Not so fast

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Julie Kay discovers that becoming a teacher is an endurance test

With adverts all over the press calling for would-be teachers to take the Fast Track, I thought I might have a chance of joining the profession.

After six weeks of phone calls and research, I'm a little nearer my goal - but only a little. One of the problems is location. I'm in Leeds. It's supposed to be the biggest boom town in the country - outside London - but it doesn't have a Fast Track provider.

The list is suspiciously elitist. Oxford has a provider, as do Cambridge (two), London and Canterbury. Bath gets a look in (though surely it can't be in greater need of teachers than, say, Birmingham). Warwick handles the Midlands, and Manchester has the former polytechnic (now the Met). But for me it's Durham.

Durham is beautiful and has an excellent reputation, but the course would require me to be in college from 9am to 5pm almost every day, and from 8am on school days. It's also more than an hour's drive away and there would be vast amounts of essay-writing and homework - oh, and I have children. Well, hard luck.

So who is Fast Track for? Not regular graduates, surely. One Fast Track head described a PGCE teaching programme as "already crippling". In fact - and this is the interesting bit - no one knows what "extra responsibilities" these superteachers are supposed to take on. The nice purple and silver Filofax they send you implies that you have to be worthy of greater things. For a few extra incentives you have to show that you can cut the mustard.

For 10 years I worked for national companies, earning serious money. Then I taught for five years in further education colleges in London.

I've had A-level students and disaffected GCSE retakes; those with English as a second language; I've even experienced the delights of having someone pull a knife on me in class. I have done most of a certificate in education and been subjected to two Ofsted inspections (a high two, if you must know, from someon who "never gives a one"). I have middle management experience in FE, but I haven't got the magic PGCE. So I have had to contain my frustration and try a different route.

I learned there were new in-service training schemes that would get me straight into the classroom. Schools would welcome me, the Teacher Training Agency assured me, as they would be getting a free teacher, selected and paid for by the DfEE. You try it.

I approached my local primary. They were stretched to the limit, as all state schools seem to be. Surely the horrendously stressed teachers would welcome an extra pair of hands? The application forms arrived 10 days too late to meet the next deadline.

Then I turned to the alluringly named graduate and registered teacher programme (GRTP). The trainee gets a pound;13,000 salary and the school is paid pound;4,000 to do the training. But there is a mountain of work and no guarantee of acceptance. You have to be assessed in detail and a training plan has to be submitted to the TTA. The DfEE wants secondary specialists in science, maths and languages, followed by teachers from ethnic minorities and male primary school teachers. My primary maths specialism doesn't rate, even though there is a shortage of people who can do this job.

Why should a school take on a "tricky" case like mine - which comes with a tome of assessment papers someone has to fill in - when traditional courses send plenty of students on placement? There are few in the primary sector who would claim they are trained to teach teachers. And while a mentor is training me, the kids I want to help get a succession of well-meaning supply teachers who don't know them or what they have done before. Mad.

The three primaries I have approached are carefully calculating the financial commitment before letting me near a marker pen. I won't start teaching this term, as I had hoped. I would be delighted if I can get on track by April. They haven't managed to put me off yet, but they're certainly trying.

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