If you are someone who is thinking about applying for teacher training this year, then this blog post is for you! Similarly, if you know someone thinking about going into teaching, then feel free to pass this post on. Over the last nine years I have had the pleasure of experiencing a wide variety of teacher training provision both as a trainee, a mentor, a university-based tutor and, now, as a senior manager working in a school with Schools Direct and Teach First students. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I have written a fair amount about it on this blog already (see my Trainees page and Developing Teachers category). This post is designed to use some of those experiences to help future applicants.
The key message is that the precise route you take is less important than the experience you get on that route. A university-led PGCE is not in and of itself any better or worse than Schools Direct (salaried or unsalaried) or Teach First. In practice, nearly all routes include input from a variety of institutions, including schools and universities. This means that you have to probe more deeply in making your choices, which involves asking some quite specific questions of providers. I would suggest that the three most important things to ask about are (1) your mentor, (2) subject-specificity in your training and (3) behaviour management.
The most important person in your training is your mentor. Here are some questions to ask a future provider.
- Who will my mentor be?
- What teaching experience will my mentor have?
- What mentoring experience will my mentor have?
- What subject-specific training has my mentor received?
- What can I assume my mentor has read?
- How much contact time will I have with my mentor?
- How much input have mentors had in designing this programme?
(2) Subject-specificity in your training
Secondary teacher training needs to be as subject-specific as possible. The following questions will help you find the diamonds in the rough.
- What programme is in place to help me develop my subject knowledge?
- What will I be expected to read to develop my subject knowledge?
- What will I learn about curriculum and assessment construction in my subject? (make sure this is subject-specific and not generic)
- What will I read that has been written by other teachers of my subject?
- How will you introduce me to my wider subject community?
(3) Support for behaviour management
This is famously poor in many providers, though there are several who do this very well indeed. Start by asking the following.
- How will I be coached in managing a classroom?
- In what precise ways will I be supported when I encounter challenging behaviour?
- What is the whole-school behaviour system and how do you know it is applied consistently in my placement school?
- If my school is not supporting me in managing behaviour, who can I go to?
The answers you get to these questions will help you decide very quickly what kind of quality your provider will be able to give you. Do not let those answering the questions off the hook with vague or generic answers. If someone says “we work with a wide range of schools…” then what they are saying is they cannot guarantee what your experience is going to be like. If they speak in vague or generic terms about “we’ll give you support” or “our mentors are experience” then push for detail. Ask for examples. Drill down.
The current range of routes into teaching is currently quite confusing. This set of questions will help you find the right one for you.