Vince Cable apparently wants degree-level apprenticeships to become the ‘new norm’ according to recent a headline in the Independent newspaper. As a result, it appears he was thinking about earmarking an extra £20 million to support degree-level and postgraduate apprenticeships in subjects like engineering and construction. Perhaps, he should start nearer home by discussing with his Education counterparts a government sponsored apprenticeships scheme for teacher training. Although to some it might look like the re-invention of the pupil- teacher scheme of yesteryear, could such apprenticeships encourage bright school and college leavers into training as a teacher, and be a part of the solution to the looming teacher supply crisis in our schools.
Take a pupil studying physics who may not achieve an A* or A grade at A level, but is interested in continuing in the subject. At present, unless he, and sadly it is still mostly young men, can find a place on a physics degree course he cannot continue with the subject except perhaps as part of another degree. Is it worth exploring whether by creating a degree level apprenticeship in physics, teaching with a salary attached, we might encourage some of these young people to develop their expertise in the subject and become a teacher without the need for schools being required to compete in the graduate labour market. The apprenticeship can be just as rigorous as a degree, and must leave time for reflection and the other essentials of a successful university education, but might do away with some of the less useful rites of passage of a university education. In addition, it might include a period working in a successful school system overseas, such as say Singapore or Shanghai – today’s government favourite – that would allow the graduate-level apprentices to judge how well students do in their education in other countries.
These apprenticeships could be managed either by the new University Technical Colleges or by training schools already involved in School Direct. With a four year course, starting at eighteen, the new teachers could be awarded a degree after converting their apprenticeship with a final summative module, thus avoiding the need for the payment of tuition fees. The university elements of the course, such as additional subject knowledge, could be bought by the scheme’s providers at cost like any other business buying professional development services.
Without this sort of creative thinking it is unlikely that we will be able to provide sufficient new teachers to meet the demands of the growing school population well into the next decade. There are other schemes, such as the ‘Keep in Touch’ programme for those that leave the profession that might merit revisiting as well as re-training for arts and PE teachers unable to find work at present due to an ‘over-supply’ in these subjects. This might then allow for Qualified Teacher Status to be refined so as not to continue as a qualification that allows any teacher to teach any subject.