Is on-the-job training the future of teaching?

On-the-job training looks set to play a major role in recruiting teachers in the future, says Naomi Webb

Much has been made of the complexity of getting into teaching. The oscillation of policy between successive parliaments has made it difficult to keep up with how you actually become a teacher. This diagram from the National Audit Office may be your best bet for understanding the web of training and accreditation:

The key difference, and currently subject to a significant amount of debate, is the second row: the university or school-led training. On one side sit the more ‘traditional’ routes of PGCE and BEd (Post Graduate Certificate in Education and Bachelor of Education respectively). Across the gap sit the ever expanding new routes into teaching: Teach First, School Direct, and SCITTs.

So how did we get here? Why the complexity around jobs in education? As you retreat into recent educational history within the UK, a story seems to emerge. For a number of years, national media have been warning of the impending teacher recruitment crisis. However, the word crisis gets thrown around quite willingly by journalists. On the face of it, it seemed that the teacher recruitment crisis had yet to materialise. The quality of teaching had not plummeted, university admissions were up, and until recently government targets of teacher trainees were met.

Yet, behind the façade of success, the cracks were beginning to show.

This chart, from the National Foundation for Educational Research report into teacher movement, highlights part of the problem. The baby-boom, coupled with an increase in net migration, had led to a substantial increase in pupil numbers: 13% in fact. But, obviously, the lag from birth to schooling age, especially secondary schooling age is a good few years. Thus while governments were setting and keeping to one set of targets, the next wave of pupils was getting ready for school.

The number of jobs in education did not match up to the number of potential employees. In the following years, the Government either introduced or supported new schemes that allow graduates to circumnavigate the traditional university route. Training schools were able to offer their own routes, either sponsored by universities or their own provision. Fast-forward to 2015 and not only has the jump in pupil numbers not been addressed by the policies but another problem has emerged. More teachers have started to leave the profession. The 2015 NUT survey announces that an uncomfortable 53% of teachers are considering leaving the profession within two years.

Thus, the magnifying glasses come out and everyone starts to pour over the data, attempting to pin-down the root causes and we’re back to the idea of a ‘crisis’ again and the spotlight firmly on the routes into teaching. The two core differences between university-led training and school-based routes are salary and experience. The cost of a PGCE is £9,000 (a BEd is £27,000), whereas a training salary ranges from £12,000 to £25,000.

In fact, if you had two trainees, one with a BEd and one on School Direct, after three years the monetary difference between them could be £82,000. Yep, you read that right. If you consider that the qualification you get is the same – neither primary nor secondary teaching jobs specify a particular route – and that with the School Direct options you start gaining full-time work experience immediately, it is easy to see why the school-based salaried routes are more attractive. 

Furthermore, a study from IFS showed that “trainees from each route are perceived as equally capable in their future careers”. If the UK government’s biggest education problem is getting people into teaching, it isn’t hard to see why on-the-job training is becoming more and more influential. But could it become too influential? The report mentioned earlier from the National Audit Office has issued a stark warning about on-the-job training.

The pessimistic graph shows the retention of Teach First trainees, i.e. whether completers are still in primary or secondary teaching jobs. 

Whilst on-the-job training has its benefits, it seems it has its flaws. It turns out, the sort of risk-inclined, ambitious graduates who are tempted by the salary and progression of a school-based training scheme are also tempted by the private sector and leave the teaching profession.

On-the-job training looks set to play a major role in recruiting teachers in the future – but whether it is the final answer to an age-old issue remains to be seen.