Jill Parkin reports.
Getting a place on the graduate teacher programme was never plain sailing - and recent changes have done nothing to simplify it. The scheme pays prospective teachers to train on the job and has expanded rapidly - from 89 places six years ago to around 5,500. However, would-be applicants often complain that it is hard to find out how to get on to the programme, or to discover where the places are.
For a start you need to find your designated recommending body. DRBs are shy colonies of education folk not given to advertising that they can get you a salary of pound;13,000 plus to train in the classroom. A list of these guardians of the programme can be found on the Teacher Training Agency's website, but be warned: these bodies are oversubscribed and places get filled quickly.
Emma Pardner, 28, now in her second month at Scunthorpe Church of England primary in Lincolnshire, wanted to be a primary teacher, but for a long time her degree in business and home economics was not considered acceptable.
"I was working for social services when the rules about degrees changed," she says. "That meant I was eligible. The GTP seemed the best way because you get so much classroom experience.
"The schools round here are very open to training their own teachers. I decided on the direct approach, made some enquiries and visited some schools. Then I spoke to Gill Ayre at the North Lincolnshire DRB. She was very encouraging and said I should have a go at voluntary teaching, so I did.
"I work 12-hour days and spend weekends on assignments, but I've learnt so much more being based in the classroom and having supportive colleagues than I would have otherwise."
The TTA used to administer places on the programme, but a critical report in 2002 by the inspectors at Ofsted led to the introduction of the recommending bodies. Ofsted said schools were ill-prepared to train newcomers and that too many trainees were meeting standards for qualified teacher status merely at an adequate level; too few were being ranked at a higher level. The inspectors were more critical of primary schools than secondaries. A follow-up report is expected in September.
Since 2002, more and more places have been administered by the designated bodies. This year some 85 per cent of places were allocated through them.
The DRBs are usually partnerships of schools, local authorities and teacher-training providers which are given a set number of places each year by the TTA. The recommending body is responsible for delivering a candidate's training.
The remaining 15 per cent of places still come from the agency, usually via schools. But from this April all applications must go through the DRBs.
There are about 5,500 places on offer this year, but competition is high.
School consortiums sometimes advertise in The TES or the local press, and often hold a meeting for anyone interested. If you don't see an advert, get in touch with your designated body via the TTA's website or call your local authority.
Thanks to new European Union rules, there is no longer an age limit on the scheme, which used to be restricted to the over-24s, in effect making it a mature career-changer's route.
Each trainee on the programme has an individual training plan which is drawn up with the designated body. This covers guidance on classroom techniques, lesson preparation, observations, short courses and conferences, and other relevant areas. Experienced teachers assess and record the trainee's progress.
Trainees keep a portfolio of their own and their pupils' best work.
Assessment for qualified teacher status is done externally unless the designated body is already an accredited teacher-training provider. The programme involves working in two schools and usually takes a year, but those with experience in the classroom may get through it in less.
Celina Viner, a geography teacher at Southfields community school in Wandsworth, south-west London, was a property manager before she did the graduate programme. She believes there are advantages for the mature starter.
"Applying to teach was a spur of the moment thing, though I'd been thinking about it for many years," she says.
"After completing my geography degree, I specialised as a property manager for three years, then spent four and a half years raising two children.
"In February 2002, a friend suggested I apply for a place on a local secondary school's in-house training scheme. I did some shadowing at a school in Wimbledon, (south-west London). That was enough to confirm that my decision was the correct one. I'm relieved to have taken the plunge and to have left property management. I know I'm doing something that really matters.
"I believe there is an advantage in gaining life experience before teaching. I've coped with stressful situations and managed people and time, and I have no doubt that teaching is a profession that suits the later entrant. Being older and a mother gives me additional authority - it is something pupils can sense."
DO YOU PASS THE GTP TEST?
To qualify for the GTP, you must have:
* a first degree or equivalent
* GCSE grade C or above in maths and English
* for primary, if you were born on or after September 1, 1979, GCSE grade C or above (or equivalent) in science.
DRBs recruit to TTA priorities. Most places go to:
* teachers of secondary shortage subjects: maths, science, modern foreign languages, ICT, design and technology and English
* high-quality primary candidates
* those who will make the profession more representative: men in the primary phase, disabled teachers and those from ethnic-minority groups in all age phases
* high-quality secondary applicants, which usually means you will have at least a 2:1 degree
* teaching assistants switching to teaching.
If you don't fit into any of these groups, you may stand more chance of a place on a university course.
For details of your local DRB see the TTA website: www.tta.gov.ukittebrdrb_contacts.htm;For information about the GTP, see www.tta.gov.uk