Sheffield training facility ensures new teachers are well equipped for life in the classroom

They say teaching is the one field that creates a path to all other professions.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 11:36 am
Teacher training at St Thomas of Canterbury School

However, statistics show there are not enough people choosing it as a career and too many are dropping out – from experienced teachers burned out from stress and a heavy workload, to newly-qualified staff leaving after becoming quickly disillusioned.

It therefore seems sensible to invest in new recruits, equipping future teachers with the knowledge to allow them to succeed – in turn making schools irresistible places to work.

At St Thomas of Canterbury School, in Meadowhead, there is a teacher training facility with a tight focus on offering practical experience. It has been responsible for nurturing a host of high-calibre teachers, many of whom are working across the region. The outstanding Ofsted-rated primary became a teaching school in 2015, and works with partners in the Learning Unlimited Teaching School Alliance.

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Nick Walker

The alliance, based in a modern training facility at the school, takes on School Direct trainees on a year-long programme.

Each student is placed in one of 14 partner schools across Sheffield, Doncaster and Chesterfield, where they are given the opportunity to work alongside and learn from experienced class teachers.

Teaching school director Sarah Rockliff described the process as ‘learning by doing’.

She said: “Trainees get that real immersion and see the school year from start to the finish which is really important to understand the ebb and flow around what happens in schools.”

Matthew Richardson the RE Coordinator and Year 5 teacher of St Thomas of Canterbury School

During the course, students spend time in another of the partner schools. They are given a mentor who, at first, they observe – then they plan lessons alongside them before the mentor oversees the trainee teacher planning and delivering the lessons.

Ms Rockliff added: “What we’ve found is because we work on such a small level it is very personalised so we can look really closely at what is right for the trainee in terms of what types of mentors they need, what types of schools they need to work in – we very much tailor the training to the individual.”

Trainees come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been teaching assistants or involved in education, while others are looking for a career change.

Matthew Richardson studied law and spent 10 years working in the legal sector before becoming the RE co-ordinator and a year 5 teacher at St Thomas of Canterbury.

Teacher training at St Thomas of Canterbury School

He said: “I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and wanted to do something positive. I’ve found through teaching you can shape young people’s minds and there is so much enthusiasm from all the children and the adults, it is just such a positive place to be.

“Being in the hub you get to learn from really skilled practitioners and they give the benefit of their years of experience and things which have worked for them.

“Training through schools you get to actually give it a go with a class, and have that benefit of an experienced mentor that will keep giving you assistance all the way through the process. There is no substitute for experience.”

The alliance was established in 2015 and the first cohort of students all gained jobs after completing the course.

All trainees meet once a week at the School Direct hub session for training, with specialist leaders of education or subject specialists coming in to take sessions.

Newly-qualified teacher Nick Walker, who taught English abroad before returning to the UK to further his career, now works as a year 3 teacher at St Thomas of Canterbury.

He said: “I spent a year in Hong Kong teaching English at all ages then moved to Spain where I spent four years teaching English again to Spanish students and it was there I found my love for teaching and knew it was something I could see myself doing for a long time.

“I wanted direct, hands-on teaching and to experience British schools. For me, the school-based learning was the best option as I felt I already had some knowledge and wanted to use that to my advantage rather than start again and go back to university.”

Former teaching assistant Emily Armitt is coming to the end of her training. She said: “This has taught me how to be more independent and how to take more ownership of my learning and my teaching. Even though I was teaching last year as a teaching assistant I now know how to make it my own and understand the needs of my children and my class.

“We’ve learned lots of techniques about lesson planning. Before I was in awe of teachers planning but now I can see how it is broken down into steps and I feel more able to tackle it.”

Ms Rockliff said one of the best things society can do for children is to provide them with good, well-taught teacher.

“All children will benefit – your most vulnerable, most disadvantaged, and most able,” she added.

“However in teaching you never stop learning, but that is the joy of it. If you’re open and have a growth mindset it is a very fulfilling profession.”

The alliance is still recruiting for September. For more details visit