Sex up the profession to pull recruits

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Last month, the Teacher Training Agency launched a new advertising campaign. Frankly, it's a relief after those terrifying adverts with disembodied heads proclaiming "Use your head. Teach". They were an improvement, though, on the "Those who can, teach" ads. Yet despite the 41,000 new recruits to the profession forecast for 2004-5, an estimated 40 per cent of teachers are likely to leave three to five years after training. Result: constant need for recruitment.

The Government has attempted bribery with the golden handshakes, but has to accept that the private sector will always be more attractive to those who want a decent standard of living. Ministers have also introduced the graduate scheme "Teach First", offering a short, intensive course rather than a PGCE to high-fliers prepared to teach for a year or two before going off to a proper job - as if teaching were the equivalent of Voluntary Service Overseas, without the malaria pills.

The latest idea is to get classroom assistants to teach the children, which has the benefits of filling vacancies and cutting costs as assistants are cheaper. The only hitch is that the National Union of Teachers refuses to play ball. So what else can be done to alleviate the situation?

The solution - which I offer without the usual consultancy fee and based on seven years in the profession - is to persuade potential recruits that teaching is sexy. The television series Teachers went some way to presenting the profession in this light, especially as it focused on attractive young teachers, even though under-35s make up only 28 per cent of the teaching population.

With all those single twenty and thirtysomethings out there dying to meet a partner, the sexiness of teaching could be a big selling point.

For the single man the battle is more than halfway won. Surveys show that the professions men find sexy are nursing, lap dancing and teaching.

Without wanting to delve too deeply into the psyche that produces these responses, I would hazard a guess that "dress" - or lack of - goes some way to explaining the appeal. Often, a first crush in primary school will be on the teacher and, leaving aside the dominatrixcanes authority side of it, the allure is easily explained. And, in a female-dominated profession, the choice is plentiful.

For women the answer is equally primal. When the biological clock starts ticking, what better candidate for fulfilling fatherly duties than the male teacher? He has demonstrated an affinity for childcare (in theory, at least) and is in the most secure, responsible profession going. He gets school holidays so can help with the kids. The competition is a little stiffer for these types, but more men will be applying after stage one of the advertising campaign, so this won't be a problem for long.

Pictures of attractive, single teachers could be posted on billboards and in magazines, providing an incentive and destroying the myth of the frumpy teacher. The advertisements will be cheap and cheerful - much like the ideal teacher. The TES could combine Friday magazine's dating page with the jobs section, enabling teachers to pick schools with pulling potential.

Single teachers may point out that long hours, bad pay and stress are not conducive to lasting, happy relationships (and there's nothing like teaching other people's kids for putting you off your own), but no wonder they're single with such a pessimistic attitude.

Anthea Davey teaches at Palmers Green high school, London borough of Enfield

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