Can't get the staff? Let your teachers retrain

6th March 2015 at 00:00
Schools identified as obstacle in drive to fill shortage subjects

Attempts to get schools to take the lead in providing teachers for shortage subjects have faltered, with headteachers reluctant to release staff for training.

A review of a pilot scheme, which gives schools responsibility for retraining teachers to take classes in other subjects, has identified unwilling school leaders as one of the chief obstacles. It also reports difficulty in getting low-achieving schools to take part.

The findings cast doubt on a government push to retrain 15,000 teachers to plug gaps in maths, science and technology, launched in December by prime minister David Cameron.

The report also raises questions about whether a school-led approach to teacher training can meet recruitment targets, after the School Direct scheme filled less than two-thirds of its allocated places this year.

As part of the switch to school-led training, teaching school alliances (TSAs) have been recruited to run subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) training for teachers. The courses, largely led by universities until now, are designed to prepare teachers who specialise in non-shortage areas to teach a shortage subject.

Two-thirds of the 45 TSAs taking part in the programme are concentrating on maths, while others are running courses in physics, chemistry, computing and modern foreign languages.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership report concludes that, despite receiving largely positive feedback on training quality, the scheme has encountered several challenges, in particular the short lead time and "persuading headteachers to release staff to undertake training".

Participating TSAs reported a "disappointing" response from schools, even among those that initially seemed enthusiastic. Some headteachers were reluctant to allow teachers to take part because it stretched their ability to cover classes in shortage subjects, the report says.

One TSA said a particular hurdle was "persuading headteachers to take a long-term view and to release teachers this year so that they can teach these shortage subjects in future years".

Even schools struggling to recruit were reluctant to send staff on the training courses. "Colleagues from lower-attaining schools where we know there is a problem of expertise in these areas have not taken up the places - even though they were specifically targeted," a respondent said.

Rob Rolfe, SKE lead tutor at the University of Wolverhampton, said the review highlighted the drawbacks of focusing on school-led training. "Schools are often very bad at planning for the future. They want teachers here and now and they don't necessarily look at what they will need in three years' time," he added.

TES reported last month that universities were calling for an expansion of SKE courses to address persistent recruitment shortfalls (News, 13 February).

TSAs on the pilot scheme also called for incentives to encourage teachers to take up the training, beyond their own development and increased job opportunities.

A Department for Education spokesman said that school-led training gave headteachers "more influence and control over the way that teachers are trained and recruited". The approach was "helping to drive up standards across the profession", he added.

`Work together'

Carl Ward, headteacher of Haywood Academy in Stokeon-Trent, says smaller and struggling schools could find it difficult to release staff. But not allowing teachers time to retrain is shortsighted, he believes.

"They're probably creating problems for the future," he adds. "If we've got very good staff in history or geography that want to do an enhancement course in maths when there's a national shortage of maths teachers, it's short-termist not to let them do so."

Partnerships between schools should be used to free up staff for training, he adds. "If you're working together as a group of schools, you are more able to allocate your resources strategically."

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