Is there a need - perish the thought (and the expression) - for "outplacement" counselling for teachers? At least one consultancy service thinks there is room in education for this euphemism from the commercial world for helping those facing the sack. After all, this year the talk is of compulsory teacher redundancies in significant numbers.
For a long time now, teachers have been leaving with lots of work still in them, either through premature retirement or the loss of temporary posts.
Even newly-qualified teachers see ahead of them not a solid ladder but an ill-defined track made up of temporary engagements. They badly need good advice about how and when to stick to the path and when to venture off it into the bush. Career counselling of any sort, though, has never been a strong feature of teaching, and, arguably, the position is worse now - though the need is greater - than it was before local management.
The most pressing demand is for some kind of positive and practical support for those teachers who will be out of a job by the summer. At this very moment, a host of questions are going round in their minds. Do you stay determined to find another teaching post? How long can you go on like that? And do you accept anything at all - even a job in a school which you know is not going to be a happy place for you? Do you bank everything on getting supply work? Do you decide to turn your spare-time pottery studio into a business venture? Do you become an "educational consultant"? Do you go off to work in the Third World?
In many cases, of course, there will be no clear-cut or encouraging answers. At the very least, though, people deserve the opportunity to talk these things through, both in groups and individually, with people whose knowledge is greater than their own. But how many heads, governing bodies and local authorities will be able to provide reasonable support during the run-up to the last pay cheque and beyond?
Someone who feels equipped to fill the advice gap is consultant Eric Colburn. Made redundant last year from a secondary deputy headship, he has joined the ranks of the freelance educational consultants. Together with Paul Cosway, who has considerable experience in 'outplacement' consultancy in industry and business, he hopes to convince authorities, governors and management teams that if their restructuring plans are not supported by proper counselling for anxious employees, then disillusionment and low morale will damage the whole service.
"What concerns me is that it's pretty rough on the staff who are left behind. It doesn't encourage them to develop careers in teaching if they can see that when you reach a certain age group or seniority then you are vulnerable. "
The problem with counselling people on the dole is that when the counselling is over you are still, after all, unemployed.
Eric Colburn understands this well, and points to what he sees as his clinching credential. "I've been there. I was made redundant at 47. I have no access to a pension and I'm struggling to make a living. I understand the sort of angst that people have."
There are, he maintains, lots of practical things that can be done for people facing unemployment. What he proposes - and will begin to deliver through some three-day courses in London this summer - is a programme which will cover areas such as finance, setting up in business, and networking with other people in similar circumstances. "Teachers have quite a lot of skills which they take for granted but which are very useful in the job market - communication, presentation, management."
He is very aware that this is new ground, and that there are no magic potions. "There are no guarantees. All you can do is offer a baseline of support which allows people to feel their way through the negative energy and the rejection and really begin to discover themselves again."
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