Amid the gloom of training cuts, Harvey McGavin finds optimism on a scheme for returning teachers. For the two dozen students brushing up their classroom techniques on work placements around Cheshire primary schools, the Training for Work scheme represents a return to learning. These former teachers want to get back into schools, and the 24-week TFW course is the ideal preparation.
For the South and East Cheshire Training and Enterprise Council, which helps students with the Pounds 360 fees, the course is filling a skills gap and getting long-term unemployed people back to work.
The course, which combines distance learning with tutorial support and includes a four-week school placement, is run at the former Crewe and Alsager college, now annexed to Manchester Metropolitan University.
"All the students have to be already qualified as teachers, and while most of them come from a primary school background, there are others who have worked previously in secondary schools," said course leader Lesley Shenton.
"Most tend to be women who have left teaching to start a family, although there are some men. With all the changes that have taken place, they need to be retrained." So far, around 90 per cent of those who finish the course, which leads to a Certificate of Professional Studies in Education, find jobs.
While the success and popularity of the scheme have grown, funding for it has dwindled, along with that of TFW in general. Nationally, the percentage of long-term unemployed gaining jobs after TFW programmes has risen from 36 to 42 per cent since last year, despite a cut in funding from Pounds 762 million to Pounds 705m over the same period.
But, says Chris Humphries, the national director of policy and strategy for training and enterprise councils, this is a natural corollary of falling unemployment. "It is to be expected that budgets will decline," he said. "I don't believe the dire forecasts that the media have been hawking around since Michael Portillo's appointment."
Locally, there is no cause for alarm and the future of this particular course is assured, according to Les Cooper of SECTEC. "There has been a slight reduction in the funding but we have been able to support the volume of trainees that wish to do the course," he said.
As well as bringing returning teachers up to date with changes in legislation and their new administrative duties, the course has restorative properties on a personal level, according to Lesley Shenton.
"Students feel lacking in confidence and wonder if they can still control children. Once they do the school placement, they find that they can and the rise in confidence and competence is quite dramatic."
Margaret Blease-Bourne, one of the first course intake in 1989, confirmed this. "I needed confidence and contact with professionals as well as updating, " she said. "The positive attitude and support of the tutors was very important. "
In her 10 years out of teaching, Margaret ran a small publishing company as well as having her children. She decided to return when business suffered in the recession. "I was terrified of the national curriculum - there was a lot of scary media coverage. But once I talked to teachers about it I was fine.
"And local management and accountability hasn't seemed so painful to me after the experience of running a business."
Margaret is acting deputy head and science co-ordinator at Wheelock country primary in Sandbach, and was acting head last year. "I've had a busy four years - the course gave me a flying start," she said.