Teaching. A young person’s game?

by John Blake

August 13th, 2018

As well as the celebration of success and camaraderie which marked out the recent Now Teach graduation, in the Bank of England, there was also time to reflect on what the lessons of our first cohort of late-career professionals turned trainee teachers might have for the wider system.

We managed to bring together a lively panel of enormous expertise to discuss whether “teaching was a young person’s game”. The panel was chaired by former SchoolsWeek editor Laura McInerney, and comprised Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching Dame Alison Peacock, TeachFirst CEO Russell Hobby, two newly-minted Now Teach Newly Qualified Teachers, Lucy Kellaway and Kitty Ussher, and journalist and political commentator Robert Peston. All of them coalesced around a view that teaching should be for older teachers too, but too often the systems and practices of schools are built around the idea that teachers, especially trainee teachers, are young and inexperienced. Robert Peston argued that the status of teachers has “degraded” and that there is too little respect for the institutional memory of teachers and schools, a sense that hard-won wisdom accrued over years of practice is not valued.

Of course, Now Teach wants to challenge that perspective, and the success of the pioneer cohort shows that it can be done. But we also want to do more with the knowledge both the trainees and Now Teach staff who have supported them have gained about the school system.

That is why I’ve joined Now Teach as Director of Strategy and Policy, to help collate and amplify the voices of all those involved in our project, including our training partners, so that together we can identify and address some of the wider issues which challenge those changing careers to enter teaching.

Some of these challenges are very much specific to our cohort: when you completed your secondary education before the creation of the GCSE, laying your hands on a certificate to prove you have the requisite skills in maths may be difficult, and certainly feels somewhat unnecessary when you have, say, a PhD in theoretical physics (to say nothing of having to complete the government’s numeracy skills test too!). Some small but significant changes in procedures for entering the profession could go a long way to smoothing the path for older professionals looking to teach.

But it is not just for future Now Teachers that we want to advocate. Because we believe that, given Now Teachers have literally hundreds of years of leadership and management experience between them, there are plenty of suggestions they can make which will benefit all teachers in the school system and all the children they teach.

A big focus is flexible working—with a cohort of people, many of whom are parents or have other substantial commitments they do not want to drop, Now Teach has worked hard to create and support a training route that does not require five days a week in the classroom. We will continue assisting our graduates shape a working life that allows them to teach and maintain their outside interests. We think that, given the extraordinary people we have brought into the classroom, that there are lots of reasons schools will want to make these adaptations for our trainees.

And, of course, if timetables can be adjusted for Now Teachers, they can be for others, and they should be. Parenthood isn’t the only reason people might want part-time work, and if schools can make it work for Biology teachers who’ve earned a PhD through years of lab-work, they can make it work for younger teachers who want to volunteer for a charity.

But we know, through our work with our training partners, that is no small logistical feat to change a timetable to make flexible working a reality. We are not here to chastise schools for not doing this, but to help them and the wider system experiment with the changes—on timetabling, school hierarchy, training provision and more—which will ensure teaching is not just a young person’s game, but is ultimately a rewarding and sustainable career for Now Teachers and all teachers.