Rising numbers of applicants are welcome but how to support them in this challenging environment is a question on every training provider’s mind, writes Paul Thornton

A 65 per cent rise in teacher training applications may help to tackle teacher shortages in key areas such as computing, but it also poses challenges. This would be true in normal times, but it is even more pronounced with Covid restrictions in place.

The fact is that most of this year’s trainee teachers will not have the same opportunities as their predecessors. Some will find it a challenge to complete the required 120 days in school, while others may get placements but miss out on hands-on practice. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers will need support to ensure they can provide the full training that is the best guarantee these applicants will not be lost to the profession.

Computer science is a case in point, and the work the National Centre for Computing Education has been doing provides solutions that could have sector-wide impact.

There’s an urgent need for more computer science teachers. Over 480 mainstream secondary schools in England still do not offer GCSE Computer Science, with lack of trained teachers the most-cited reason. Primary teachers also need the skills and confidence to deliver the computing curriculum.

Making sure trainee teachers get support to develop their subject knowledge is vital

That’s why, first and foremost, making sure trainee teachers get support to develop their subject knowledge is vital. NCCE’s remote courses, delivered by CPD quality marked facilitators are doing just that, and we know the approach is working. Manchester Metropolitan University has told us that “the flexibility of the NCCE has allowed the student teachers at MMU to take part” in the bespoke online course. “There was a really positive mood among the students to get involved.”

But why stop at subject specialists? Broadening trainee teachers’ potential to deliver for schools also increases their chances of remaining in the profession. That’s why, through online courses, webinars and peer networking, the NCCE has enhanced its provision to cater for second-subject specialist trainees.

Maths teacher, Sophie Jenkinson attended one the NCCE’s summer schools for early-career teachers. She is completing her NQT year and has already been asked if she could teach an additional subject. “Although I had little prior knowledge of computing,” she says, “the course made me feel competent to gain the accreditation. Attending this summer school was outside of my comfort zone but I know it’s enhanced my training year.”

Jenkinson is one of over a thousand teachers to have completed our Computer Science Accelerator. A further 2,500 are progressing through the programme.

And there’s a third benefit. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated demand for a more digitally-skilled workforce in schools as well as in every other sector. The transition to online learning during lockdown was a credit to the profession, but in reality very unequally achieved. The likelihood of further disruption means now is the time to get the skilled workers in place to level up those schools that have been held back.

Looking at the big picture, computing and digital skills will be required for 90 per cent of future jobs. With a recession of unknown duration likely to hit young people hardest, now is also the time to invest in them, their life chances and employability skills.

But teachers can’t expect of young people what they can’t demonstrate themselves, and that goes beyond subject knowledge. As Jenkinson says, “I am passionate about lifelong learning. I want my students to know that I am willing to put in the work to improve myself, just like I want them to do during my lessons.”

The combination of face-to-face intensive sessions, online support and close liaison with ITE providers we are developing is now essential. The alternative is to allow the legacy of Covid to be a missed opportunity for teachers and a lifetime of limited opportunities for their students.