Higher Learning Curves

By Matthews, Virginia | The Independent (London, England), February 19, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Higher Learning Curves

Matthews, Virginia, The Independent (London, England)

TEACHING The skills that teachers require are in demand both in and out of the classroom, says Virginia Matthews

In terms of the entry and exit routes available, teaching is an unusually generous and open-minded profession. There are currently more than 30 different ways of becoming a qualified teacher, including the traditional Bachelor of Education path, the postgraduate PGCE route or one of many employment-based training schemes, each of which reflect the individual's starting point.

As long as you have a degree, as well as a positive attitude to learning, your age and professional background shouldn't be a hurdle, says Liz Francis, director of workforce strategy at the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

But what if, after several years at the chalk face, the rigours of the classroom become too much? For those qualified teachers looking for a way out of the staffroom rather than a way in, then once again, teaching is a sound choice.

"As many as one-third of teachers are career-changers, and we are a profession that benefits from the diverse backgrounds of many practitioners," says Francis.

"In the same way, the training that a modern teacher receives is immensely transferable to just about any other career you can name - be it business or broadcasting, sales or psychology. The skills demonstrated by teachers are in huge demand," she adds.

Educational psychology is an obvious career path for teachers and it is one taken by Kairen Cullen, who worked as a primary school teacher for 10 years before "falling into psychology via a period in learning support".

Now a chartered educational psychologist running her own practice, Cullen's clients range from pre-schoolers to teenagers, students and adults.

"Teaching was a very satisfying career for many years," she says. "But I now see that psychology is the root of a whole range of problems that teachers face every day."

For graduates looking to make a difference, the Teach First programme, established in 2003 as a way of helping high flyers tackle educational disadvantage, is unique.

Though competition for places is intense - last year, there were 1,760 applicants for 373 openings - the scheme has already placed more than 1,400 graduates in challenging schools in London, the North-west and the Midlands, and it now plans to step up the numbers. While many participants have gone on to take up very different careers - perhaps in the City or business - more than half have opted to stay in teaching beyond the two-year course, many of them in challenging schools.

To Teach First's director of graduate recruitment James Darley, the mixture of academic strength, strength of purpose and leadership skills displayed by those chosen to fly the Teach First flag has already had a marked impact.

"We know from Ofsted, from heads and from teachers that sending highly able and committed young people into schools with poor results can make a huge difference in terms of pupil motivation and expectation," he says, adding that the scheme continues to challenge the perception that the current generation is "self-obsessed and ego- driven".

Although the 2:1 degree and the 300 Ucas points required of a Teach First graduate makes the programme challenging academically, the core competencies of humility, resilience and self-evaluation can be far harder for applicants to wrestle with.

"For those willing to respect pupils and other teachers and display real leadership skill, Teach First can be a vital stepping stone to careers in education and elsewhere," adds Darley.

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