The Draw of the Classroom ; with Improved Pay, Teaching Assistants and Flexible Training, Life as a Teacher Never Looked So Good, Says Virginia Matthews

Article excerpt

Of all the professions to have received a successful image revamp in recent years, it is probably teaching that most deserves the makeover crown. Be it the large number of graduates now taking a post-graduate PGCE qualification, or the steadily growing influx of professionals moving into teaching from other fields, the job of equipping the next generation with the knowledge and skills they need for 21st century life has never looked so attractive to so many.

In order to teach in a state school, a teacher needs Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). One route to gaining this passport to the classroom is a two-, three- or four-year degree such as a specialist BEd (Bachelor of Education) degree, a BA with QTS or a BSc with QTS. The postgraduate route is the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate of Education), which usually lasts one to two years, or an employment- based route such as the over-subscribed Graduate Teacher Programme which pays you a salary of at least pounds 13,599 - or equivalent to the unqualified teacher pay rate - while you learn.

Although the one-year full-time or two-year part-time PGCE is an intensive course, it can be highly motivating for those with a vocation. The practical part of the course - which involves observing other teachers and completing teaching experience of your own - is key.

While pay has never been the top priority of most school teachers, it's worth noting that the money is now respectable. The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) says a newly qualified teacher (NQT) can expect to start on a salary of at least pounds 18,558 - pounds 22,059 in central London - while the pay scale for good, experienced classroom teachers can rise to pounds 29,385 outside London and pounds 34,851 in the capital.

Additional allowances may be paid to teachers considered to be excellent, and there is extra cash, too, for those who take on management and other additional responsibilities outside the classroom. The pay scale for head teachers can rise to over pounds 90,000 depending on the size of the school. While considerably less than investment banking, say, this salary is on a par with most other professions.

Teaching is a profession which allows for and encourages fast progression and one in which the ambitious and talented can rise to the top of the tree fairly swiftly. Although many teachers still complain about too much bureaucracy, once a teacher is ensconced in a classroom, there is backup. Far from being expected to do everything from teach the six times table to photocopy handouts and collect the dinner money - as was the case until fairly recently - a new generation of classroom assistants, or TA's, have helped to free up teacher time.

A record 40,000 teacher training places at colleges and other higher education institutions were allocated by the DfES for 2004/ 05, while the efforts of the TTA ensure that around 10 per cent of the total graduate workforce now moves into teaching.

Interestingly, more than a third of the people entering teaching are now over 30 years old; many of them having switched over from the private sector in a search for more meaning in their working lives.

One of the attractions of teaching is its flexibility. Whether you are an 18-year-old considering a teaching degree or a 40- something wanting to move into teaching, there are a range of study options including full- time training, part-time training or combining work and training and being paid while you learn. There are in addition fast-track routes for graduates who want to reach senior posts as fast as they can.

One of the first decisions to make is whether to opt for primary or secondary school. Competition for primary school training is high - particularly among female entrants - but ultimately it is possible to earn more in the secondary sector. …