Skip to main content

Career changers

With an emphasis on bringing the `real world' into the classroom in Curriculum for Excellence, more flexible routes could encourage people from other jobs to join the profession

News article image

With an emphasis on bringing the `real world' into the classroom in Curriculum for Excellence, more flexible routes could encourage people from other jobs to join the profession

I can't wait to go into the classroom. I know it is going to be hard, but I think it is going to be so rewarding," says Louise Wilson.

"I just can't wait to have my own class," says Pauline Young.

"Being in the school is more nurturing, not only for the pupils but for the staff. It is a very caring, team-oriented perspective," adds Craig Paterson.

The words carry the excitement of fresh-faced students ready to start their working lives in teaching. But these are not young students setting out on their first jobs. All of them have extensive experience in other industries and have left successful careers to pursue their ambition of becoming teachers. And many hope they can bring a different dimension to the profession at a time when high youth unemployment levels make it all the more important that teachers are able to prepare their pupils adequately for the "real world".

For some, however, it is the impact of the recession that has persuaded them to make the career change into teaching. Research by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) in England showed that there was a 35 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of career-changers applying to train as teachers during 2009-10.

These included increasing numbers of former bankers, lawyers and managers. And the deregulation of initial teacher education that has taken place under the Westminster education secretary, Michael Gove, has made it easier for career-changers to move into teaching by learning on the job without having to do postgraduate teacher training.

The picture in Scotland is somewhat different - so far, at any rate. Figures from the Scottish Funding Council do not show an increase in the proportion of student teachers aged 30 or over since the beginning of the financial crisis. In 2006-07, just before the financial downturn, more than a third of students studying towards a postgraduate diploma in education at Scottish universities were aged 30 or over, and 21 per cent of all student teachers fell into that category. Last year, more than two years into the economic crisis, only 29 per cent of PGDE students were aged 30 and over, and the overall percentage of student teachers in that age bracket had dropped to 12 per cent.

But next week, education secretary Michael Russell is due to publish his response to the National Partnership Group's report on implementation of the Donaldson review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future. And there are strong hints in one of the chapters of that report, "Getting the right people in the right numbers", that greater flexibility should be introduced.

"An increase in entry routes such as employment-based routes, part-time and home-study initial teacher education courses would enable more `career changers' or people with young families to join the profession, and would allow people who live at a distance from a university to study and gain school experience in the area where they would seek to teach," wrote Professor Graham Donaldson.

Even so, he adds a caveat: while second-career teachers could make a serious contribution, it is important "to recognise the complexity of the profession of a teacher".

"Second-career teachers are useful and important, but they are not the way we build the teaching profession for the 21st century," he said. The threshold for those coming into teaching out of another line of work should be the same as for others, and "it already ought to be harder to get into teaching".

"We need to be careful about any impression that teaching is an easy option that people can step into if they feel like it," he said.

Research by the Future Foundation for the TDA, Added Values: why professionals could be turning to teaching (2009), suggests that job security and salary are among the factors taken into account by prospective teachers, but that they are not the most important. It suggests that in this latest recession, people's core values have changed.

"Today's professionals are more interested in jobs in which they can inspire and make a difference, they crave variety, and value work-life balance; and these values are being held increasingly in tension with factors like financial reward," said the TDA report.

The traditional "school pupil, university student, schoolteacher" career path can produce a teacher with "a narrow understanding of the workplace and the world they are educating their pupils for", says an initial report by the Goodison Group in Scotland, on a seminar held earlier this year to discuss the role of teachers in "transforming Scotland into a learning nation by 2025".

"Life moves on pretty rapidly in a way the curriculum and the syllabus don't," says Dugdale Bradley, a businessman and member of the GGiS. "People who have had another career are more understanding of that position. Not only are they consumers, they also understand the pressures of the outside world."

Henry Maitles, professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland, who regularly teaches mature students, says: "I think they still see it as a relatively secure job. They think once you have a full-time job, there is a good chance you can stay in teaching, if you are good, for a long time."

