State-sector teaching offers different rewards
"Sir, if you went to Oxford, what are you doing here?"
This was the question posed to Stephen Davies by his pupils at St Robert of Newminster comprehensive, in Sunderland. The 26-year-old history teacher graduated from Merton College, Oxford, with an MA in history. He then went on to obtain a postgraduate certificate in education from Cambridge University's Institute of Education.
His pupils, like many of the adults he encounters, cannot understand why someone with his educational background would choose to work at a comprehensive. But it was, he says, a deliberate decision: "The private sector gets a lot of very good people. But the state sector gives you a view of the real world."
While the state sector may not always provide the over-achieving pupils found in selective classrooms, Mr Davies believes that it offers different, more satisfying rewards.
"Some children understand nothing about politics and history. It's frightening. Are these people safe to vote?
"You have to get past whatever barriers they have built up and engage them. It is a challenge, but if you have done it you get a real adrenaline rush."
But Mr Davies acknowledges that, as an Oxford graduate, he could be earning significantly more than his pound;21,000 salary "We started at pound;15,000, and I know someone who started in a private school for pound;20,000." he said.
And he admits he may one day be lured into the private sector.