‘NowTeach’ seeks to lure industrial compatriots into teaching

1 Jan

I        Teacher recruitment crisis

The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased by 11% over three years according to a report from the National Audit Office. The shortfall in teachers has been exacerbated by ministers failing to hit their recruitment targets for four consecutive years (despite a £700m annual bill for their efforts). More secondary school classes are being taught by teachers without relevant post-A-Level qualifications in their subjects – especially in physics.

When The Guardian did a straw poll of teachers, one told reporters, “With fewer teachers in certain subjects, some teachers have had to move over to a different department or straddle more than one. This can be a good thing if you have a brilliant teacher who can pick up a topic quickly but, more often than not, a teacher is being asked to slide into a different teaching area and offered no support.

“Maths is my subject and I know a great deal of Maths teachers without a degree. I am not saying this is the worst thing, but not having an A-level in Maths is certainly a problem for most of them. Those teachers tend to be the ones trotting out the same error-filled lessons and are understandably scared and insecure when confronted with their own lack of expertise.”

A headteacher said: “We now have a situation where it’s so hard to find a good head of department in certain subjects that if you promote someone to an assistant headship, for example, you have to ask them (sic) to continue doing their (sic) old job too. So someone might be a head of department and an assistant head and teach a 90% timetable. This is driving people out as it puts them under so much pressure.”

A member of the leadership team at another school remarked: “A shortage of teachers means that those higher up in the profession don’t have time to help less-qualified teachers. Students as well as teachers are being let down because of it.  When there’s an observation or a department is being inspected, your heart sinks because you know certain teachers aren’t going to be perceived as good enough.  This is especially the case when you have a supply or agency teacher in as they (sic) tend to get even less support.

“Inconsistency is, therefore, a big issue.  In certain subjects that are harder to recruit for, you might have 10-15 staff members of varying standards and levels of training and support. It’s probably true that none of them gets enough support.  I have waited more than six months to get feedback from a lesson observation by an assistant headteacher – by the time I got it, it was worse than useless.”

II       Two initiatives

Brett Wigdortz OBE, founded TeachFirst in 2002 to address the recruitment problems.   TeachFirst has been not only instrumental in alleviating some of the worst effects of a continuing crisis but also drawing in the best young brains and talent that we have in the country to entice them contribute to the development of our educational provision.

In September 2013, the government initiated a scheme whereby former Armed Services Officers were to be fast-tracked into teaching. Ex-service members, who are graduates, were able to enrol on a one-year teacher-training course with a salary or £2,000 bursary. However, the scheme has been a failure.   In the first cohort of January 2015, for the 1,000 places made available, there were just 41 recruits – and all of them were non-graduates.    The second cohort boosted the total to 102 in February 2015.  Most of them had not been to university.

Teacher recruitment – especially in certain parts of the country – continues to remain an intractable problem, and likely to become worse as the economy (despite Brexit) continues to grow.  However, all is not lost.

III     NowTeach

Lucy Kellaway is one who is spearheading a new scheme aimed to morph industry’s leaders into teachers.   Kellaway described teaching as one of “the loveliest jobs in the world”. She has been a celebrated columnist working at the Financial Times for the last 30 years, writing about corporate life.   However, at the age of 57, she broke the news (in November 2016) that she was giving all this up in 2017 to train and become a mathematics teacher at a tough London state secondary school.

On 21 November 2016, Ms Kellaway launched the charity, NowTeach, to help middle-aged exiles from the boardroom to join her.   The coming academic year, 2017/18 will be a pilot one in which NowTeach will be looking for experienced leaders from the private and public sectors to teach mathematics, science and languages (French and Spanish) in challenging secondary schools in London.

Ms Kellaway told Helen Rumblelow of The Times (22 November 2016) that a colleague said to her: “You have a very well-paid job with complete autonomy where people say that you’re marvellous, it’s glamorous and huge fun, and you’re giving that up for a job that is badly paid, very hard work, with no autonomy and you will probably be useless at it.”  Her reaction to this was one of amusement; she was “utterly unmoved”.

The initiative attempts to capitalise on two trends – the ageing population and a decline in social mobility – via education.   On the first day of its launch, NowTeach’s website attracted 20,000 visits and there were 100 applications.

Ms Kellaway’s sister, Kate, accused her of craving the luxury of being useful.  “That’s right,” she told Ms Rumblelow, “I really do.”  She describes this as “the higher order” of making a difference by altering the trajectory of underprivileged young lives through punishing effort.

She told The Times Educational Supplement, “There are so many people in their fifties who are either redundant or fed up with what they’re doing. Why isn’t there an organisation that helps persuade them that teaching might be something for them?”

She said that she was inspired by TeachFirst, where her daughter trained as a teacher in 2012.   But while Teach First offers teacher-training routes to high-flying, young graduates, there didn’t appear to be similar openings for those in mid-life who were trudging towards the end of their careers.

She explained that there were many things in the lives of seasoned (industry) professionals that they could bring to the classrooms, which experienced teachers were not able to offer. They had, for instance, “a deep knowledge of the outside world.  The stories you tell the kids about the world are very different to those you might have if you’ve been a teacher all your life.”

External contacts are an additional advantage. “If you’ve been quite successful in something else, you can pick up the phone and arrange for the kids’ speakers, work experience etc.”

She accepts that teacher salaries – especially in the first year – could be too low for some experienced professionals.    However, people of her generation would not feel the pinch as much as young graduates because they were insulated by property ownership.  “It’s my feeling that the late-stage career changers may be better placed to take a very large pay cut than the early mid-career changers, because my generation got into house when that was affordable.”

When confronted with the point that career changers could well be approaching retirement age and investment in their training would not result in long-term dividends, she said that teachers were already getting “very burned out” and leaving the profession early and while young.

And what about teaching stress?   Ms Kellaway said: “I think that we have the sort of resilience that comes with age – at least I am hoping that’s true because I’ll certainly need it.”

The scheme begins in 2017-18 in secondary schools.  Those on the programme will train on the job. Following a two-week summer school, they will work for four days a week.  Three-and-a-half days will be in schools and half-a-day in training.   NowTeach will begin its life in the ARK network of academies and work with its teacher training scheme.

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