Grown-up thinking

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Your experience as an infants or nursery teacher might be just what they are looking for in FE or HE, writes Andrew Stanley

Sometimes the prospect of turning up every day from 8.30am to 5pm to the same 30 faces starts to lose its attraction and you start to think about a change... but what? Career progression for most usually means more of the same - a primary deputy headship or secondary head of department - but there is another area of education where your experience and transferable skills are valued.

And that area is further education. Colleges need school teachers to train the nursery nurses, after-school helpers, teaching assistants and child minders of the future. Early years has finally become mainstream, and with the workforce agreement implementing Every Child Matters and extended schools, there is a need for trained workers. And while adult students may be more demanding than children, crucially they are usually more polite.

Cache (the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education) has added to its awards for pre-school and reception and now runs qualifications for working with children from 0-16 years-old - national vocational qualifications (NVQs) for teaching assistants, for example. There are also opportunities to teach on early years degree programmes in FE.

Julie Melotte, co-ordinator of the child care courses for key stage 5 school students at an FE college, points out the benefits school experience brings: "College child care teams have always been multi-disciplinary, mostly with early years specialists, health workers and social workers, but teachers have a lot to contribute, such as detailed curriculum knowledge, experience of Ofsted, the ability to deal with parents, and useful contacts in LEAs."

What does the work involve? Julia Jones, teaching and learning adviser (early years) for South Gloucestershire and soon to take up a post as consultant trainer for Cache, is encouraging: "There's much more flexibility and opportunity. There's evening work in FE and the holidays are shorter, but if you work the evenings there's time off in the day - no more cramming hair cuts and the car service into the holidays."

The job is varied too. You can be out visiting 16-year-old level 2 (GCSE equivalent) students on pre-school placements in the afternoon and lecturing a group of highly articulate adults on a degree programme a few hours later. "It's a chance to use different skills with a different age group - real professional development," says Julia.

With a primary career, teaching all ages from 4 to 11, Julia did not fancy a move to deputy head, so she took a risk. After taking a City and Guilds course in teaching adults, she applied for a part-time job as an early years NVQ assessor. Within six months she was a full-time child care course manager, leading BTec and Cache courses.

Julia feels her understanding of child development from ages three to 11 was invaluable. Her FE experience then led to a post as an advisory consultant with an education authority, and now working with Cache.

More importantly, while Julia brought detailed national curriculum experience to the child care team in FE, she got a lot back from the experience. "What was really good was developing the ability to think outside the box," she said. "To try new approaches with different ages."

Anne-Marie Wasley, 25, is taking a different route, combining FE with school and her own business. With a BA in education and theology, and about to start an early years PGCE, she temped as a youth worker and started teaching part-time in FE on an NVQ playworker course. While doing the PGCE, an opportunity to buy a nursery came up. Then she bought another nursery, as well as some after-school clubs. One of the nurseries Anne-Marie owns is based in a maintained primary school where she works closely with the staff on reports and profiles.

She is finally considering completing her NQT year. At the same time, she has remained in FE and is lecturing on an early years foundation degree.

She says her curriculum background is a real strength for degree students.

More to the point, she emphasises that "there are loads of opportunities for teachers to broaden their work with the extended school day and integrated child care - there's also a partnership working with the Every Child Matters idea of wrap-around care".

If moving from key stage 1 to teaching people who may be older than you seems daunting, you can, like Julia, dip a toe in the water with a part-time qualification such as the City and Guilds 7407 in teaching adults, where you can reflect on what you, as an adult student, want from your teachers, and then put it into practice. You have to have some teaching hours with adults, but that can easily be acquired in your existing job by, say, offering some in-service training to the teaching assistants, or running some sessions for parents.

It might seem like a step into the unknown, but as Julia Jones says:

"Sometimes you can step sideways or back for something different, but the breadth of experience you'll get gives you much more opportunity."

Cache (The Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education): Child Matters: World:

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