He has always seen a connection between the Scottish economy and those coming into the teaching profession later in life: "I have taught people from the police, from the legal profession, industry and youth work. For a period of time, we got quite a lot of people who were miners and people who came in when the car plants closed down.

"What they bring into teaching is an experience and a view of the world that is tinted in more realism than some of our younger students. I find them hard-working and committed."

Contrary to popular belief, there is also a financial incentive for choosing teaching as a second career. While the starting salary in banking and other sectors like science is around pound;19,000-pound;20,000, probationary teachers earn more than pound;21,000 - with a guaranteed wage increase once they qualify.

The 2001 McCrone agreement also introduced provision to give financial recognition to mature entrants to teaching who bring previous direct and indirect experience to the job (see box).

But increasingly, local authority employers have been reluctant to offer career-changers an accelerated incremental progression on the salary scale, according to EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice. He blames market forces for employers' "hardline" attitudes.

"They are saying increasingly it has to be demonstrable that this previous experience has a connection to what you teach," he says.

More than a decade on, however, Professor Gerry McCormac has called in his report, Advancing Professionalism in Teaching (2011), for increased use of experts in the classroom to "bring an additional dimension", while Curriculum for Excellence focuses on "bringing real life into the classroom". So teachers with expert knowledge could have "added value" to offer.

Margaret Thomson, headteacher of Lumsden Primary in Aberdeenshire and a former investigative tax inspector with a background in politics and international relations, believes her previous career allowed her to bring "a much richer experience into the classroom, much more aligned with CfE".

In a small rural primary, many children had no experience of wider issues in the workplace, and her life experience had proved invaluable, she says. "Taking an entirely different perspective is core to Curriculum for Excellence," she says, adding that she is keen to look out for teachers with additional experience when employing new staff at her school.

Derek Curran, headteacher at Forrester High, Edinburgh, believes second- career teachers' previous experience is especially useful in teaching young people about how they can use a subject to get into a certain career. "They come into the classroom with an extra string to their bow," he adds.

Christina Smith, 37, a science teacher at Clyde Valley High in North Lanarkshire and a former drug researcher and science recruiter, agrees. Her previous experience has enabled her to find practical applications for topics in the curriculum, she says. "Sometimes children at school think it is all futile and with everything I do, I try to show its relevance."

Her experience in recruitment allows her to highlight different routes into science careers and "deliver something that is more relevant to children", she says.

Craig Paterson, 41, a third-year student on the BEd course at UWS, left a long career in logistics after a serious back injury from a hill-walking accident made him reflect on his priorities. Having regularly worked 13 or 14 hours a day in his previous job, he is hoping for a better work-life balance as a teacher.

"My wife is a secondary teacher and I was always helping out. I thought, `This is actually quite rewarding.' I had a daughter four years ago," he says. "It changed the whole family dynamic."

But teaching is not for everyone, and those who go into it as a last resort usually struggle. "Not everyone can teach," says Neil Shaw, president of School Leaders Scotland. His experience of second-career teachers has been positive overall but he has encountered some mature students who were "just not up for the job".

It is also widely acknowledged that young first-career teachers bring their own experiences to the table, and it seems most experts want the teaching profession to be made up of people with a diverse range of ages and backgrounds.

To ensure that all teachers are aware of the economic circumstance for which they are preparing pupils, Professor Donaldson suggests that outside experience should be part of teachers' professional development, possibly delivered via twinning arrangements between schools and businesses or work placements. But this is currently left up to individual teachers or schools to arrange.

In numbers

  • pound;21,438 - Starting annual salary for a probationer teacher
  • Up to pound;19,000 - Starting salary for a bank customer branch adviser
  • Up to pound;20,000 - Starting salary for biology graduates
  • (Source: SDS My World of Work)
  • 12.2% - The proportion of students on initial teacher education courses at Scottish universities aged 30 and over in 2010-11
  • 28.6% - The proportion of students in the 30-plus age group working towards a PGDE
    • (Source: Scottish Funding Council)

      Troops to teachers

An English scheme set up between the Ministry of Defence and the education department has enabled ex-forces members to retrain as teachers.

