The profession's image among sixth-formers is not as bad as feared. Josephine Gardiner reports
Today's sixth-formers say they would rather become teachers than enter traditionally popular professions like the media, medicine or law, a new survey reveals. But the prospects of having to cope with badly-behaved pupils, long hours with indifferent pay are still acting as deterrents. Girls are far more positive about teaching than boys.
The survey, carried out by the Teacher Training Agency and the National Union of Teachers, covered 1,095 randomly-selected A-level and GNVQ students aged 16 to 19. It aimed to discover what they thought of teaching as a career and what factors were likely to attract or deter them from it.
While the results indicate that perceptions of the profession among potential recruits are not as gloomy as had been feared, and that in theory teachers are respected figures, it also shows that the negative aspects of the job are fixed in people's minds before they leave school.
This is the first attempt to explore sixth-formers' view of teaching and the first collaboration between the TTA and a big union.
The most attractive career to the pupils was businessmanagement (top choice for 39 per cent of the total sample). Teaching came joint second with creativeperforming arts (27 per cent). Media and PR careers, which most surveys find are the goal of the majority, came third with 24 per cent.
Other "glamorous" and prestigious professions that would be expected to appeal to young people, such as medicine, law, sports entertainment, travel and marketing, came a long way down the list.
However, these figures conceal a dramatic gender difference - while 39 per cent of girls put teaching at the top of their list, only 9 per cent of boys did. Top career choice for boys was business or management, followed by performing arts, entertainment and sport.
The students were also asked to identify factors that would encourage someone to become a teacher. More than half the sample pointed to long holidays; boys found the idea of long holidays particularly enticing. The chance to work with children and general job satisfaction were also mentioned.
The major disincentive was the prospect of dealing with unruly pupils - 64 per cent of girls and 53 per cent of boys were alarmed by this. Other turn-offs were long hours and having to take work home (55 per cent), low pay (44 per cent) and stress (24 per cent).
Smaller classes, more pay, more facilities and disciplined students were the changes that would make both girls and boys more likely to decide to teach.
The questionnaire found that most forms of the media - including newspapers, soaps (the Ken Barlow factor?), magazines, films - conveyed negative messages about teaching and would be more likely to put pupils off than inspire them.
It also revealed that a favourable impression of teaching does not necessarily translate into practice: 41 per cent said they would consider teaching, 50 per cent would not, and 9 per cent did not know. Of the 50 per cent who would not consider it, 33 per cent said nothing would ever induce them to be a teacher. John Bangs, head of research at the NUT, said: comment, page 24