From board room to staffroom

11th November 2005 at 00:00
High-fliers from business are sacrificing their perks to train as teachers, says Graeme Paton

Every teacher must yearn for the quiet life from time to time. A nice office job perhaps? A respite from the children, the bureaucracy and marking? But, increasingly, workers are taking a leap of faith in the other direction, abandoning high salaries, company cars and other perks to retrain for the classroom.

Figures from the Training and Development Agency for Schools show that teaching has become the number one choice of career for professionals searching for a new job. Nearly a third of trainees are now aged over 30.

And while the need for change is nothing new among ambitious professionals, the financial incentives offered to teachers, coupled with several different routes into teacher training, make it an easier transition than most.

Jennie Harvey, 33, spent 10 years in marketing, including an important role for a large engineering firm, producing their annual reports and publicity literature. But she jacked it all in for the classroom.

Mrs Harvey, who has two children aged four and seven, secured a job at Ilfracombe junior school in Devon before enrolling on a Scitt course (school-centred initial teacher training) two years ago. She now teaches Year 3 pupils.

"My job was quite stressful and I got to a point when I hardly saw my children; it was impossible to get childcare in the holidays," she says.

"I was working in a big open-plan office for a big company, putting all my efforts into making rich people a bit richer. I wanted something more worthwhile. Because of what you get out of it at the end, I don't see teaching as stressful at all, despite what people say."

She is not alone. According to the TDA the shortage secondary school subjects have been the biggest recipients of older trainees: 36 per cent of people are training as foreign language teachers and 48 per cent of maths trainees are over 30.

The rise has been attributed to the increasing opportunities to train on the job, enabling career changers to continue earning a salary while training. Normally, they would expect to complete a year-long PGCE or four-year Bachelor of Education before being allowed near a classroom. But, of 37,578 trainees taken on in 2003-4, 5,417 were on Scitts, or the graduate teacher programme. Graham Holley, the agency's director of initial teacher training, says: "Research shows that it is the stimulation of working with young people that attracts people into teaching later in life.

The pay is now better than many people think and, as such, it makes changing career easier for many of them to do."

Among the people who have dropped lengthy careers to move into the classroom, he says, is one 53-year-old man, Ari Aresti, who spent 30 years running a clothing manufacturing firm before becoming a maths teacher at Seven Kings high school, in Redbridge, north-east London.

But, clearly it is not for everyone. The TES recently spoke to one chief inspector working for West Yorkshire police who considered taking early retirement to train as a primary teacher - but it didn't quite work out.

"I spent a few days at a school to find out what it was like," says the officer, who asked not to be named. "But it coincided with the London bombings and the inquiry centring on Leeds. As my colleagues were investigating a major terrorist incident, I was stuck with a group of schoolchildren. I don't think it's for me."

Professor Alan Smithers, from Buckingham university, says most career changers would find the move hugely rewarding.

"As people go through university they find themselves on a career ladder and don't always know about the job they are heading towards," he says.

"They can read accountancy at university, but they don't realise what day-to-day work as an accountant actually involves.

"A number of them are essentially people who want to be with other people, sharing their ideas, and they may find after a few years that working in the bureaucracy of a large organisation starts to lose its shine. Teaching is a very people-orientated career."

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Matt stevens: From mechanical engineer to physic s teacher

Mechanical design engineer Matt Ashley had built up a successful first career when he decided to give it all up to work in a school. The 32-year-old designed the multi-million pound Millennium Bridge over the river Clyde in Glasgow during an eight-year career which ended in an important role with MG Bennett Associates, a design consultancy firm in Rotherham.

"I loved my job; concept drawing, drafting, project management, liaising with clients, working on sites," he says. "Once you get to that level and enjoy it, it is difficult to go home at night. My wife and I wanted a family, but my work made that difficult."

So Mr Ashley, who has a two-year-old daughter, with another child on the way, gave up the pound;32,000 job to take a PGCE at Leeds university two years ago. He found a job as a physics teacher at Djanogly academy in Nottingham and has never looked back.

"I worked 8am until 8pm in the past, and even holidays were difficult,"

says Mr Ashley. "When you are leading a project you carry a mobile phone wherever you go.I worked weekends and would be on call on holiday. Now I finish work at 4.30pm and go home, spending my evenings with my family."

Mr Ashley, whose wife is now the chief wage earner, running her own business, says claims that teaching is stressful are often exaggerated.

"It is all about how you manage time. I do all my preparation and marking during the day without taking anything home," he says.

"Financially, it is not as rewarding and it is less challenging than what I did before, but it is hugely enjoyable and I feel I am doing something for the greater good by contributing to UK plc."

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