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DfE proposals for non-graduate route into teaching

Over the past year, the Department for Education (DfE) has been developing proposals for a new non-graduate route into teaching, labelled the Teacher Degree Apprenticeship (TDA), being designed by a ‘trailblazer’ group and overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). The secretary of state for education, Gillian Keegan, sees this as a priority development. 

How is this different to other ITT routes? 

All QTS routes (with the exception of the BEd undergraduate initial teacher training) currently require a degree, making teaching a graduate entry profession. The TDA will offer an employed route for non-graduates to enter teaching. These apprentices will study for a degree and QTS while working in a school over a period of about four years, with about 40% of their time spent on academic study each year. The DfE described this as an ‘earn and learn’ approach, attractive to teaching assistants and other career changers, as well as school leavers who do not wish to accrue student debt.

Our position and engagement to date

In line with our longstanding policy position, ‘NAHT opposes any non-graduate route into the teaching profession, such as teaching apprenticeships, that undermine the value of the profession’; the national executive adopted the position that it opposes these proposals. As the DfE did not enter into full and meaningful engagement, consultation or collaboration with the profession’s representative bodies from the beginning of developing this policy, NAHT, along with other major education unions, declined the invitation to join their ‘trailblazer’ group. 

Instead, we have regularly raised our concerns through other forums, offering suggestions for how the proposals may be improved upon and alternative approaches to address the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis. In 2023, NAHT led joint union work with NEU, writing to offer to meet (then) minister of state Nick Gibb and pressing him to: ‘… take steps to allow time for full consultation and discussion to take place [and suggesting that] … officials convene a series of meetings, beginning in the new academic year for detailed engagement, in order that we can engage our members.’ 

Reasons for NAHT's opposition to these proposals

NAHT staff continue to relentlessly press on our members’ opposition to this development on the grounds that: 

  • every child and young person should be taught by a degree-qualified and fully professionally trained teacher 
  • NAHT does not accept that a period of four-year employment with 40% day release each week is equivalent to three years of full-time degree study and a further year of full-time initial teacher training, meaning that a longer period of apprenticeship would be required for equivalence to the existing degree and ITT entry routes
  • lowering entry requirements to admit non-graduates to a course of initial teacher training will further undermine teaching as a graduate career choice, which already struggles to attract sufficient recent graduates and graduate career changers
  • successful routes already exist for TAs wishing to become teachers
  • other approaches to defraying the cost of training, including funded degrees, funded teacher training or student debt forgiveness, would maintain entry standards and offer more effective incentives
  • implementation has been unduly rushed, with too little formative engagement with the representatives of the profession
  • there is a risk of creating a two-tier workforce
  • there are a wide range of possible unintended consequences and perverse incentives that might follow, where the need to put ‘a body’ in front of a class might lead to poor quality teaching or the misuse of unqualified apprentices, most particularly for schools: 
    • that struggle to recruit
    • in disadvantaged areas 
    • facing financial pressures
  • a very wide range of practical considerations have not been properly considered or scoped, including but not limited to: 
    • consideration of appropriate salary rates for apprentices 
    • interaction with other salary points and the impact on the existing pay system 
    • the cost and workload associated with supervision, oversight and mentoring of apprentices over a four-year period 
    • equalities considerations 
    • the portability of apprenticeships for those who move jobs 
    • wider workload considerations for staff and leaders
  • this constitutes another top-down ‘diktat’ from the government that undermines the professional recognition, agency and independence of school leaders and their staff, with the potential to negatively affect retention. 

What next?

The DfE continues to press on with these proposals, with applications due to open this autumn for courses starting in September 2025. Members of NAHT’s national executive have spoken directly with DfE representatives and also urged NAHT members to add their voice to a recent consultation, which closed on 25 March.




First published 13 March 2024