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How internships could help the new government meet its aims

A key part of the new Labour government’s manifesto is the promise of 6,500 extra new qualified teachers, but where will these teachers come from?

So far, we’ve heard they’ll restart the ‘every lesson shapes a life’ advertising campaign, and tackle wider issues in the sector. We know from our members that key areas influencing recruitment and retention include workload, behaviour management, a lack of support services (particularly for children with additional needs) and of course, funding and accountability pressures.

There is optimism in the sector that addressing these issues will play a longer-term role in drawing new teachers into the profession. But to meet Labour’s commitment, more creative solutions may be needed; NFER’s Teacher Labour Market report for 2024 predicts significant under-recruitment for most secondary subjects as well as under-recruitment for primary.

Too often, we hear about the barriers to teaching as a desirable profession. There is no doubt these barriers need breaking down, but we also need to make sure we highlight the incredibly positive aspects of working as a teacher.

I believe part of the solution is to provide more opportunity for young people to experience the reality of teaching. One way of doing this could be to introduce paid internships in schools.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students, for example, could work alongside qualified teachers supporting high-quality subject- and/or phase-specific teaching and assessment. They could work in Early Years settings, lead Breakfast Clubs and after-school clubs, mentor young people or run super-curricular sessions for sixth-formers, with a distinct role from that of teaching assistants.

Teacher workload – a major issue in teacher retention – could be reduced through these interns working alongside teachers and support staff. Meanwhile, the interns would have the opportunity to use their developing subject expertise in and beyond the classroom.

School internships would build a bridge between schools, colleges and university

We know of many schools, trusts and teaching schools that already work with their secondary students and recent alumni to offer them a route into teaching through training programmes or paid teaching assistant roles post-18.  Many Learned Societies also have programmes for undergraduates in areas such as STEM that aim to bolster the pipeline of future teachers.

An internship route would formalise these initiatives, offering a fair way of building financial resilience while supporting study and building the future workforce. University students who complete internships alongside their studies could even have part of their student loan written off, in line with the amount of time they spend in schools.

Of course, this is not just a potentially powerful opportunity for undergraduate or postgraduate students. Career changers provide an important pipeline of teachers. Giving more potential career-changers opportunities to experience the reality of teaching in partnership with organisations like Now Teach would help us to welcome more of them into our profession.

Crucially though, whether for students or those later in their career, these internships need to be fairly paid, and schools need to be funded to enable them to happen. Evidence from other sectors shows the impact that unpaid internships can have on diversity within a sector, with only those that are in a financial position to work without an income able to take them up.

In addition, the role of an intern should not be confused with that of teaching assistants, who play a crucial role in our schools. Indeed, it is one we hope to see strengthened through the government’s promise to establish a ‘new national voice’ for support staff.

If we get this right, university students motivated by pro-social activities may find joining a school community on an internship much more fulfilling than other, more common forms of student work, while helping to reduce workload in schools.

In the long term, experiencing working in a school as part of the staff team may well also inspire a future choice of career, improving the pipeline of future teachers.

More can be done to truly recognise and celebrate the skills and talents of all our colleagues in schools. School internships would build a bridge between schools, colleges and university, and celebrate continuous learning.

Let’s work together to make a career within education compelling, irresistible and thoroughly rewarding for all.

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