‘Schools need teachers. My generation has mostly paid off mortgages; we have pensions and can afford a pay cut. We will live until we are 100, and will work into our 70s. If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom all day, teaching kids my favourite subject.’
Last month, the FT’s Lucy Kellaway announced her next career move would take her back to the classroom – and she wants to take as many of us with her as possible. Her new organisation Now Teach hopes to turn seasoned professionals into the next generation of inspirational educators, equipped with a lifetime of real world experience to impart alongside their syllabus. Undeterred by the incredulity of her friends and colleagues; determined to be of use for her ‘next act’; thrilled by the prospect of ‘learning something that is new and terrifyingly hard’, Kellaway is a reminder to all of us that our working lives – longer, for most of us, than ever before – can and must provide many opportunities for reinvention, adventure, and meaningful contribution.
But Kellaway’s campaign is about more than shaking up retirement. It’s a valuable reminder that, globally, teaching is in crisis. The developing world needs to recruit 68.8 million teachers if it is to provide universal primary and secondary education by 2030 and meet Sustainable Development Goal 4. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia together account for over 76% (14.6 million) of the new teachers needed. Today, around 263 million children and youths are out of school; 25 million of these will never set foot in a classroom. In low-income countries, just 14% of youths will ever complete secondary school.
In the UK, a dearth of quality teaching – a point repeatedly made by outgoing Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw – fails year on year to improve social mobility. A recent report suggested that England could be facing a shortage of up to 19,000 senior teachers by 2022 if action is not taken develop a pipeline of talent; meanwhile the D of E has scrapped plans for a national teaching service to recruit high calibre teachers to struggling schools, having placed just 24 of an anticipated 1,500.
The results of this deficiency are stark: according to The Equality Trust, ‘50% of a parent’s pay advantage is passed onto their children in the UK compared to just 15-25% in Nordic countries’. Meanwhile, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) latest report found a that only five per cent of children eligible for free school meals gain five A grades at GCSE, and a child in England’s most disadvantaged region is 27 times less likely to receive adequate schooling.
In a recent essay on creating a fairer London, Chair of the SMC, the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, decried this inequality: ‘low-ability children from wealthy families still overtake high-ability children from poor families during primary school. That is not just a social injustice. It is a moral outrage – and it must change.’ And yet, he argues, ‘if it adopts the right approaches, London can be the city which breaks the link between deprivation and destiny.’ One such measure is high quality teaching that prepares students for the working world. Teach Now is just the ticket.