A national scheme has been set up which will allow interns to teach in schools. TryTeaching, a company founded in March of this year, has developed its graduate teaching internship scheme to enable prospective teachers to experience working in a school for a period between one and three terms, before enrolling on initial teacher training (ITT) courses.
However, with their pay equal to the minimum salaries for support staff, teaching unions are concerned that the scheme could raise the risk of candidates being exploited as “cheap” alternative to teaching assistants (TAs).
Jon Richards, head of education at Unison, said: “Any initiative to improve teacher recruitment should be examined. But in times of squeezed budgets we wouldn’t want to see schools use interns as cheap replacements for teaching assistants.”
TryTeaching founder Nick Breakwell, who previously set up and ran an ITT provider, which is now known as the TES Institute, has said that while there will be some overlap of roles, interns are different to teaching assistants.
He said: “This should be a way for schools to ‘grow their own’ teachers, so when they end the internship they would be able to do their ITT with the school. It is a different approach to teaching assistants. But there will, of course, be some crossover with roles and responsibilities.” (Sophie Scott, para. 7)
Each institution will be responsible for deploying its interns, but it is recommended by TryTeaching that interns are given a “broad experience”, which would include duties such as co-teaching, literacy and numeracy coaching, as well as individual pupil support.
Schools who signed up to the scheme will initially pay TryTeaching a maximum of £2,100 to source and support each intern, and then pay the salary via the company. Agreed salaries would be set at the minimum level of pay for support staff, a sum of £12,612 according to LA pay scales.
So, where does this leave current TAs?
Major restructures have been announced last week, as the news reported that Durham County Council is preparing to offer its teaching assistants term-time only pay deals – meaning staff could lose up to £400 per month.
The LA said the proposed redundancies, which covered both teachers and supply staff across all their schools, was necessary to meet squeezed budgets.
But, Durham Council said it had to act after independent legal advice found the authority was at risk of equal pay challenge from other staff.
The Council said that teaching assistants are currently being paid for working 37 hours a week, for 52 weeks a year, when in reality they are working 32.5 hours a week during school term-time only.
Councillor Jane Brown, cabinet member for corporate services at Durham County Council said the council had an “obligation to address this to protect public finances.”
“These proposals are aimed at ensuring fairness and parity across our workforce. They are about ensuring that teaching assistants, like all other council employees, are paid only for the hours they actually work.”
Teaching assistant Helen Pace, who works at a school in Durham, said: “It’s disappointing, we feel like we are being let down by our own employer. It feels like a threat. If we don’t agree then they can just terminate our contracts, it is a fairly drastic move.”
The proposal was passed at a council meeting last week, meaning TA’s contracts will be terminated and they will be offered a new, revised deal by January 2017.
It seems that it’s not just Durham County Council that is going through major restructure, as The Academy Transformation Trust (ATT) has told more than 100 staff across its schools that they face losing, or having to reapply for, their jobs as part of a savings drive.
Public service union, Unison, said the trust is hoping that a major restructure will save them £500,000, but it could result in up to 32 potential job losses.
So, with major restructures occurring in LAs and academy trusts throughout the UK, teamed with government-backed initiatives, such as TryTeaching, is there still a prospective future for TAs?
 Sophie Scott (2016) ‘New national scheme will place ‘interns’ in classrooms’, para.4 <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/new-internship-route-to-teacher-training/> [Accessed: 23 April 2016]
 John Dickens (2016) ‘Durham Council follows academy chains in teaching assistant restructures’, para.8 <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/durham-council-follows-academy-chains-in-teaching-assistant-restructures/> [Accessed: 23 May 2016]
 Laura Hill (2016) ‘Durham teaching assistants feel ‘worthless’ after council threatens to terminate contracts’, para.6 <http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/durham-teaching-assistants-feel-worthless-11250075> [Accessed: 23 May 2016]