THIS year will see the start of a revolution in the way that we recruit and train teachers.
Last year, almost all entrants to the profession took the undergraduate and postgraduate training routes. But in the coming year, nearly 3,000 trainees will come in on what we now call "flexible routes'. This will be about 10 per cent of new entrants and the proportion will undoubtedly grow further.
There are two main ways in which training will be more flexible. First, the Graduate Teacher Programme enables training on the job. This option has been available in some form for many years, but is now both bigger and better funded, with a training grant of up to pound;4,000 per annum plus a payment to the school of up to pound;13,000 per annum towards salary costs.
Second, flexible courses have been developed to offer training customised to accommodate trainees' prior qualifications, experiences and circumstances. For example, some trainees may only want to study part-time.
The growth of flexible routes has accelerated largely in response to fundamental changes in the labour market. In a buoyant economy, competition for graduates has become much tougher. Graduates have the choice of many different career options in both the public and private sectors.
There have also been important changes in the way that people think about their working lives.
Choosing a job is less and less about choosing a lifelong career.Many young people now expect to put together a portfolio of skills and experience that they may transfer from one career to another. They expect to make several career changes in their working lives. We can wish that this were not so, but it is.
These new conditions pose fresh challenges. Teacher training needs to lead the way in responding to these.
Training programmes have to be sensitive to personal circumstances: what the individual brings to their new career; whether he or she has a family; what time there is available to prepare for a career shift; and how long he or she can afford to train before starting salaried work.
Our competitors in the labour market are changing the way in whch they work and train in order to be more attractive to the new breed of worker. The teaching profession must keep ahead of the game. At the same time, flexible training must be of the same quality as existing provision.
There are signs that the quality of teacher trainees coming from undergraduate and postgraduate courses has risen in recent years. Last year's cohort of newly qualified teachers was the best we have seen and that is a tribute to the efforts of the higher education institutions and schools involved in the traditional routes.
Now we have to focus on the question of how we maintain and ensure quality within the flexible routes. How do we ensure all the subject knowledge and pedagogical and professional training elements are dealt with thoroughly? How do we apply current best practice to a different model of training?
A vital aspect of the new style of training is an initial "needs analysis" of what candidates must do to reach qualified teacher status. This will form the basis of a tailor-made programme for each candidate. Training needs to be designed to build on candidates' different starting points and provide a programme that meets their individual needs.
Training institutions are already developing this new approach and it is providing them with a better understanding of areas candidates need to study in more depth.
There is much to consider. For example, one of the most important moments in training is when the new entrant's vision of teaching comes into sharp contact for the first time with the realities of their course and school experience. This point comes at different times for different people - it can be early in the first term, before the course starts, or much later.
Experienced tutors know that at this point they need to support candidates and make any necessary adjustments. We need to see if the timing and nature of this event changes for those on flexible routes.
The Teacher Training Agency is working closely with training institutions and schools that are pioneering the flexible routes. We need to understand afresh which courses suit which trainees. It will be important to do this quickly and to refine and share best practice for the new pattern of training.
Ralph Tabberer is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency