Career changers could be game changers for teacher recruitment

A career change to teaching shouldn’t such a hard sell to a motivated audience - so what is DfE waiting for?

A career change to teaching shouldn’t such a hard sell to a motivated audience - so what is DfE waiting for?

12 May 2024, 5:00

The government has ditched funding for Now Teach. “Utter madness,” says its founder Lucy Kellaway. As a late career-change SCITT trainee, I could not agree with her more.

Secondary school teacher recruitment in key subject areas continues to fail miserably to hit its targets. Meanwhile, the normally buoyant primary recruitment market is also showing signs of strain.

So yes, it does seem barmy to drop the training support group that has probably done more than any other to raise the profile of switching to teaching among older professionals.

What prompted my career-flip was the not-unattractive appeal of future-proofing my employment prospects courtesy of a tax-free bursary, and the chance to learn a portable new skill.

Throw in the government-funded – and grant-supported (also untaxed) – pre-course tuition with my SCITT provider, and guess what? The DfE’s teacher training programme starts to sound like a massively appealing proposition.

So by this time next year, I hope to be on the verge of gaining Qualified Teacher Status and a PGCE. I’m supplementing my skills with a flexible, globally recognised skill that opens up a range of options from working as a full-time teacher to part-time and supply work, seasonal marking, tutoring and consultancy. That shouldn’t be a tough sell.

In my experience, increasing numbers of fifty-something professionals just like me are opting to re-train as late career-change teachers, swapping high-earning industries like finance and software for a fast-track route to the classroom.

Yet I had never heard of the SCITT scheme until an ad popped up in my Instagram this spring. Within three weeks, I had applied, been interviewed, been offered a place and signed up. I’m already earning £175 a week on a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course to brush up my rusty French grammar, complementing my existing skills in Spanish.

Mature career-changers are a largely untapped workforce

And others in my circle are doing the same. We all have degrees from good universities in much-needed subjects like computer science, engineering, MFL, maths and physics. Many have already paid off the mortgage and are now making the switch to teaching for motives that are philanthropic rather than financial.

‘Giving something back’ is a common refrain. As parents, we know our kids’ schools are desperate for staff. We see the impact on their learning of a frequently changing cast of often non-specialist teachers. If we can be part of the solution, bring it on.

Far from being desperate for a job, we find it flattering that our skills and experience are in demand. It’s also exciting to discover a whole new career mountain to climb, although many of us simply want to do a good job in a key area of need for a few years with no hunger for significant professional advancement.

Mature career-change teachers are still a largely untapped workforce. And yet we come with a grounding in the real-world application of our subject specialisms, a healthy dose of life skills and resilience, and a range of interests and contacts that may well help enhance a school’s extra-curricular offering.

Meanwhile my current profession is undergoing radical change thanks to AI; pay rates are in a tailspin and employers exhibit a depressingly ageist mindset. So it’s great to hear that rather than being too old to teach, I am in fact a compelling candidate.

In short, my cohort is motivated and the sector needs us. And that might be why the DfE is cancelling Now Teach.

But it won’t do to simply hope career-changers find their own way to schools, or that education job ads will make their way to ex-journalists and bankers. Government is going to have to invest in an ongoing, high-profile campaign to promote teacher training to mature applicants.

That campaign is going to need people like me talking about why they are making the switch to teacher training, greater awareness of the funding on offer and a confidence-building campaign about the availability of SKE courses.

Come on, government : if you’re serious about recruitment, put in the effort. Or is it time for some career change there too?

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