teachers
It’s an area the government is taking seriously, too: in the Skills for Jobs White Paper, published in January this year, the Department for Education included specific recommendations around improving the provision of high-quality professional development and support for teachers' progression.
Many further education staff, including Battams, have taken their development into their own hands, and completed the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) development programme.
What is Advanced Teacher Status (ATS)?
ATS is a self-guided teaching and learning development programme in further education. It allows teachers to demonstrate to colleagues and future employers their mastery in teaching and learning, and to advance into more senior roles.
It is a level 7 (equivalent to master's) qualification, and as well as being awarded with ATS status, participants also gain Chartered Teacher Status, which is another badge to recognise the knowledge, skills and behaviours of teachers.
Since its launch in 2019, ATS has been an overwhelming success: 95 per cent of participants stated that it had a positive impact on their practice, 89 per cent stated it had a positive impact on their learners, and 100 per cent said they would recommend ATS to colleagues.
Am I eligible to apply for Advanced Teacher Status?
To be able to apply for ATS, you’ll need to be a current member of the Society for Education and Teaching (SET) and meet the following criteria:
- You're working as an advanced teacher.
- You hold a level 5 or above initial teacher education qualification for a minimum of four years (five years if you do not hold QTLS or QTS status).
- You hold a level 2 English and level 2 maths qualification (level 3 if you teach English and/or maths).
- You're teaching in a post-14 education setting for an average of eight hours a week while undertaking ATS.
How long is the Advanced Teacher Status programme?
ATS is completed in one academic year, and, on average, you’ll need to dedicate three to four hours a week.
Ann Solomon, a teacher trainer at Oaklands College, in Hertfordshire, says the time scale can be daunting, but the CPD included in the course is similar to what most further education practitioners will be doing anyway.
“When you say to people, 'You have to do it in a condensed way,' it can get a little bit scary, but at our stage and our level of teaching, people are doing what we're doing without an ATS badge,” she says.
What should I expect from the Advanced Teacher Status course?
The course centres on a research project, and the focus is up to you.
Battams chose to focus on the role of the advanced practitioner, and Solomon on the importance of mentors. David Shurmer, training and skills lead at Plymouth Argyle Football Club, concentrated on the role that active teaching can have on engagement, and Natalie Morris, quality manager at the Bedford College Group, looked at how PGCE students could support students on access-to-higher-education courses.
How can Advanced Teacher Status make a difference to teachers’ daily practice?
As a result of undertaking her research, Morris says she gained a whole host of skills, including collaboration, leadership, research, networking and reflection - and says the course made her a better teacher and leader. Since completing ATS, she’s moved into management.
“The leadership skills that I picked up through ATS – meeting staff where they are and drawing out their skills – I’ve applied to the heads of department. The things I've taken from it, I apply every day in my job – and I definitely think it contributed to me getting that role,” she says.
Shurmer admits he struggled with the research element – but felt that ATS gave him a chance to reflect, improve and go on to seek out other research opportunities. He’s now completing a master’s in education and says he would never have had the confidence to do so without ATS.
As well as the skills gained personally, the projects completed can make a real difference to the college community. After Battams completed her ATS, she was given a new role at the college and in the role specification, all of the recommendations she’d made in her ATS presentation were built in. “I could see it was having an impact straight away,” she says.
Both Solmon and Battams have since been asked to present their projects at conferences such as Research Meets, and to work collaboratively across FE to embed the practice in other colleges.
What support can you access on the Advanced Teacher Status course?
ATS is self-directed: but that doesn’t mean you don’t have support. SET provides a week-by-week plan, regular communications and you can connect with others undertaking the programme through a Facebook group.
You also have the opportunity to nominate your own mentor or select one from a list of mentors provided by SET. Battams says this mentee-mentor relationship is invaluable:
“My supporter was fantastic,” she says. “He was there for me to bounce ideas off. He would, say, set a target, and I'd think he would give me a deadline of three weeks, and he’d say, 'I want it done by the end of the week.' He knew if he gave me longer, I wouldn't get around to it. He was pushy, but in a really nice and supportive way.”
She says the support of leadership teams in your own college is important, too. For example, while Battams wasn't given any time away from her teaching timetable, the vice-principal and other colleagues were more than happy to be interviewed as part of her research.
How easy is it to balance Advanced Teacher Status with work and personal life?
Shurmer says the hardest part of the course is fitting it around your existing commitments. Good time management skills and carving out specified time are crucial, he says.
“You've got to have the support of an employer and you've got to be able to plan in windows of time in your day,” he says. “For most people, we've got an awful lot of work and not quite enough hours to do it in. Time is precious: we've got families, and we want to actually have leisure time, too.”
How affordable is Advanced Teacher Status?
The course is £760 – and you can pay this in direct debit instalments, with an initial payment of £150 once you’ve been accepted on to the programme.
Shurmer says the course is great value for money, compared with other level 7 qualifications. “If you compare it to a degree qualification, master's or a postgraduate course, it’s exceptional value for money, because you can't get that level of study, insight and the badge of approval at a similar cost.”
Andrew Dowell, head of professional status and standards at the Education and Training Foundation, says the flexibility afforded by the self-directed nature of the course is a great motivator and alternative to more traditional routes to accreditation. “You probably know you’re a good teacher and you’re getting good observations and results in the classroom,” says Dowell. “ATS allows you to benchmark how well you are doing.
“If you are not looking to follow an academic route with a degree or MA, what else is there to show you are an advanced teacher? I think that ATS fills that gap quite nicely.”
The window for applications for the next ATS cohort is open until 31 August 2021. Find out more about ATS and apply here.