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Bank balancing act

A career switch to teaching could mean you walk a financial tightrope, especially if you've got kids to feed. Jill Parkin reports

Andy Lane is very keen to be a teacher. He must be - because the financial odds are stacked against him and his family while he trains.

Among the stories about golden hellos, training bursaries and salaries for those on employment-based routes into the profession, it's easy to forget that many would-be teachers are still put off by financial hardship. But Andy is hanging on in there for love - and some money tomorrow, but not today.

"I enjoy it immensely, both the university part and the school placements, but money is a real worry," says Andy, who is in his second year of a three-year primary education BA degree at University College, Worcester.

As a man who wants to work in the primary sector, he should have no trouble getting a job near the family home in Kidderminster when he qualifies. But in the meantime, things are tight for him, his wife, Kathryn, and their five children, aged from four to 11 years.

"I receive a small dependant's grant from my local education authority along with the student loan of pound;4,000 a year. My wife has a part-time job as a college technician. We get working families' tax credit and a disability allowance for one of my children who goes to a special school," says Andy, 35, whose previous job was in electronics production control.

"We have no other sources of income and we are very much walking on a financial knife edge. The Government wants teachers and should really give a decent grant.

"The other thing that should be changed is that if I get work in the holidays, such as the long summer break, the LEA will reduce my dependant's grant pound for pound. I can't work without penalty.

"This comes on top of the workload strain - not too challenging perhaps for a 20-year-old with no family commitments, but quite something for a father with money worries. This term I will be attending university three days a week and be on school placement for the remaining two, with all the attendant tasks, assignments, lesson plans and duties.

"At the end of each day, I still have the usual household duties to perform before I sit down to update my records and whatever. Bedtime is usually around 1.00am, depending on workload. Yes, I enjoy it, but I wish I was able to earn during the holidays.

"I've wanted to teach ever since I was in the sixth-form. It was money that prompted me to go ahead and train. I was never going to earn much more in the job I was doing and a teaching salary was a very attractive prospect. I decided to better myself and pull out all the stops, but it's tough when you're hamstrung financially."

As Andy has discovered, there are incentives available to career changers, but they tend to favour those bound for the secondary market.

But whatever the sector, as things stand, only the keenest of the keen would exchange a comfortable job for the extreme belt-tightening involved in teacher training.

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