Think before you make a mature decision

17th October 1997 at 01:00
The Teacher Training Agency has had much publicity about the urgent need to recruit an extra 10,000 teachers by the year 2001. Part of its recruitment drive is aimed at "mature" people, encouraging them to retrain.

I was a mature candidate, attracted into teaching in the late 1960s, and believe we were deliberately given an over-optimistic view of our prospects. This new campaign to recruit "matures" is even more of a con.

First you will have to retrain - a trying time, even without all the financial implications, such as the recently announced Pounds 1,000 annual tuition fee, living on savings, and so on. Re-learning study skills, coursework deadlines, tutors who have no regard for family commitments, will all put a strain on your relationships with your family - as well as causing the almost inevitable growing apart from old friends and lifestyle.

Once qualified, your choice of jobs will be narrow. Realistically, if you are married and own a house, you will only be able to apply for posts in schools within reasonable travelling distance. The alternative could be months - even years - of living in cheap, rented accommodation during the week and seeing your family only at weekends, even assuming you can cram all the marking and preparation into weekday evenings.

Then, whatever you may have been told by recruiters, the prospects of added increments for previous experience are minimal. I got one increment for each year of military service, and one for each three years of business experience.

Now these increments are "discretionary", which realistically means that, except in the unlikely event that a school is desperate for your unique skills or your uncle is chairman of the governors, you don't have a snowball in hell's chance of being offered any more than a 22-year-old applicant.

You will face similar problems if you consider applying for promotion. Your choices will be more limited due to your house and domestic situation, your spouse's job, your children's schooling, elderly parents . . . You will also be competing against younger people who have attended all the right courses, are familiar with all the current educational bandwagons and the relevant jargon; people whose adult lives have been totally education-oriented and mix only with others of a similar ilk.

Like me, few of my fellow mature students achieved much promotion and are stuck at the top of the main pay scale for the rest of their careers. Now in their mid- to late-fifties, they face increasing hints that they should be thinking seriously about retirement at 60 so that they can be replaced with someone younger, cheaper and more malleable.

For some, redundancy is a real possibility. Yet all mature entrants, in common with many women teachers who choose to take a career break, are faced with the prospect of having to retire on an inadequate pension.

I predict that, like the police and the armed forces, teaching will become a short and totally consuming career for the young; the ever-increasing demands, stress and pressures will be such that most teachers will be burnt out by their mid-forties. To compensate - in some measure - for this, a teaching career must offer both an adequate salary and a realistic pension. Neither of which it does at present for the majority of teachers.

One thing is certain: there will be no more "Goodbye Mr Chips".

Roger Burton lives in Dudley, West Midlands

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