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Teach Last: Are Retirees the Answer to Our Teacher Shortage Crisis?


With 4 in 10 teachers leaving the profession within their first year there's no denying that UK schools are finding it harder and harder to recruit staff. With a desperate shortage of qualified teachers, schools are often relying on agency staff, costing the school much more than a contracted teacher and whose teaching quality they have little control over. So why are teachers leaving in their droves and what can be done to stop this? The finger is most often pointed at an impossible workload, unreasonable demands from managers and the beady, omnipresent eye of Ofsted. Mary Bousted, secretary general of the ATL union, refers to the organisation as a "weapon of fear and terror". Getting rid of it, she argues, would instantly reboot the profession and transform teaching into an attractive option once more. Viola - the fairy godmother touch?

Whilst this seems like the stuff a teacher's dreams are made off, there's little evidence to suggest it will ever happen. So in the meantime Nicky Morgan, aided by educationalist and philosopher Baroness Warnock, believes she has the answer to our teacher shortage. Her solution comes in the form of Teach Last. After all, we've done Teach First, bringing young people into the classroom to kick-off their careers, so why not turn the approach on its head and roll in the retirees?

Warnock affirms that bringing recent retirees from other professions into schools could both raise the status of teaching and help top up numbers, easing staff shortages. Warnock's scheme is inspired by the Teach First programme (as featured in BBC3's Tough Young Teachers) that simultaneously sexed-up teaching as a career option and brought thousands of young graduates into the classroom. Teach Last would hope to do similarly and provide a pathway for skilled retirees to teach as a second profession. Warnock has remarked on the "tremendous waste of talent" when those "at the height of their powers" wrap-up their careers. So could the energy, experience and capacity for work left in most of the UK's retirees be channeled into the classroom?

I say yes. As a former teacher myself, I'm excited by this new approach to recruitment. I certainly think the life-experience, skill, brain and wit necessary to hold your own in front of a whiteboard would be present amongst this demographic, it's just the matter of training that render some skeptical. Fred Jarvis, the retired general secretary of the NUT teaching union told TES that he would be keen to see "inspirational" figures entering the profession after retirement, but they would have to be fully trained. "They can't just go into the classroom and think they will be able to teach well." Wrong. Teach First works successfully by allowing teachers to train on the job, as I did. Lord knows if the approach works for 22 year olds fresh out of University, then it will no doubt work for those with long and successful careers under their belts. You see there's a mindset among adolescent kids that teachers are fair game. The kudos that someone - a little older, with a respected career behind them - would receive from kids, would (I predict) carry them through whilst they learnt the ropes.

If given the go-ahead, the scheme would provide in service training to retired professionals, offering a 'compressed' version of the school placements found on PGCE courses. Warnock is ideally looking for "retired diplomats and business people" due to their talent for "communicating with people". Anybody with a language degree will also be quickly snapped up under Lady Warnock's plan. Aged 91, Lady Warnock's only wish is that she'd thought Teach Last up sooner. "I could easily have gone into teaching Latin and Greek... I'd have loved it." And lets hope they do!

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