Peterborough seems a good place to live and work. This former market town in the Fens is now a booming city, and while London is less than an hour's rail journey away, its houses are affordable.
One thing it always lacked, though, was a local teacher training provider. But now an innovative programme to recruit graduates, run by a partnership of higher education, local education authorities and schools, is filling the gap. The Cambridge Graduate Teacher Partnership has taken the Government's graduate teacher programme and run with it.
The programme, under which graduates are paid up to pound;13,000 to train in the classroom, came in for some harsh criticism from Ofsted earlier this year. Its report said some teachers were in the classroom who shouldn't be, and many schools were out of their depth when it came to training.
The scheme, which involves Norfolk and Cambridgeshire LEAs as well as Peterborough, aims to address some of these comments. Its trainees are employed by the local authority, so the education authorities rather than the schools pick up the costs and forge the links for its trainees. Rather than simply training in one school - as in the conventional GTP schemes - they change schools, giving them experience and placements that suit their personal circumstances. They also attend academic courses and meet regularly as a group, says Tony Robinson of Cambridge University's faculty of education, which is leading the scheme. "It's win all round," says Mr Robinson. "It's good for the trainees and good for the localities. Trainees develop a loyalty to an area but not to an individual school."
Last year, its first, the programme produced 17 graduate trainees in Peterborough, 15 of whom are now working in the city's schools. Ten secondary and eight primary trainees are on this year's programme.
Stanground college, an 11-18 sports college in Peterborough, expects to host four graduate trainees this year. As part of the partnership, the school has employed GTP students directly. Principal Stephen Forster says:
"There's a pool of talent out there and we're making use of it. We've appointed three people off the two GTP programmes so it's helped considerably in sorting out the shortages.
"One of the disadvantages of the Peterborough area is that there's no higher education institution; it's the largest city without one. And PGCE students often tend to go to schools in areas where they train; that's been a real difficulty in trying to attract staff to Peterborough. This programme has made a difference. Appointing staff for September 2002 was considerably easier than 2001."
Claire Howlett, 30, has just started her NQT year teaching English at Stanground and was among the partnership's first cohort. After having a baby, she became a part-time learning support assistant but decided to make the step into teaching. "The course came at the right time. I live near Peterborough so I wouldn't have been able to do it if I'd had to do a PGCE; I'd have had to travel to Cambridge. Financially and responsibility-wise, this was my only option. And being organised by Cambridge and the LEA, it's been better than some of the school-based courses. We've had the academic side delivered by Cambridge. I think some people in schools miss out on that because they're in the classroom for most of the time. It was based more on the PGCE model than other GTP courses I have seen. That's probably why it was effective."
With a mortgage and a family to support, Sally Tymoczko was attracted to the GTP route by the training salary. She's in her first year teaching at Barnack primary school in Peterborough. Last year's programme gave her teaching practice in three contrasting primary schools. She says: "The training was fantastic and the lecturers from the college were brilliant. You got 24-hour telephone support, and the LEA had a big part to play in the training.
"Having the LEA there gives you an insight into how the authority works and how it supports schools - important if you're working for an LEA school. And it's hands-on training."
For further information on the Cambridge Graduate Teacher Partnership, contact David Anderson on 01733 748 145