How does a £10,000 bonus grab you? There has to be a catch! Well, yes. This tasty pot of money is the government's latest bribe to persuade scientists to train as schoolteachers. There just aren't enough trainee teachers coming forward, and some subjects are even more desperate for new blood than others -- science, maths, technology, and modern languages to be precise.
To any scientist who has considered going into teaching during the last couple of years, the financial incentive may sound familiar. The new package, announced on 30 March, replaces a previous training incentive scheme which offered shortage subject trainees £2500 during their initial teacher training and a further £2500 when they took up their first teaching post. "The previous scheme had a dramatic effect in turning round and halting the decline [in applications for teacher training in science and maths]," John Shield of the Department for Education and Employment told Next Wave.
But halting the decline is not enough. According to Shield, many potential trainees still found finance to be an obstacle to training. Under the new scheme all postgraduate secondary teacher trainees from September 2000 will receive a training salary of £6000 during the 1-year PGCE course. And shortage subject teachers will get a golden hello of £4000 when they start the second year of a teaching job.
Scientists interested in training in Scotland are out of luck, though. The bonus scheme is only available to trainees in England and Wales. Whilst Scotland may have a shortage of teachers, it doesn't collect any statistics at present -- so there are no data on which to base the need for incentives.
Perhaps spending yet another year on an income roughly equivalent to a research council stipend doesn't sound particularly appealing nonetheless. Well, there is another way. The government also announced extra funding for the Graduate Teacher Programme. Under this scheme, graduates over the age of 24 can train on the job. Employed by a school as an unqualified teacher, the trainee follows an individual training programme, hopefully finishing up with Qualified Teacher Status at the end of the year. Schools have always received a grant of £4000 for training teachers in this way. Now they will also get up to £13,000 to cover the cost of the trainee teacher's salary. The catch with this scheme is that trainees interested in following this route have to find their own training place and persuade the school to take them on. According to Gillian Watson of the Teacher Training Agency, "a lot of schools just prefer to take people who are qualified," but help in locating a place may be available by calling the TTA helpline (01245 454 454).
But as our accompanying story shows, there are other disincentives to the potential teacher than the merely financial. How do you know whether teaching is for you, without committing to a course? A teaching taster course may give you an idea. Alan Knott runs two each year for potential science teachers at St. Martin's College in Lancaster. Over 3 days, students on the course get a taste of the teaching they themselves will receive on a training course, and spend time in a school, watching lessons and talking to trainee mentors. Knott thinks the most valuable part of the taster course for the undecided is an evening session where they can chat informally with the current year's students to find out what it's really like to stand up in front of a class for the first time.
Many teacher training colleges run taster courses, but 2 or 3 days may not do a lot to allay the number one fear of many people contemplating the classroom -- discipline! "Everybody thinks it's going to be a problem," says Knott, but in his experience, it's more often the brash people who think they'll breeze through and then end up doing worst in this respect. He does think that, in addition to a taster course, potential teachers should do at least an extra 3 days of observation in schools before applying to a training course. Contact the deputy head at a local school to set it up, he says.
In fact, "have a look at two different schools," he says, "a pretty ordinary comprehensive and an academic school as well." And he warns that, as people don't want to be seen in a bad light, visitors often only get to observe good lessons. It may be difficult to achieve, but seeing the other side of the coin is much more likely to tell you whether you really could cope when the test tubes start flying.