Career-changers could help solve recruitment woes, says independent school head

TES, 30.09.16, speaking ahead of the 2016 HMC Annual Conference, HMC Chair Mike Buchanan, Head of leading independent Ashford School has said that career-changers as varied as former barristers, research scientists and professional cricketers could prove to be key in helping to solve schools’ teacher recruitment woes, but stresses that they must be allowed to teach the subjects they are qualified for and be able to play to their strengths so that they stay in the profession.

Mr Buchanan, headmaster of Ashford School in Kent, said career-changers brought "a different perspective" to the classroom and around 30 to 40 per cent of his own staff had had previous careers.

But it was vital that recruiters in both the private and state sectors made the job enticing enough, he said. He spoke just months after graduate recruiter Teach First launched an advertising campaign to encourage career-changers to join its scheme to train on-the-job in some of the country's toughest schools.

But union analysis shows that nearly two-fifths of teachers drop out within a year of completing their training.

As he prepared for the HMC’s annual conference in Stratford Upon Avon next week, Mr Buchanan told TES: “[Employing a number of career-changers] is quite a deliberate policy from my personal perspective. I’m looking for people who have got something slightly different, and bring a different perspective on life, a bit of life experience.

“I’m interested in bringing people into the profession who might not otherwise have considered it, and to make that as exciting and enriching for them as I hope they will make their teaching for the pupils.”

Making a leap of faith

He said it was all about showing people with previous careers how they could make the switch to teaching.

“How do you move from somebody who’s got to pay a mortgage, who has got young children, someone who is making their way in life, how do I enable them to see that making a leap is not a huge risk and can produce fulfilment at the end of it?"

Mr Buchanan, who employs teachers who worked as a barrister, a manager of an electrical power network in Canada, a professional cricketer and a Reuters journalist, added that it was vital for heads to give staff the space to teach.

He said: “You don’t typically get teachers to teach things they are not capable of teaching or qualified to teach or possibly do not want to teach; that’s a huge demotivator and you try to strip away as much of the bureaucracy as possible.

“I see that my job as a head, apart from recruiting teachers, is removing all of the obstacles so teachers can do their job – it’s my job to take on those difficulties…leaders of schools have got to create the space for teachers to teach and to protect them from all those things.

“Allowing teachers to do what they are good at is absolutely key to retaining them in the profession.”

Mr Buchanan highlighted the HMC’s own "in-house" school-based teacher training programme, HMCTT. The first cohort of graduates will emerge qualified next summer.

Around 50 new recruits started this term and 3,000 people – including recent graduates, career-changers and those already working in schools – have expressed an interest in the scheme.

The project – dubbed the private sector’s version of Teach First – was launched in anticipation of a greater move to school-based routes across teacher training nationally, and the smaller pool of teachers emerging from university-based courses.

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