Two women who are desperate to get back into the classroom, but cannot

19th September 2008 at 01:00

Estelle Rourke and Janet MacGregor gave up their jobs to retrain as teachers when they saw Government campaigns advertising modern languages as a shortage area in teaching.

Now 42 and 44 respectively, the two post-probationers have had to sign on for Jobseeker's Allowance for the first time in their lives. Janet has sub-let her flat in Glasgow because she can't afford to pay the mortgage and is renting the spare room in Estelle's flat so they can share bills and cut costs.

Janet's advice to the Education Secretary is blunt. "Why not bite the bullet and get the efficient new teachers to give the kids a better education than teachers who are jaded and want to leave? Pay them off - get those teachers out now. If education's a priority, put your money where your mouth is. I feel let down and deceived by Government advertising. Their forecasters are either getting it wrong or blatantly over-training. No thought seems to have been given to the consequences.

"More early-retirement packages should have been made available to teachers who are burnt out and want to leave. All the people I know who studied at university are full of enthusiasm. They got a great training and they are up on ICT - which is what kids want to know about - but they are being held back because they can't get to teach."

Janet and Estelle also want a moratorium on retired teachers being able to go straight back into teaching on the supply list to earn "pin money".

Both graduated from their PGDE course at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill campus with merit, and both did well in their probationary year - Estelle at Holy Cross High, Hamilton, and Janet at Hillhead High, Glasgow.

Estelle has two weeks' supply in a school in East Dunbartonshire; Janet has done a total of eight-and-a-half days of supply - most of it in the school where she did her probation, doing support for learning rather than teaching French and Spanish.

Both women are angry, frustrated, and unconvinced by official reassurances that jobs will become available during the year. Nor are they impressed by ministerial exhortations that they should move to other parts of the country to find jobs.

"I'm not saying it's not difficult when you're 25 to find yourself at the end of a teacher training period and not have a job," Janet said. "But if I was that age, I would not be worried. I could take a year out. I could live at home. But mature entrants have financial responsibilities or kids at school."

Janet worked for 15 years in France and Spain, some of it teaching English as a foreign language, but returned to Scotland in 2003 in response to advertising campaigns aimed at recruiting teachers. She did a degree in French and Spanish at Paisley University, followed by the PGDE course at Jordanhill, for which she took out a career-development loan.

Estelle graduated in French and Spanish in 1998 and lived in Spain, teaching English. On her return to Scotland, she put her Spanish to good use in an international forklift truck company at its Irvine base. She then moved to a distillers, based in its Latin American team and later in its communications department, working with foreign journalists. Following company restructuring, she took redundancy and used the money to pay for her PGDE and to subsidise her probationary year.

They feel their time spent living and working abroad, using French and Spanish, has given them life experiences they can pass on to pupils to help them see the relevance of learning another language. They just want the chance to get back into the classroom.

Both women will soon have to negotiate new mortgage packages, as their fixed-term deals are running out but, without a secure job, they feel they are in a weak position.

Estelle has managed to secure work teaching an evening class two nights a week at Cumbernauld College, while Janet is waiting to hear whether she has been successful in an interview for call centre work, five hours a night, four nights a week. But the time may come when they have to look for permanent work outside education.

"I still have to pay my bank loan, insurance and run a car," said Janet.

Estelle is also worried about her financial situation. "I can't keep relying on my savings and my parents giving me pocket money," she said. "That shouldn't be happening at my age."

Of the 34 PGDE students in their class, five have permanent jobs in Scotland and one in England, in the private sector. Six have found temporary, maternity cover or part-time jobs.

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