Boardroom versus classroom

14th November 2003 at 00:00
The lure of school is proving more powerful than that of commercial life for an increasing number of people. Phil Revell explains

Who wants to be a teacher? Quite a few people, actually. This September, 25,000 people started initial teacher training courses in England, 10 per cent more than last year's figures. Whether this will be enough to fill the empty chairs in the nation's staffrooms is another question.

But who are the wannabe teachers? Are the new teachers the Mr Chips stereotypes from the past, complete with leather elbow patches and pipe? Or is there a new breed of developing? To answer these questions, the TES embarked on a year-long research project. With the help of teacher-training providers and using the TES website, we asked this year's recruits to share teacher-training experience.

We wanted to know people's backgrounds. Did they come from teaching families, for instance? When did they decide to go into the profession? Who and what influenced them? Did teachers encourage them - or put them off? What were their school days like?

The survey focuses on the postgraduate route into teaching chosen by most entrants. One-year courses are popular because they offer a fast route into the job. The Government likes them for the same reason - and because the funding for one-year courses can be tweaked to reflect changing circumstances.

Most postgrads are on PGCE courses, but the survey also looks at the Graduate Teacher Programme, which is said to produce "more confident teachers" - and SCITT, school-based training.

Our results reflect the full spectrum of people choosing teacher training, and ages range from 21 to 60. People responded from every region - and from a variety of backgrounds. They included graduates fresh from college and mature students who are coming into teaching from other professions. There are career-swappers from highly paid jobs in the City, as well as escapees from "ordinary"office jobs.

Some are coming into teaching with a real sense of vocation, having wanted to be in the job since they were children. Others are more pragmatic. But all are aware of the challenges. Identifying what motivates people to become teachers is crucial, because if the wrong people enter they won't stay long.

This year's Teacher Training Agency recruitment advertisements were aimed at self-interested idealists. The "headless chickens" ads mock the unthinking routine of most jobs and portray teachers as rounded individuals in a modern profession who "get something enjoyable out of every day they teach". They suggest that teaching is a "people" job and more rewarding than office life.

These ads replaced a previously planned campaign because it was felt that the profession's traditional image of worthy self-sacrifice was putting people off. The new thinking is that teaching is a job, like other jobs, only more satisfying.

Generalising about 25,000 schools is always tricky, and teachers who watched the TV series The Office were just as likely as people in other professions to recognise David Brent in their boss. But there does seem to be a sea-change underway: the initial TES results seem to suggest that the TTA was right to ditch a strategy that focused on teaching as a vocation.

While many of the TES group were clear about their desire to make a difference to children's lives, there were also practical "pull factors", such as the holidays, the relative ease of finding jobs nationwide, and security of employment.

In many ways, the group mirrors the national picture of teacher-trainees.

Men are in the minority, as they are in the most recent TTA profile, in which just 13 per cent of primary trainees were male. And would-be teachers are getting older. Nearly 40 per cent of first-year postgraduate trainees are over 30. The TES sample was slightly lower, at 38 per cent.

Will the teaching force of the future reflect Britain's increasing multi-culturalism? The TTA is close to its targets in recruiting from minority groups, with 7 per cent of trainees coming from ethnic minorities.

Our research sample is slightly higher, at 11 per cent.

Our results confirm some information that has long been known about would-be teachers, but there are also surprises. In particular, people who are looking to schools to revitalise the nation's sporting prospects will not be encouraged by our findings, which show that many of them found sport the least enjoyable activity when they were at school.

For analysis of our TES survey results, see page 12.

HOW WE CARRIED OUT THE SURVEY'The TES' asked for volunteers from this year's students in initial teacher training. We made an appeal through the 'TES 'staffroom section of the 'TES' website and recruited six universities, who passed on our request to their ITT students. We received well over 100 responses and 75 students returned the first of four detailed questionnaires. In addition, a number of students were interviewed, some of whom agreed to allow 'The TES' to publish their names. The participating universities were Goldsmiths, Lancaster St Martins, Leeds, Liverpool Edgehill, University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC), and Warwick.

Initial data entry was carried out by Caroline Wrelton. We are still accepting volunteers for the project. E-mail: scribe.r@ukonline. if you're interested

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