Career-change teachers face ‘distrust’ in schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

Professionals who quit their jobs in the private sector in order to retrain as teachers are encountering “significant levels of frustration” because of a lack of acknowledgement of their skills and even a “distrust” of them by some of their teaching colleagues.

A study by academics at the University of Leicester examined the experiences of 24 so-called “elite career changers” (ECCs) – 18 within the secondary phase and six from primary – and analysed wider initial teacher training data.

Among the case studies were examples of lawyers, accountants, banking professionals, engineers, architects and others who had changed careers. They had spent between one and 11 years in teaching.

The report says that while the ECCs were realistic about schools being “a different world” to their previous careers, they felt they did have skills that were important, including resilience, professionalism, handling criticism, communication skills, and an ability to relate learning to real-world careers (especially in vocational subjects).

However, it states that ECCs had “significant levels of frustration with a perceived lack of acknowledgement from colleagues and school leaders of the potential ‘added value’ contribution they could make at a wider institutional level”.

It finds that some of the ECCs had encountered “ambivalence at best” from their teaching colleagues towards the potential for bringing “added value”, while, in the worst cases, their previous experience was regarded as a threat. One former company director, called David, who is now head of subject after eight years in teaching, said: “The guy in charge of the mentoring of all the PGCEs … said ‘we do not make cans of baked beans here’. I was so shocked. All I remember is thinking … if you really think a commercial career is that clichéd or indeed that’s how I think teaching is then you’re misunderstanding the whole process.”

Dr Chris Wilkins, reader in education from the University of Leicester’s School of Education, said: “Many governments, including the UK government, have made a significant investment in attracting people to switch career from ‘elite’ fields such as banking, law and medicine into teaching in an effort to improve the quality of entrants.

“The rationale for this is generally that they bring ‘added value’ to the profession, both through their personal qualities and bringing a different perspective from their previous careers into schools.

“However, in our study most of the teachers felt that their colleagues and school leaders were not particularly interested in them sharing expertise and perspectives from previous careers – and in some cases felt that there was a degree of distrust about their motives for changing career, particularly those coming from the private sector. This led to a sense of ‘missed opportunities’.”

The research reveals that around seven per cent of post-graduate entrants to initial teacher training in England are ECCs, with the study finding that these trainees are less likely to complete the course than other students.

If they do make it into schools, the ECCs report that the quality of mentoring and professional development they receive is not as good as in the private sector.

Dr Wilkins continued: “Our findings appear to contradict the common perception that as mature professionals ECCs possess high levels of resilience that enable them to cope well with the demands of teaching. Teacher quality is crucial in improving educational outcomes, so recruiting the best individuals to teaching is a high priority.

“There are, however, no simple solutions; attracting career-changers is a potentially effective way of getting good teachers into the system, but if initial teacher education providers do not tailor the experience to suit their needs – or if schools do not provide the right environment for induction and career-long support, the potential benefits will be diminished.

“Teaching is a complex and demanding process and getting the right balance of individuals into the profession is vital – but no matter how much potential to be an outstanding teacher they possess, they need a personalised support environment to enable them to capitalise on personal attributes and previous experience.”

The study – ‘Elite’ Career-Changers in the Teaching Profession – is available at

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