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Degree apprenticeships can increase and diversify recruits

At 9am on Tuesday, thousands of eager would-be teachers were poring over phones and laptops, ready to sign on to the DfE’s teacher training platform. By 10.30am, the National Institute of Teaching already had over 120 applications for our 2024-25 cohort, and it’s been captivating to watch the numbers tick up.

But as exciting as it is to see a new generation of teachers take their first steps into the profession, we also know that all of us working in initial teacher education have a steep mountain to climb. Recruitment remains an enormous challenge.

It’s therefore essential that everyone who has the ability and commitment to become a teacher can find a route that works for them. We must redouble our efforts to diversify pathways into teaching. Whoever you are, whatever your background, there should be a route for you.

The ITT sector understands how vital the flow of new teachers is to our schools. There is a huge amount of hard work underway across the country to make this happen. At the NIoT, we are doing everything we can to appeal to as diverse a group of entrants as possible. We have full-time trainees, part-time trainees, career changers, new graduates and postgraduate apprentices and we’re working with brilliant partners like the University of Birmingham and Now Teach, as well as our large network of partner schools to ensure our training works in a multitude of circumstances. This emphasis on flexibility and diversity is a major ingredient in the recruitment of the 515 trainees we are supporting with their first steps into the classroom this year.

One area in which we see potential for growth is the Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship (PGTA).  We’ve found it to be an attractive option for people who work in schools already as it offers them the chance to get their teaching qualification while they are still employed. Apprentices earn while they learn, training costs are covered by the apprenticeship levy and, crucially, there are no tuition fees involved.

Whoever you are, whatever your background, there should be a route for you

However, our conversations with schools indicate that there’s a lack of awareness and understanding about the PGTA among headteachers, as well as concern about the administration surrounding it. Giving more guidance to headteachers on the opportunities it presents and streamlining the process for all involved could help open up this route to many more future teachers. 

But what about those who don’t yet have their degree? Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that around one-fifth of adults (21 per cent) in Redcar and Cleveland (where we have a campus) have a qualification at level 4 or above, compared to 40 per cent in Greater London. It is one of the most economically deprived parts of the country. Like other areas with a similar profile, it struggles with teacher recruitment. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a pool of brilliant people there who would make great teachers. So how to open up access for them?

We agree with those who say teaching must remain a graduate profession.  But we also have to recognise the economic barriers which lie in people’s paths.  Going to university often comes with a daunting financial burden which can deter prospective applicants. Should teaching only be accessible to those with the resources to sustain four years of full-time study?

That’s why I’m excited about the prospect of degree apprenticeships for teaching. The DfE, alongside experts from across the sector, have been working on this idea for some time and there is clearly a commitment to creating a high-quality graduate programme.

It’s necessarily demanding to establish a new route into teaching and there are difficult technical issues to overcome. However, the recruitment and retention challenges, particularly in socio-economically disadvantaged communities, mean that this work must continue at pace.

Adding degree apprenticeships to the mix of routes into teaching alongside the PGTA and more traditional pathways would open more doors for those wanting to teach the next generation. With a collective effort, we can clear the road of obstacles to ensure anyone with the ability and commitment to become a teacher can start their journey to the classroom.

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