Space is at a premium on graduate scheme

Teacher training pilot launches with five applicants for every place

A scheme to lure top graduates to teach in further education - billed as FE's answer to Teach First - will launch next month after attracting more than five times as many applicants as there are places, TES can reveal.

Despite only being announced in March, the pound;3.6 million two-year pilot of the Premium Graduate Initial Teacher Education Scheme has received more than 250 applications for just 45 places at three regional college consortia across England.

Organisers hope the programme will change perceptions of the FE sector, which they say is frequently overlooked by graduates joining the teaching profession.

"A lot of graduates often don't realise FE is an option for them to teach in," said Evan Williams, programme manager at the Education and Training Foundation, which is running the scheme. "Everybody's aware of school and university but they forget about FE. Graduates need to be made aware that the sector is here, that we do recruit and that it's a good place to work."

The Premium Graduate programme had not only attracted high-calibre candidates fresh from university but also people who had worked for several years and were looking for a change of career, Mr Williams said.

"We wanted a diverse group of graduates applying because a diverse workforce in FE is vital, and I think we have achieved that," he said. "To get 250 people interested in such a short time is quite an achievement. We were hoping for a positive response and we got it. The programme has attracted what we think is the right calibre and level of graduate."

The consortia - in Blackburn, Kent and the Tees Valley - are preparing to welcome the successful applicants after a "rigorous" recruitment process including assessments, interviews, mini teaching sessions, lesson observation and analysis. An induction period will take place before the start of term.

Although trainees at Blackburn and Kent will receive bursaries to fund their courses, those on the Tees Valley programme, known as FE Plus, will be paid employees.

Peter Wilson, a manager at Middlesbrough College, part of the Tees Valley consortium, said: "The fact we are paying the trainees, that they get to earn while they learn, is very powerful.

"Tees Valley doesn't have the most glamorous of images, and it's often difficult to recruit here. But people are actually choosing to relocate because of that incentive. Although we can't guarantee a job at the end of the two years, we have tried to recruit people who we could see working with us in future."

The programme has been welcomed by many in the FE sector. Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Any scheme which adds to the number of high-quality teachers already within FE colleges has to be positive.

"We particularly welcome the initiative in relation to maths and English, where diversifying the staff recruitment strategy will hopefully support the increasing demand for these subjects. It will be interesting to see the impact this pilot scheme makes."

However, there are concerns that the initiative is targeting the wrong people. The soon-to-be-defunct Institute for Learning campaigned for a programme such as this to be introduced. But when it was first announced, then IfL chief executive Toni Fazaeli said it should be aimed at enticing industry and professional experts into the classroom, rather than having a "myopic" focus on high-flying university graduates.

Andy Gannon, director of policy for the 157 Group of colleges, said that although attracting high-calibre graduates to FE was a good thing, balance was needed.

"The importance of dual professionalism [where teachers are also qualified in another field] is particularly important in vocational teaching," he added. "College principals need to be able to assess teachers against their skills as well as their degree. "Experience and expertise is vital; just because they have a good degree it doesn't mean they are going to be a good teacher."

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