Troops to Teachers was launched in the UK in 2010. It allows "eligible graduates leaving the armed forces" to have tuition fees for the postgraduate certificates in education covered by the government.

Since March 2011, 132 forces leavers have taken this route, which is available to members of the armed forces based in Scotland, although training is only possible in England.

This September, the University of Nottingham's school of education began a tailor-made course for graduates who have left the forces in the past years.

Neil Lamont, 44, an ex-wing commander in the RAF, said: "The (Graduate Teacher Programme) sounded exactly the right approach to suit me. My military career has given me a huge amount of experience of standing in front of people and public speaking. (so) the GTP gave me the route to go straight into a school and start learning the art of teaching to children straight away."

Worldliness has extra rewards

Grounds for additional salary points linked to relevant experience:

Recognised non-teaching experience includes periods of employment and of voluntary or other non-paid activities. These include:

  • experience that is relevant to the subject being taught - for example, an industrial chemist teaching chemistry; and
  • more general "life skills" that have a bearing on the depth or quality of teaching being offered - for example, where someone has previously been involved in aspects of children's care or in education and training, whether in the workplace or in educational establishments.
    • For recognised non-teaching experience, the following additional salary points should be awarded:

      • up to 5 years - one point.
      • over five and up to 10 years - two points.
      • over 10 and up to 15 years - three points.
      • over 15 years - four points.
        • Source: SNCT handbook

          Career-switchers who bring a different perspective to classroom practice

          The banker

          Pauline Young, a 27-year-old former banker, from the southside of Glasgow, is now training as a primary teacher at the University of Strathclyde. When she left school aged 17, she took a job as a teller and within two years was promoted to accounts manager. She found the role very pressurised and when she became pregnant, she "never went back".

          "There was never any other reward apart from financial and there was little job satisfaction," she says. Dealing with people's personal finances also created pressure: "I knew some of the people we were giving loans and mortgages to were on the verge of financial instability and that was a real issue for me."

          Having always wanted to be a primary teacher, she says starting the teaching course was the best decision she has made. Skills she learned in banking have been beneficial: "Doing our paperwork, my experience on the clerical side has helped a lot. My communication skills are a lot better because I have dealt with customers before."

          Losing the banking salary has not been a serious concern to her. "The only good thing you got out of the bank was the money, but it becomes meaningless after a while if you don't enjoy the work," she says.

          The housing officer

          Louise Wilson, 36, a former local authority housing officer from Paisley, started working for the council straight after school and became a housing officer about 10 years ago. She really enjoyed the variety and challenges of the role until she had her daughter.

          "It was brilliant life experience, and I didn't regret it for a minute, but my perspective changed," she says.

          She had wanted to train as a teacher originally, but a change of school at the age of 16 disrupted her education, and she failed to achieve the required grades. Now in her third year of the BEd at UWS, she says: "Having gone from earning a wage, there is a certain amount of pressure on you to hand in your assessments and pass your exams."

          Being a mother has also had an effect: "I think about my daughter, who is in P3, and I think about the effect her great P1 teacher has had, and I hope I can do that for my pupils."

          She adds: "From my old job, I am able to speak to people from different backgrounds and have that knowledge that children come from different backgrounds. That is a good experience to bring into the teaching profession."

          The research scientist

          Lynn Smith, 36, from Ayr, is a former research scientist. She worked for a company at Newhouse for 13 years until its research activity was moved to the United States and she was made redundant. The company had run a programme in which employees went into schools to promote careers in science and she enjoyed working with pupils. When she found herself out of work, she felt it was the right moment to take the plunge into a new career.

          She is now in the middle of a PGDE at UWS. "Being made redundant, it seemed a good time for me to retrain. It was something I had planned on doing, but the reality is you have the money and a job."

          She believes that her previous job has given her life experience and a good understanding of the careers available to her pupils in science. However, she stresses that many of her fellow students who have come straight from school bring other experience they have gained through having jobs to support their studies, or simply from having experienced school life more recently.

          Original headline: Will teaching open the door to the career-changers?

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you