Come on over: top head invites academics to try the chalkface

25th February 2011 at 00:00
But one unimpressed don remarks that 'it's like asking Einstein to clean shoes'

Academics demoralised by university cuts and poor job security should seek second careers teaching in schools, a high-profile independent school head has said.

Employing university dons in all key school subjects would bring "immense knowledge" of higher education into the classroom and break down "the iron curtain" between the sectors, Dr Anthony Seldon (pictured right) said.

They would also help "demystify" university for state schools who do not have an established tradition of sending pupils into higher education, he added.

He said it would not matter that academics were untrained in school-teaching techniques because the craft of the classroom could be acquired by the "great majority" if they were serious about the job.

But he conceded it would currently be easier to move into the independent sector because it was less concerned with qualifications and more interested in finding staff with the "innate quality" to be a good teacher.

Dr Seldon's prestigious private boarding school, Wellington College in Berkshire, has just advertised for a maths teacher in The TES's sister paper Times Higher Education (THE), and he hopes the new member of staff will contribute to its partnerships with a host of state schools, including the Wellington Academy in Wiltshire, which it sponsors.

He believes higher education could become a rich hunting ground for school recruitment because of the low priority given to teaching in some institutions.

Dr Seldon, who has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, said: "The poor contact time with students and the state of the economy might encourage them to move over to schools, where they would be teaching their chosen subject to bright and interested students 20 hours a week.

"My sense of this profession is that it's the most satisfying one on earth that you can do, on a good day.

"People would find the pace of life faster and the diversity of activity in a school rewarding. You are being involved with pastoral care, taking trips, directing plays; it's a very holistic profession which calls for qualities of a high order."

Dr Seldon said academics of any age who felt they had "made their contribution" to their field could successfully turn to teaching in schools. He told The TES they could carry on their research work at the same time as teaching.

"We have 15 members of staff with doctorates and several of them are involved in research and writing, so you can combine it with the life of a schoolmaster."

He said he was just "dipping his toe in the water" by looking to recruit from higher education, and admitted there was a chance no one would come forward.

"I would like to see it made easier for people to move into a state school. I would favour knocking down the iron curtain between teaching and the other professions."

Unions and academics, however, have expressed caution over Dr Seldon's proposition.

Academic Bernard Barker, emeritus professor of educational leadership and management at Leicester University, who served as a school teacher and head for 30 years, added: "I doubt many academics will go for this. It's like asking Einstein to clean shoes.

"Doing doctoral research, which can take six years to complete, is very different to teaching GCSE."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of education union ATL, who was an English teacher for 11 years before teaching in a university, said: "There is a lot to be gained by increased interaction between the sectors, but I don't think you can make any assumptions that academics would be good schoolteachers or pick up the 'craft of the classroom'.

"Schools and universities are two very different environments and you are working with two very different groups of people."


Number of pupils: 985

Number of teaching staff: 158

With qualifications from Oxford: 33

With qualifications from Cambridge: 18

With qualifications from Durham: 16

With doctorates: 15.

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