Never has the role of the schoolteacher been more important than it is today.

Along with NHS and healthcare workers, teachers have become the heroes of the pandemic, and their role as educators have been highlighted as never before.

The University of Sunderland has played a key part in supporting frontline workers since March last year, with trainee nurses, manufacturers, paramedics, and teachers all supporting and assisting the national effort.

Now, Olivia Chambers has become the 1000th student to sign up for the University’s 2020/21 teaching programmes.

Olivia has come to study PGCE Primary Education after doing an undergraduate degree in Geography.

She said: “I’ve always had a passion for teaching but I wanted to get my undergraduate degree first before embarking on a PGCE.

“It’s never been a more important time to become a teacher and I can’t wait to get started. I know there’s a lot of work ahead of me, but I feel ready for it now.

“One of the big appeals of coming to Sunderland was that the programme started in January as opposed to September. It allowed me a short break between finishing my degree, but meant I didn’t have to wait a whole academic year to get stuck in.”

The 21-year-old, from near Chester-le-Street, said she was surprised to be told she was the University’s 1000th trainee teacher this year.

She added: “I had no idea there would be so many but it’s a big achievement.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to teach, particularly younger children, because it makes you feel like you’ve made a real difference to someone’s life.”

Susan Edgar, Head of School of Education, said: “Olivia is a brand new trainee teacher who has just joined the School on our PGCE Primary Education January Programme as our 1,000th Initial teacher training student.

“This one-year course qualifies trainees to teach in primary schools and is part of our very popular suite of Primary PGCE programmes which cater for a variety of trainee training preferences including spring and autumn cohorts and our PGCE Primary Blended two year part-time programme. “

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said: “It is a massive achievement for the University to have 1000 teachers-in-training this year.

“At a time when, more than ever, our country needs high-quality teachers, the University is making an outstanding contribution.

“It also speaks to the high regard in which we are held, both by our students and the hundreds of schools with whom we work in partnership.”

Professor Lynne Mckenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “We are very pleased to welcome Olivia and her fellow trainees to our January cohort of PGCE Primary Education with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

“They join us at an interesting time in Initial Teacher Education as we work with our school partners to provide training during a global pandemic.

“As the largest provider of Initial Teacher Training in the North East, we are able to offer such a broad provision because of the fantastic support we have from our schools’ partnership who provide placement opportunities for our trainees. Our thanks go out to all of them for the support and partnership they offer.

“During the pandemic, we have witnessed the emergence of a new found respect for teachers; whether this is from those parents attempting to home school or from parents of key workers who are grateful that our schools have remained open, enabling them to carry out their vital work.

“The teaching profession, as ever has risen to the challenge, providing selfless public service in these extra-ordinary times.

“However, it is not just qualified teachers and support staff who are supporting at this time. At the University of Sunderland, many of our trainee teachers are supporting this effort too with the designated status of key workers, they too have been part of the effort to support our communities during this time.”