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Trust plans for accountancy-style career path for TAs

A pioneering academy trust wants to establish a “public service” higher education institution to train teaching assistants (TAs) on a “progression pathway” similar to that of accountants.

Ed Vainker, chief executive of the Reach Foundation, said the new organisation would specialise in “establishing pathways to graduate roles in schools for non-graduates in our communities”.

With huge teacher shortages, Vainker believes non-graduates in schools should be a key focus for the sector as graduates turn away from the profession in favour of flexible jobs post-Covid.

Ed Vainker

“We’ve got a real challenge in our workforce,” he told Schools Week. “We’re not able to find the teachers we need.

“Yet we’ve got a number of people in those teaching assistant roles, who have the skills, the experience, the expertise, to be great teachers – but they don’t currently have a degree.”

Only graduates can become qualified teachers, either through a postgraduate route for those with an existing degree, or by completing a bachelor’s degree that includes qualified teacher status (QTS).

The government is setting up an apprenticeship route for non-graduates, but that would still involve them achieving a degree and QTS.

‘Example we’re interested in is accountancy’

There are around 280,000 teaching assistants in schools, workforce data shows. Last year, the government recruited 26,955 entrants into initial teacher training, missing its secondary target by 50 per cent.

Vainker said a new education degree “optimised for people currently working” would help to get more people on the path to qualifying as teachers.

But it would also be about developing better “progression pathways” generally for non-graduate school workers, to show these roles are “valued”.

“The example that we’re interested in is accountancy, where you do a series of exams and qualifications as your career [progresses], and you develop expertise, you develop your skills.

“You get paid more as you become more qualified, and it’s kind of more modularised, and that’s what we’re interested in doing in the school system.”

He gave the example of a TA being a “specialist” after one year of their degree, then an unqualified teacher after year two, gaining QTS after year three.

“We think there’s an opportunity for trusts and schools to pay people as their career develops in this way, and as they become more expert. At the moment that system isn’t sophisticated in schools.

“We’ve moved a lot of teacher training into schools, but we think the next step is to move this wider staff development the same way.”

Trusts and schools should scale route

Other schools have developed such pathways. But Vainker believes schools and trusts are “uniquely positioned to come together” and do it at scale – making it more affordable.

He believes five or six founder schools or trusts would be needed to create the course, which would be a “single degree in education with different specialisms”. It could also have qualified teacher status attached.

While it would primarily focus on upskilling TAs, the degree could also help those working in pastoral and inclusion roles to train as counsellors, educational psychologists or speech and language therapists.

To be viable, it would need a “cohort of around 400 students” per academic year, with the trusts providing about 10 “campuses” between them, each catering to about 40 students.

‘Looking to take the next step’

Reach Academy Feltham, sponsored by the Reach Foundation, already offers two-year foundation courses for early years and special educational needs and inclusive practice.

The courses are accredited by Kingston University London. School staff work full-time and study from 4pm until 9pm on Wednesdays.

But those taking part must do a third year to gain a degree, before looking at achieving QTS too.

“We’ve been working out how do we turn this into a fuller model, potentially an independent organisation. We’ve got the outline of a plan, and we’re looking to take the next step.”

In the short term, he said the new teacher training institution would need to secure a validation partnership with a university, which would award the degrees.

But Reach is also developing a proposal to apply for degree-awarding powers.

Vainker wants “to bring a group of partners together during the summer, to do the design in the autumn and then start recruiting students in January” for a September 2025 start.

They are also exploring how the new non-graduate teaching apprenticeship might fit into the plans.

“The challenges we are facing demand systemic solutions, not individual efforts,” Vainker said.

“Rather than expecting MATs and schools to independently develop training and progression offers for their non-teaching workforce, we want to come together to facilitate collaboration that improves the quality of provision across the system.”

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