• Transition to Teach helps to take STEM skills into teaching

    960 640 Stuart O'Brien

    The Department for Education funded Transition to Teach initiative is encouraging more participants to train as teachers in STEM subjects, helping to drive recruitment for subjects such as physics, maths and chemistry.

    The programme supports those at risk of redundancy, early retirees and eligible career changers into teaching, with 69% of Transition to Teach participants in 2020 training to teach a STEM subject such as science, maths or computer science, up from 37% in 2019.

    One of the people making the move into teaching is Dr Anne Cook, 52 from Cumbria who has a PhD in material sciences:

    “I worked in ship building, steel making and railways before moving into nuclear. As a woman who has worked in the science sector, I am particularly interested in the gender gap and how women are encouraged, or not, into science. 35 years since doing my A Levels, it’s amazing that this is still as much of an issue now as it was then.

    “In largely male dominated environments throughout my working life so far, I have certainly been one of the few women working on the shop floor.  As a teacher, I want to take my experience in the science industry to encourage all pupils, but particularly to remove some of the barriers that girls may feel towards science, sparking their interest in the subject and encouraging it.

    “What I hope I can bring to teaching are real life industry examples. Children want to understand how science can be used in their future life and what their career prospects are. By bringing in external speakers from the industry and running after school science clubs, children can start to visualise the prospects that science offers, and enjoy it.

    “As an older teacher, I have the benefit of life experience. Being able to read people and develop relationships will help me in the classroom. At this stage in my life, it’s important to make a difference in my career, and that’s what I hope to do as a teacher.”

    The NFER Teacher Labour Market in England 2021 report found that postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) enrolments in 2020 were 20% higher than in 2019, representing 130% of the target for primary teachers and 106% for secondary. This upwards trend has continued in 2021 with applications up to February 2021 26% higher than the equivalent point in 2020.

    Yet overall ITT recruitment for STEM subjects such as physics, maths and chemistry remained below target. Physics recruitment hit 42% of its target in 2019 vs. 45% in 2020, chemistry was 67% in 2019 vs. 80% in 2020 and maths achieved 65% of its 2019 target vs. 84% in 2020. Computer science exceeded its recruitment target in 2020 at 105% of its target, vs. 75% in 2019.

    Cristina Martins Ferreira, 44, from Nottingham, is a former IT programmer with a degree in electronics, telecommunications and computers from her native Portugal. After becoming a mother and moving to the UK, Cristina’s work aspirations changed and she retrained as a secondary computer science teacher, supported by Transition to Teach, starting her NQT year in September 2020:

    “Before I moved to England, I worked in programming in a bank. It was a good job and well paid but the stress levels were unbelievable. In truth I was miserable, they wanted not just 100% but 120% or more. The high salary was down to being on call 24/7, ready to solve any problem. After having my second child I’d reached the point where it wasn’t worth it for what I was missing out on. I realised that I didn’t want to go back to IT programming.

    “I started looking into other careers and I learnt about Transition to Teach and the concept of transitioning into teaching and I was amazed by it. The fact that I could use my previous experience, and take all of the knowledge from my degree, and it would open a door for me to a new career in teaching. School centred initial teacher training was my route into teaching and Transition to Teach were with me right through my teacher training year to the end of my first year as a newly qualified teacher.

    “One of the reasons I wanted to move into teaching was to be a positive role model for young people, encouraging them to consider technology careers. I can use my own experience as a programmer to show the children I teach that they can be anything they want to be. The message I want to share is that computer science is a skill, like maths or English, which you can use in your future career, even if technology isn’t your main sector. The number of jobs in technology is growing every day yet the number of people applying is reducing. It’s a race against time to address the skills gap.

    “The transferable skills I have taken into teaching with me include the technical side; programming is a big part of computer science. A classroom isn’t that different to a team and a lot of the techniques that I used to manage people, I can now use in the classroom. You need to be really organised as a teacher and I’ve been able to take my organisational skills learnt as a programmer into teaching with me. The potential risks in banking are huge, after that, nothing really scares me.”

    Jamie Curley (pictured), 55 from Rochdale has a degree in biology and with a doctorate in engineering. Jamie started his NQT year in September 2020:

    “I was sitting at another sales conference at another anonymous hotel watching someone go through another set of sales figures when I thought to myself ‘is this really my life?’ I was involved in the sales and clinical support side of the business, but I got to the point where I didn’t think it was worthwhile anymore, the salary and bonuses were no longer enough. It was time to do something else.

    “I was 53 when I discovered Transition to Teach and decided to train as a science teacher, an age when some teachers are starting to move out of the profession. My first two questions to Transition to Teach were: ‘am I too old’ and ‘is it too late to apply to teach this year’ and they said no on both counts. 6 weeks later I was on the PGCE course at Manchester Metropolitan University.

    “I’d volunteered with Greater Manchester Army Cadet Force. Transition to Teach showed me how I could transfer the skills I had into teaching. I’ve never looked back. I think self-confidence really helps as a teacher and all of the presentations I had to make in my old job really helped with that side of things. The wider world perspective is also key. If you can make what you’re teaching relevant to your students and relate it to the real world, then you’re more likely to engage them.

    I say to people that teaching isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. The lessons are part of it, but only part of it, there’s also the pastoral side. It sounds corny but the best thing about teaching is knowing that I’m making a difference. When it goes wrong in a young person’s life it can take a lifetime to put it right. If you want to create the right society, it starts with education.”

    Rebecca Waring is the programme manager for the Transition to Teach project and says they are looking forward to welcoming even more participants from STEM backgrounds in 2021:

    “Our STEM participants bring a wealth of workplace experience, educational attainment and transferable skills into teaching. To have a teacher in front of you who has worked in the STEM sector, who can break down barriers that children might feel towards STEM, showcase their technical skills and ability, and make it relatable, is incredibly powerful.

    “Applications are now open for September 2021 and we can offer participants support at every stage in their journey, from practical things like finding an ITT provider and identifying funding sources, to providing access to a guidance and development adviser who will offer support until the end of your first year as a newly qualified teacher.”


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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