'Generous holidays, competitive salaries and toxic assets confined to the chemistry lab ... '

3rd October 2008 at 01:00
As the credit crunch lowers the curtain on their old careers, bankers are being enticed to forsake Canary Wharf for the classroom. But will they jump? Irena Barker witnessed the reaction of the City's finest

"One of the biggest rewards of teaching is the 12 weeks holiday," the glamorous consultant tells the clutch of teaching hopefuls gathered in a conference room, "and I used mine to set up a property company."

It's one way to woo an audience that the Training and Development Agency for Schools' PR machine would insist is composed of redundant bankers looking for work.

The former teacher, dressed in a sharp Chanel-style suit, continues: "A salary of pound;100,000 is also do-able, if you were the head of a large secondary school and had the right management experience."

She makes it all sound so simple, and greedy eyes around the room widen as she outlines the joys of the juicy pension scheme and pound;5,000 Golden Hellos.

We are told the profession keeps you fit, makes you laugh and offers great career progression. If we have maths or languages-related degrees, we'll be snapped up by employers.

Then the consultant, whose name badge was unclear, reveals the news that studying for a teaching-related masters degree is "easy".

"Do you have to do a dissertation?" asks a girl wearing large headphones.

"Yes, I wrote 25,000 words, a whole book" says the consultant.

"Oh, forget it," sighs the girl, clearly losing interest.

The recruitment day, in the five star surroundings of the Marriot Hotel at Canary Wharf, has supposedly been hastily arranged in the wake of the Lehman Brothers banking collapse, to woo laid off financial sector workers into teaching.

The turnout for the seminar is good, roughly 60 people, but from where I'm sitting, there is a distinct lack of people who look like they're recovering from years on the Stock Exchange.

There's a nurse, a handful of graduates, a struggling artist, and a mum with a child chomping on a sweet. But not a pinstripe in sight. Not even anyone who looks like they might have been wearing pinstripes if they hadn't just been made redundant.

The only investment banker I manage to meet is Steve Wilson, 33, who is thinking about becoming a primary teacher. Ticking all the boxes, he is the Holy Grail of teacher recruitment.

"But it's not because of the credit crunch," he insists. "My job is safe, but it's a personal thing really - after eight years in banking, I'm looking for a different aura."

The agency's PR operatives have been very keen to push the story that bankers are turning to teaching in the wake of the financial collapse, presumably in the belief that if they shout about it loud enough, it will come true.

"Bankers to teach kids," boomed one headline in The Sun last week in the midst of the meltdown.

The agency claims 29 people from the financial sector turned up to the recruitment event, and that online enquiries about teaching have shot up since the credit crunch started to bite. But how much of that interest will convert into working teachers, especially in the shortage subjects such as maths, science and languages, is unclear.

The latest figures for the graduate teacher training registry show applications for PGCEs have fallen from 44,192 last year to 42,082 in 2008. A multi-million pound campaign to attract men into teaching led to the lowest proportion of men qualifying from universities and colleges for five years. And new figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families revealed this year is the first since 2001 that job vacancies have risen.

One 30-year-old woman - she did not wish to be named - who has recently been made redundant from a major investment bank but chose not to go into teaching, explained the problem.

"Teaching is something a lot of bankers think about," she said. "It's a natural thing for them to do as they have good skills at making presentations, explaining things to clients. Their skills are transferable.

"And the amount of holidays is mind-boggling to a banker. It is really seen as an easy lifestyle choice, with easier hours, and a lower workload.

"But then you start to think about the other side - the rioting in the classrooms, and the terrible pay. It just completely puts you off.

"A lot of people in finance may enquire about teaching, but it's just not well-paid enough for many people to actually take the step. Most people have thought about it, but they look at the downsides, and think, `Naah'".

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