Rosy recruits roadshow

12th February 1999 at 00:00
Biddy Passmore listens as three independent-school teachers encourage students to join the profession

"IT'S a pound;26,000 starting salary if you imagine you're paid for all the weeks you don't work," Jane Lunnon told her audience of undergraduates.

That's one way of expressing a teacher's salary that might commend itself to Government spin-doctors. But perhaps a little poetic licence may be forgiven in one who was a successful marketing executive before following her vocation and becoming a teacher.

At 29, Mrs Lunnon, below, is head of English at Wellington College, the boys' public school in Berkshire, and her enthusiasm for teaching knows no bounds: "I'm paid to read and talk about books - I'd do it for free!" She can think of no greater test of management skills than persuading a philistine 15-year-old to read Othello.

She is one of a team of 21 hand-picked independent school teachers appearing at top universities this spring to sell the joys of teaching to uncommitted students.

The scheme, run by the Independent Schools Council, is the brainchild of David Jewell, former head of Haileybury and a former chairman of the Headmasters' Conference.

It is not, he stresses, a scheme for recruiting teachers to independent schools; it is aimed at attracting recruits to the profession generally, with special emphasis on the shortage subjects of maths, science and languages.

The three teachers appearing at Bristol University last week, all Bristol graduates, had been selected by their heads and trained in presentation by the Royal Navy (two days at pound;700 a day). They were attempting, in the words of Dr Rob Winwood, who teaches maths and physics at Malvern College, to counter the stereotypical image of the teacher: "bowed, defeated, moaning, whingeing, with a poor dress sense, drives a rusty banger to work and probably has bad breath and dandruff to boot".

There was certainly nothing bowed or badly dressed about this trio, nor a speck of dandruff between them. They communicated genuine enthusiasm for their careers, entered in each case after initial experience elsewhere.

Dr Winwood described his previous life of well-paid drudgery as head of research with an international engineering research company: supervising technicians from morning till night, always on the road, only chance of promotion to replace the boss, only five weeks' holiday a year.

Now he was seeing pupils through A-levels, could walk to work, had great promotion prospects and job mobility - and 18 weeks' holiday.

Tom Garnier, below, 29, is a former seaman officer with the Royal Navy. He painted a day in his life as physics teacher and housemaster at Abingdon, the boys' public school in Oxfordshire. He teaches 50 upils something new by break-time, spends the afternoon in the fresh air refereeing a rugby match, the early evening at a rehearsal and then, with his wife, "discuss our day over the supper we've enjoyed preparing together".

Some in the audience, hearing that the highly-successful Mrs Lunnon had no Postgraduate Certificate in Education, wondered if it was worth getting one. Yes, she said, because it would increase their opportunities: she was now restricted to the independent sector. This message was strongly backed up by Martin Lewis, PGCE course director at Bristol University.

The (mostly female) audience of 40 undergraduates seemed to be impressed with the presentation. They knew they were seeing the rosier end of the school spectrum but still welcomed the stress on the positive aspects of teaching. As one said: "You can get involved in extra-curricular activities at any school."

Because of the delicacy of the independent schools' role, Mr Jewell is insisting that representatives from university departments of education take part in question-and-answer sessions after each presentation.

As Dr Lewis said: "The important thing is to get students into teaching. Once they're on the PGCE course, they'll have experience in maintained schools and then we'd like to see them choose the teaching environment that suits them best."

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