Going online to develop and support new teachers

A combination of technology, unity of purpose and quick action will stave off a teacher training crisis, says Steve Pinches, COO at TES Global

As COVID-19 swept aside normal school life, it was immediately clear what the implications would be for trainee teachers across the country.

The lockdown that followed forced many training providers to suspend their programmes – especially if they relied heavily on face-to-face elements.

Trainee teachers have been quite rightly concerned about the prospect of being stranded mid-course, without the means to complete an estimated 25 hours of weekly study.

That anxiety was shared by teacher training providers faced with the prospect of reinventing assessment and recruitment schemes at extremely short notice.

Community support

It’s at times like this that the collective need of our trainee teachers and training providers takes priority, and the community of training providers have shown an admirable unity of purpose.

Emma Hollis, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), recognised this when she spoke of the resolve of ITT providers in the face of enormous challenges.

“The crisis has meant that significant resources and energies have been diverted to support their current cohort of trainees through a very difficult time,” she wrote. “Not only have they had to invent and deliver an entirely new, distance learning programme of ITT (quite literally overnight), but they are also managing the mental health and wellbeing of trainees, trying to support schools within their partnerships, and managing their own staff and their reactions to the pandemic.”

She added: “Never have we needed teachers more than now and never has the hard work and dedication of ITT providers been more vital in protecting the flow of entrants to the profession…”

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The Tes Institute’s response to the training challenge is, I think, a good example of this unity of purpose. As the largest ITT provider in the country, we wanted to help trainees complete studies ready for September, so we made elements of our School Direct programme free to use for accredited teacher training providers through to the end of the summer term, along with our online assessment system.

“The lockdown has exposed the shortcomings of teacher training models that have a big emphasis on face-to-face learning – and revealed the strengths of online-only approaches”

The impact of lasting restrictions

It’s likely that restrictions will be in place for some time to come and this will impact on the way schools operate, as well as how trainee teachers learn.

The numbers of new teachers entering our schools in autumn 2020 isn’t the biggest problem; the issue will be when they get into the classroom because they will need support to help them become proficient teachers. And with all the other challenges schools are likely to face well into the new school year, they will struggle to support their trainees.

The lockdown has exposed the shortcomings of teacher training models that have a big emphasis on face-to-face learning – and revealed the strengths of online-only approaches. It has also highlighted the unity of purpose of this country’s ITT providers, who responded collaboratively, imaginatively and selflessly in a desperate situation.

In the short-term, we have ensured that the nation’s trainee teachers will be able to get through the remainder of their courses, meet their assessment deadlines and move into the classroom in the autumn.

In the longer term, we have to ask some searching questions about the resilience of our teacher training models when a return to normal life is likely to be some way down the track.


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