Pandemic has created better teachers for the future says Leeds principal as city sees number of trainees increase

A teacher training set up in Leeds is bucking a national trend of falling teacher recruitment, poor morale and workplace pressures.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 6:00 am

This year sees the highest number of trainee teachers on the registers with the GORSE Academies Trust's 'School Centred Initial Teacher Training' (SCITT) programme based at the Bruntcliffe Academy in Morley.

There are 250 trainees for 2021, an increase of 40 compared to the 210 that signed up in 2020. It is a continual growth over recent years with figures being 80 in 2017, 120 in 2018 and 160 in 2019.

It would have been reasonable to predict the coronavirus pandemic, disruption to education and concerns over safety with school sizes often in several hundreds and even thousands, in addition to pressures for schools to catch up on learning and attainment targets, that those considering joining the teaching profession would have had a change of heart.

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Stephen McKenzie, principal of the GORSE teacher training provision says new ways of working will benefit education.

However, quite the opposite has happened says Stephen McKenzie, the Principal at SCITT who branded trainee teachers the "unsung heroes and herionnes" of the pandemic.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post that trainee teachers last year volunteered to work in schools despite their training being interrupted and there has been an increase in teachers saying they would prefer to work in some of the city's most challenging schools such as the Stephen Longfelllow Academy - an alternative provision for students who struggle to engage with mainstream school.

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"With GORSE, recruitment is really strong and I put it down to the way that GORSE is set up. We want to attract people that want to make a difference to people's lives. We have had trainees who have volunteered to support testing this year, volunteers to work in Stephen Longfellow, in fact, Stephen Longfellow has a high number of SCITT alumni. Two in particular wanted to go there particularly to make a difference to disadvantaged young people."

Stephen McKenzie, Principal, GORSE SCITT teacher Training, Morley.

Another possible reason is the way that education will look going forward beyond the pandemic. He predicts that 'blended learning' - a mix of face to face traditional class teaching and online and remote lessons - is here to stay.

It brings greater flexibility, sharing of skills across schools and is better for the carbon footprint, says Mr McKenzie who has been in the profession for more than 30 years. He recently taught a group of year 11 students from a different building via Microsoft Teams and this interview was conducted from a meeting room that can hold 150 people - yet will probably never see that many people again.

He explained: "When I first started it was chalk on a blackboard. I recently taught year 11s in one of our secondary schools because I could through Teams. We have got lots of opportunities going forward that have changed teacher development and training and there are good things that can come out of it. I am sat in a training room that holds 150 but it will be very rare to see 150 people going forward, 30 to 50 people, yes. We don't need the carbon footprint and you could run a session with 30 participants from 30 different schools.

"Blended learning is here to stay. We can use it to teach more difficult to reach children and families and staff training? It would have been unthinkable 14 months ago that huge swathes of children in our city would be taught online but it happened and it happened pretty well. My granddaughter is in year 7 and most of her experience of secondary school teaching has been online. That has not been preferable but it is better than not being taught."

When asked about teacher morale in general, and in light of working under lockdown restrictions, Mr McKenzie said it was more likely to have created more resilient teachers.

As the third lockdown was announced in January, the GORSE trainees were able to continue their development either on placement in school or doing online teaching and observing.

Around 90 per cent of trainees that use a SCITT programme have a teaching position secured for the following September.

"The show has gone on.There have been many obstacles to overcome. We have written, rewritten and rewritten our training programme to make it fit for purpose. This pandemic has been horrible, it really has, but we believe there will be some really strong and really resilient teachers that will make it into schools as full-time teachers.

"People have had a tough time, there is no doubt about it but I have not detected a drop in morale. People have felt they are working through a once in a generation event and our part to play is to keep children and communities as safe as we can.

"I have never been prouder to be a teacher or a teacher of teachers. There is a pride in what has been achieved in times of adversity."

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