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Charlie Taylor: Taking the direct route

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Charlie Taylor is the Chief Executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), an executive agency of the Department for Education. The agency was created to enable and support the development of a self-improving, school-led system. It is responsible for administering the School Direct programme.

One of the highlights of my role as chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) has been the development of the School Direct teacher training programme. This was introduced in 2012 so that schools could recruit the trainees they wanted, choose the university or school-based trainer they wanted to work with, agree on the content of the programme and how the £9,000 tuition fee should be divided.

School Direct has proved enormously popular with head teachers. Over the last three years, schools have asked for increasing numbers of training places. In 2012 they requested just 1,000 places, while last year they asked for more than 23,000.

A number of schools that were initially involved with School Direct have decided to go further and become accredited providers of school centred initial teacher training, or SCITTs. This means they are able to award qualified teacher status to their trainees and many choose to work with a university so that the course also includes a PGCE. In the last three years we have seen 68 new SCITTs open across the country. Schools that are interested should contact NCTL.

I have visited a great many schools and seen how they are making School Direct work, with a variety of different arrangements with their partner university or SCITT. I have been enormously impressed by the quality of the trainees on the programme and the commitment of schools to deliver really first class teacher training.

Many of these trainees on School Direct have commented on how much they have felt part of the school while on the programme. They have particularly appreciated being there from the beginning of the autumn term, attending inset, hearing the headteacher set the direction for the school, and seeing how experienced teachers set standards for behaviour in the first few lessons.

“I wanted to be a part of the initial excitement, optimism and buzzing energy of the hectic first couple of weeks. It really is an innovative way of training to teach."

Jess Rothwell, School Direct trainee, Northern Alliance, Oldham

Schools have also described the benefits of the programme. It not only means that they have an opportunity to become directly involved in the selection of trainees, but they then have to think about the content. What are the things that our trainees really need to learn and practise in the training year? And who is best placed to take on this work, our university or SCITT partner, or us?

"School Direct is well thought out, and from the start you are working in a school and learning in the classroom."

Dr John Fennell, Arthur Terry Teaching School, Birmingham

As a result, schools have begun to look at the CPD they offer for newly and recently qualified teachers and beyond. School Direct also provides new and varied roles within schools, from mentoring trainees to developing programmes of study. Schools have seen collaboration on School Direct as a stepping stone to further partnerships, often as part of a teaching school alliance. These schools begin with initial teacher training, but realise that there are many other issues and common school-improvement challenges on which they can work together.

There have always been examples of great collaboration between schools and universities, but School Direct has allowed these to strengthen further. Of course, teacher training doesn’t end after the first year; schools regularly put teachers on master’s degree programmes to allow them to develop their practice. Schools are taking more interest in educational research and many are now conducting their own research in conjunction with their partner university or through the Education Endowment Foundation. Universities like Sheffield Hallam have embraced School Direct and invested in a new Institute of Education in order to further their partnerships with schools.

We know this is going to be a challenging year for teacher recruitment. There are fewer graduates leaving university in summer 2015 and the graduate job market is buoyant again.

This means schools will have to do more than ever to attract the best applicants to apply to School Direct. At NCTL we have talked to some of the schools that filled the most School Direct places this year to find out the secrets of their success.


Here are some of their recommendations for good School Direct recruitment. Remember potential trainees have lots of options and the more professional and organised they find you, the more they are likely to apply to you.

  1. Website quality   Make sure your website is clearly presented and has all the information that a prospective trainee will need, such as whether there is a PGCE offer. Regularly check that all links work and there is a direct link to the UCAS site. The best School Direct websites are every bit as good as those of other top graduate employers.
  2. Be quick   Good people get snapped up quickly, so make sure you respond as soon as possible.
  3. School Experience programme (SEP)  This allows potential trainees to spend some time in your school; it gives them a chance to decide if they want to teach. If they impress you, encourage them to apply. For more information click here
  4. Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE)  This allows potential trainees the chance to improve their subject knowledge so they can teach one of the harder-to-recruit subjects. (For example, someone who doesn’t have a degree in physics, but does have an A level.) For more about how you can use SKE to support your recruitment, click here
  5. Use your local contacts and networks to grow your own teachers, whether from business, governors, parents or former pupils.

There’s lots more guidance and materials available in our marketing resource bank to help you market your programme. You’ll find a marketing guide, model letter to parents and a press release template to help you tell your story.

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