Elite independents to offer their own `Teach First'

26th September 2014 at 01:00
New training scheme will place graduates in top private schools

For more than a decade, the Teach First programme has attracted the brightest young graduates to take roles in the country's most disadvantaged schools with just a few weeks' preparation. Now, an elite group of private schools is to offer its own version, providing training in the historic classrooms of the most privileged institutions in the land.

The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) group - which includes Eton College and Harrow School - will hand-pick graduates from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities to take places on the training scheme.

Participants will have the pound;8,000 training costs paid by individual schools, as well as receiving a wage while they work towards a postgraduate certificate in education and qualified teacher status.

The headteachers behind the project said it was being established because of fears that the flow of quality teachers through traditional university training routes could be under threat after funding cuts and departmental closures. They were also keen not to miss out on graduates and career-changers attracted by the growing number of on-the-job training routes, including Teach First and School Direct.

But they denied that the scheme was attempting to "poach" top graduates who might otherwise have entered the state sector, claiming it would benefit the education system as a whole.

Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School in the East Midlands and chairman of the HMC, said: "We are aiming to achieve a programme that will have people coming out of the other end qualified to teach either in the independent or the maintained sector and able to move between the two, having got the experience of an excellent school."

Mr Harman said the scheme was aimed at both graduates and those changing careers who were focused on the idea of teaching, passionate about their subjects and seeking experience in "high-functioning" departments. It was uncertain how many teachers would cross over into the state sector at the end of their training, he acknowledged.

Many private schools already offer in-house training to teachers on a school-by-school basis, but this is the first time that HMC schools have joined forces to offer a formal scheme.

Private schools' freedom to recruit staff without teaching qualifications has been championed by the Conservatives, who have extended the powers to academies and free schools. But all new teachers on the HMC scheme will be expected to gain QTS.

Further details of the scheme, known as HMC Teacher Training, are due to be unveiled at the HMC annual conference, being held next week in Newport, South Wales.

Chris King, headmaster of Leicester Grammar School who is heading the project, said the aim this year was to "grow the wider understanding" of the initiative through visits to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, with the aim of recruiting 100 people to start in September 2015. HMC schools usually took on about 1,100 newly qualified teachers each year, he said.

Under the scheme, trainees will be required to attend a series of residential training courses and will gain their postgraduate qualifications via formal links between the HMC and the University of Buckingham.

The Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers welcomed the initiative, although it expressed concerns that the move was an indication of wider teacher-supply problems.

Executive director James Noble-Rogers said: "The worry is that the private sector doesn't feel there are enough teachers coming through the existing PGCE routes and that's a message to the government, which also needs to maintain the existing training infrastructure."

`You can influence young teachers'

Nicola Hughes, induction tutor at Leicester Grammar, says that in-house training benefits schools because they can develop teachers as they wish.

"You have a lot more impact on a young teacher's attitudes and values and you are shaping and moulding them for a long period of time," she says.

Ms Hughes does not think that training in an HMC school would put a teacher at a disadvantage in a state school. "One of the skills of teaching in any school is knowing how to think on your feet," she says. "I don't like to make generalisations, but in a state school you might need to be more adept at managing behaviour, while in a private school you might have students who keep you intellectually on your toes.

"But you are thinking in the same way, it's a transferable skill. You are not going into an alien environment."

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