The room was packed so full that they were standing at the back, but we were an orderly and attentive lot. “Hands up those of you who’ve been into a school recently,” our facilitator requested. A good number of hands shot up. “Those of you who didn’t put your hands up need to get into a school,” she said with a stern look.
Goodness, that was firm. Ticked off already. Here we are at a teaching recruitment seminar and the cliches that follow the profession are alive and well. One, we are being lectured by a formidable former deputy head. Two, the accountant-turned-teacher wheeled out to convince us that his new job is the best ever wears a saggy suit and questionable shoes. And three, the money isn’t that great. Except that the way the facilitator tells it, it is: tax-free bursaries while you train and a starting salary of 20,000 to 25,000 British Pounds, rising to 42,000 British Pounds for experienced classroom teachers, and up to 107,000 British Pounds for an Inner London head.
The recession is a gift to the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and, with its promise of steady employment, it is milking it. Since September it has attracted more than 900 eligible recruits to eight seminars held in areas noted for the numbers of professionals losing their jobs. This one was at Canary Wharf in the London Docklands and targeted at people being forced out of the financial sector – “top City talent”, as the TDA put it – though few of those attending worked in finance and many were interested in teaching because they needed a job and couldn’t get one elsewhere. But the TDA does report a 14 per cent increase in applications in England year-on-year, and yesterday’s carrot of a mere six-month training period for career-switch professionals will doubtless encourage more.
Is the TDA really recruiting professionals from these events, I ask? They don’t have that information, though they know that the spectrum is wide – not just bankers but people from engineering, construction and retail.
“We are looking for people with degrees, GCSE maths and English grade C and above,” says the TDA’s Melanie Purkis. “Not everyone is going to make a fantastic teacher and the application process is designed to find the people who have a real passion for it. We know that more people are applying, and that will make teaching more competitive and benefit children.”
Paul, a banker of 46, a father and a long-standing school governor, will begin 39 weeks of teacher training – most of it in a school – on September 1 and can’t wait. Yesterday’s suggestion that the training can be done in six months surprised him, not least because of his experience of being in schools.
“Encouraging people to go into teaching because they need a job and you can switch easily strikes me as a miscalculation,” he says. “There’s more to teaching than standing up and talking to a roomful of children. I’m going into primary school teaching – because of the shortage of male teachers and the need for male role models – and from what I’ve seen it’s about behaviour management, being a good communicator, being able to build relationships with all kinds of people. You can’t be a good teacher unless you’ve got a deep-seated passion for it and enthusiasm and commitment to sparking interest in children rather than the blah, blah, blah that we remember from our education.”
During the application process Paul was heavily grilled about his motivation, he says, and specifically about why he was giving up a successful career. Part of the answer is because he can – he is sufficiently financially secure to manage an estimated 65 to 70 per cent salary drop, though his wife may have to work, he says. The other part is because he wants to “put something back, to add real value to the community in a tangible way”, and has always wanted to teach. “I’d like to get up in the morning and have an extra spring in my step,” he says. “At the moment I don’t get that.”
Geoff Haynes, 41, a former financial director, is well aware of the Armstrong and Miller not-good-enough-to-do-anything-else reputation of teachers – “I’ve got a good sense of humour,” he says, warily – but likes to stress the huge rewards of his job teaching maths at the Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough. “I go home with a feeling that I’ve achieved something. You can be teaching something difficult. You can feel when they’re not getting it, you can tell by the expressions on their faces. When you see the light bulb come on, you can share the satisfaction they feel when they succeed in something. The quality of life isn’t defined by the level of your salary.”
After eight years as an English teacher Cathy Hewett, 44, is equally adamant that she could not be lured back to banking, where she spent 13 years. What, even though she earned #70,000 plus a #20,000 bonus, and is now on #35,000? Never, she says. She loves her job. But entering teaching as a mature professional – and being able to refer to her former high-earning career – has its uses in teaching, she points out, especially with pupils who are hard to motivate.
“There are transferable skills, especially if you’ve had management responsibilities and know how to deal with people. That knowledge of a wider world is appreciated by students who can be negative towards teachers. You can talk about another work environment, you know what you’re talking about and that gives you credibility with the more challenging students.
“You’re also able to cope with pressure and manage your time effectively when there are time constraints. Teachers don’t seem to like change much, but if you’ve been in industry then you’re used to it.”
Watch Hewett in the classroom at The Grammar School for Girls, Wilmington, Kent, and it’s obvious that she is a communicator with an easy warmth. Squeezing teacher training into six months is ambitious in terms of learning enough about classroom management, she thinks, but she recalls that after two terms of her own training she was itching to work without supervision and constant commentary. Her first term was tough – “I wouldn’t have been ready after six months’ training” – but she had no problems in getting the attention of pupils after that.
“You persevere, people give you tips on how to get through to the more difficult pupils, you find your own ways. There will be tough days when things go wrong, when you have to cover for the French teacher, but if you want to do it, you get over that.”
Like the seminar facilitator, Hewett believes that the litmus test of knowing whether teaching is really for you – and you are right for teaching – is to spend time in a school. You will either feel inspired or uncomfortable, she says. “You know whether you’re going to enjoy it. You either think ‘I want out’ or even the naughty children don’t put you off. If you like it, then once you’ve got that taste, you want more.”
For further information go to www.teach.gov.uk