Attracting older students into teaching could help plug shortages in key secondary subjects in Wales, Newport university's school of education has found. By offering tailored courses in maths, information and communications technology and design and technology, it has signed up more trainees with experience of the workplace on the subjects being rejected by younger colleagues.
Estyn inspectors have praised Newport's school of education for widening access to teaching by offering a one-year certificate in higher education to allow students from different backgrounds to complete a two-year undergraduate course.
Dr Carl Peters, dean of the school, said: "We are finding that headteachers like graduates with experience and different backgrounds.
"Sometimes they'll ring us up and ask if we've got people, but we often have to tell them that our students have already found posts."
The recruitment of older trainees is part of a wider policy at Newport to recruit and retain students from under-represented groups into teaching and to serve the needs of the local community. Estyn praised its "teaching taster days" which are being offered at the campus to encourage more men and people from ethnic-minority backgrounds into the profession. And such strategies appear to be working, with a 25 per cent male intake for last year's primary courses.
One recent Newport graduate is Jane Woodman, who left her 17-year career in financial management at Barclays Bank to become a teacher. She studied for a BSc mathematics with ICT degree, which is distinct to Wales and designed to help people with non-traditional backgrounds achieve graduate status and become fully-qualified teachers in just two years. Jane is now teaching maths at St Teilo's Church-in-Wales high school in Cardiff.
"It was great to do a course that was tailored for people like me," she said. "It's been hard to start from the bottom again and I've had to take a drop in salary but money is not what motivates me to work. Teaching is very different but it's rewarding. I really enjoy it and I feel like I'm now giving something back."
As well as its policies to widen access into teaching, Estyn also praised Newport's school of education for the quality of its teaching. The standard of its postgraduate certificate in education primary studies course was singled out for particular praise and judged to be "good with outstanding features". The way the school supported and cared for its students was also awarded the top grade Dr Peters said: "We have a tradition of supporting students as best we can through training and it's all down to the good partnerships between staff, students and our local schools. I think that added support is particularly important for students who are coming into teaching having left another career."
Teacher-training at Newport also scored well in the recent national student satisfaction survey, which was carried out among those nearing the end of their undergraduate studies in 2005.
An Assembly government review on how many teacher training places are needed in Wales is expected to report shortly. Pupil numbers are falling and newly-qualified primary teachers are struggling to find permanent posts in Wales. Applications to primary teacher training courses were down a fifth this year.
But jobs remain difficult to fill in sciences and languages.