Luring graduates back into the classroom

The Telegraph, 08/11/14, Eleanor Doughty reports on HMC's new Teacher Training scheme. HMC Chairman, Richard Harman, Headmaster of Uppingham School and Chairman-Elect Christopher King, Headmaster of Leicester Grammar School are quoted.

In the downstairs lavatory of the headmaster’s quarters at Uppingham School, there is a book by R G G Price called How to Become a Headmaster. Richard Harman hardly needs to consult it: he has been calling the shots in schools for 15 years, and is in his ninth year in charge at Uppingham.

It is half-term when I visit, and only the leaf-blowers inhabit the quad in front of the headmaster’s office. I’m here to talk about teaching; specifically, at one of the schools in the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a group of 260 fee-paying schools. Harman is this year’s chairman, the first head of Uppingham in the position since Edward Thring, the conference’s founder, back in 1869.

Harman and Chris King, head for 14 years at Leicester Grammar School and chairman-elect, are spearheading a new teaching training scheme, HMC Teacher Training (HMCTT).

I explain to my graduate friends that this is the private schools’ version of Teach First, a scheme which encourages bright graduates to learn on the job in state schools. My friends are keen. “What a treat,” one ex-boarder squeaks. “It would be just like school again.”

But in a market well supplied with top graduate recruitment schemes, is there room for another? “The absolute number of people wanting to enter the profession has declined,” King explains. “There are still a lot of good people who do want to [teach], and HMCTT is about trying to give them the option to come into independent schools.”

Early critics fear the scheme might take away good candidates from Teach First. “It’s a slightly different animal,” Harman explains, in his study at Uppingham. “We’re not about taking [candidates] away, we’re about adding to the stream. HMCTT is a different tributary.”

“The two-year course that we’re offering leads to Qualified Teacher Status,” King tells me. “What we’re hoping to do is to train teachers to be able to succeed in the independent sector, but the option is there for future teachers to move into the state sector.”

The scheme is structurally different to Teach First, where you apply to the programme and are allocated a school. In HMCTT, the organisation acts as a matchmaker; the contract is between the school and the candidate, as opposed to the candidate and the organisation.

“HMCTT is a vehicle through which to apply,” Harman explains. “The vacancies themselves are posted by the schools, therefore you can choose to go into boarding or day.” (The first spot is available now: a biology teaching position at Oundle School. Applications close next week.)

The idea came about as governments began to move teacher training out of universities, and into schools. “In reality, this meant state schools,” King explains. “We needed to do something to respond to that, to make sure that we’ve got a supply.” Harman adds; “we could foresee a danger that good graduates in the state sector might not necessarily think of the independent sector as an option.”

I muse that HMCTT might run the risk of only attracting old boys and girls back into the fold. “I’m sure there will be some that want to apply back,” Harman says, and he recognises the danger of candidates applying to their past schools – boarding, then university, and back to boarding, might not be the best fit initially.

“Given two candidates, we might choose one that didn’t go to boarding school over the other because they’re ready for it in a way that the other person isn’t.”

So what kind of candidates are they looking for? “Clearly, we’re looking for people with good degrees, and a real interest in their subject, but that isn’t going to take them anywhere unless they are interested in teaching children.”

What else? “People that are in tune with the philosophy of independent schools and the holistic education they offer,” Harman offers. “One wants to make sure that the people on the staff are committed to the school’s way of life.”

To stand out, King suggests work experience. “Clearly if you could do a week’s worth of work experience, that would be better than a morning’s, but going into schools and observing teaching is ideal.”

I wonder if the heads can define the difference between state and independent teaching. “In the independent sector you’re more likely to have smaller classes to teach, which is an attraction, I’m sure,” King says. “We don’t focus solely on a process that is being prescribed by Ofsted. It’s a little bit intangible; you almost need to be within it to understand it entirely.”

“The teaching is the core of what you do,” Harman adds. “It’s the core of a much bigger wheel, and that involves the whole person. From what I hear [in some state schools] you can get to a situation where your performance targets are so narrow that anything outside that doesn’t count. That narrowness is very bad. Education is about people, not about particular boxes to tick.”

Rest assured, those enrolling on HMCTT’s pilot scheme will not be ticking boxes. With 100 positions to be filled by young teachers-to-be by September 2015, that broad education will continue to be developed, up and down the country.

Applications are open for HMCTT: hmcteachertraining.org.uk

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