DfE in 'listening mode' over non-grad teaching apprenticeships - but costs are 'astronomical'

The government is still “in listening mode” over plans for an undergraduate teaching apprenticeship, but ministers have been warned schools could be put off by the “astronomical” potential cost.

Attempts to develop an undergraduate degree apprenticeship route, which surfaced in 2016, have stalled over concerns it would mean teaching was no longer a graduate-only profession.

Claire Harnden, the chair of the trailblazer group formed by the Department for Education to work on teaching apprenticeships, said there was still an “appetite” from ministers for an undergraduate route and that the department was in “listening mode”.

But Harnden, the deputy chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust, said one of the main barriers was the cost for schools of a three-year apprenticeship.

“It is astronomical,” she said at the Festival of Education last week. “Until the government can look at that, we’re a bit stuck.”

The £9,000-a-year training costs, with the annual salary of about £27,000 for an unqualified teacher, meant schools could end up paying well over £100,000 to train a new member of staff.

Furthermore, the government has insisted that any apprentices paid less than the unqualified teacher pay scale must not be left alone in the classroom.

“If we have a trainee who’s paid less than an unqualified teacher they cannot be left in an unsupervised position. With teacher training that’s nigh on impossible for a school that’s investing a lot of money,” she said.

Schools have paid millions into the apprenticeship levy since it launched in April 2017, but have struggled to find ways to spend any money from the training fund because there are not enough education-specific routes.

A one-year postgraduate teaching apprenticeship launched last year attracted about 90 trainees in September.

Harnden, whose schools employed eight teaching apprentices this year, said “ministerial steer” was another obstacle.

Ministers have been insistent that the profession remain graduate-only. Previous attempts to develop an undergraduate route – even at degree apprenticeship level – have led to concerns about the quality of training.

“We have to make sure that the degree coming in with that is a high-quality degree,” Harnden said, adding that the question of how to include subject specialism for secondary teachers was also “going to be challenging”.

Dr Clare Higgins, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Bolton, was part of a previous trailblazer group that tried to create a route for teaching assistants without a degree to become teachers.

The project never came to fruition after the group was told its offer was too similar to the postgraduate route.

Higgins told Schools Week that schools had missed out on a “wonderful opportunity” to “mentor and grow” existing staff, adding that many schools were “unhappy about the feel” of the postgraduate route.

She welcomed the news that an undergraduate route was still being developed, but warned that it would be a “non-starter” if apprentices could not teach unsupervised for three years.

Unions are another barrier for the current trailblazer group as they will resist any attempt to pay teaching staff at a level below the official teacher pay scales.

The DfE would not comment, but Schools Week understand it is supporting the group in its work.