It's time to grow our own
By Kai Vacher
Roughly 15,000 years ago, a major agricultural revolution took off. Instead of living hand to mouth, people began to think ahead and use a variety of resources to plan their harvest year-round. For the two-and-a-half million years before that, we had lived as hunter-gatherers, taking food at chance, only thinking of the day ahead.
Of course, as a geographer, I’m drawn to this as a metaphor. This historical shift is parallel to the change that needs to occur in the way that we hire and develop teachers. We’ve operated as hunter-gatherers for a while and the drive to recruit quality teachers has gained momentum. Now, there’s an opportunity to grow your own: to nurture your talent within your own community. Growing your own, albeit simple as an idea, is a compelling solution to a problem we’re all facing.
The international schools market is growing rapidly, yet the supply of teachers who are qualified for international schools is not expanding. Recruiting is becoming increasingly challenging as more and more hunters are trying to spear a limited number of fish in a shrinking pond.
Along with demand far surpassing supply in the recruitment process, we have not been equipped with adequate tools ‒ our spears are blunt. Through conversations with others, I discovered that iPGCEs (although valuable qualifications in their own right) do not come with qualified teacher status (QTS), but I also heard about the Straight to Teaching CPD programme that can help prepare entry onto the Assessment Only (AO) route to QTS. These routes are not well known, offered by only a small number of providers, and I found it challenging to establish how they could work in an international school setting.
Time to start growing our own
One of the practical benefits of meeting all the standards of the British Schools Overseas inspection framework is that once accredited, British-oriented international schools can recruit and induct newly qualified teachers (NQTs) from England. Once recruited, accredited bodies, such as the TES Institute, can support your school in mentoring an NQT through a quality-controlled process to complete their induction year.
The ability to recruit NQTs clearly extends the reach of our hunter-gathering when looking for teachers to fill vacancies. Perhaps even more importantly, this ability to offer NQT induction also gives schools the scope to grow their own teachers.
The promised land
Domain 4 of the national standards of excellence for Head teachers (UK Department of Education, 2015) refers to self-improving school systems in which we shape the current and future quality of the teaching profession through high-quality training and sustained professional development of all staff. Following this guideline by growing our own teachers, at British School Muscat (BSM) we are also more able to fill our vacancies with quality teachers, and be more flexible when needing to respond to the sudden departure of a teacher.
For example, meet Elea. Elea joined BSM as a teaching assistant five years ago with a degree and extensive experience in three international schools. She had aspirations to become a teacher and came to me requesting support to do an iPGCE. By working with a TES Institute representative, all our questions around the possible routes Elea could take to become a teacher at BSM were answered.
What does the ‘grow your own’ philosophy mean at BSM? To go back to our metaphor, our yield has been overwhelmingly successful. In the past three years, with the support of the TES Institute, we have grown seven of our own teachers from teaching assistants to fully UK qualified teachers with QTS. We currently have two more undertaking the process. These teachers have received the same QTS and NQT induction qualifications and certificates that a teacher in the UK would receive following a UK-based teacher training programme and NQT induction.
How do we grow our own?
In its simplest terms, staff who currently hold a teaching qualification but no QTS status can take the AO Route to QTS. However, staff who do not hold a teaching qualification need to complete a personalised Straight to Teaching CPD programme before they can start the AO Route. The practical steps involve:
GCSE (or equivalent) in English and maths (in addition to science for primary)
Degree (BA or equivalent)
Skills tests to be completed in the UK
Four-week placement in another teaching establishment
Assessment of evidence against the teacher standards by the TES Institute
Evidence of teaching whole classes for at least two years
At this point, Straight to Teaching is completed. If you already have a teaching qualification, and once steps 1 to 3 are met, you can move on to the final steps:
Assessment period (AO Route)
Department of Education QTS awarded to teacher
NQT induction year
Why growing your own matters
The AO and Straight to Teaching routes provide us with the tools to grow and develop colleagues and talented people in our local communities. No longer fishing from smaller pools with blunt spears, we are now expanding the talent pool of qualified teachers for our own schools and for schools in the UK and the wider international schools sector.
We all know the satisfaction of growing your own, and this is especially true in a school setting. Being a Head teacher is the best job in the world when you see not only students, but also colleagues grow their abilities, attributes and confidence as learners and professionals. Just as a farmer's crop is his or her sustenance, so the quality of good teaching staff is the sustenance of any school.
Growing our own, rather than simply being a hunter-gatherer and living hand to mouth, allows me to nurture the school community, creating a self-improving school system that is the most rewarding it can be.
Kai Vacher is Principal of British School Muscat. You can Tweet him @PrincipalMuscat or contact him on LinkedIn