Not a job for a status seeker

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Why is it going to be difficult to fill the huge expansion in teacher training places in the next five years? The answer, according to teachers at Highbury Fields School in Islington, north London, is that teaching is not seen as an attractive career.

"It's a low-status job," says Kate Rowson, 23, a graduate of King's College, London, who teaches religious education at the all-girls comprehensive school. "Even the girls see it as low status. Teaching is not as well respected in Britain as in other countries."

Her fellow teachers agree. They blame the Government and the media for the poor public image of their profession. For the past 10 years there had been an unending stream of criticism directed at teachers by politicians and newspapers, they say. Such criticism isunfair. Teachers' jobs are demanding and stressful, they say, but they are also rewarding and never boring.

Suzannah Shaw, 26, a Nottingham University graduate, once worked in the accounts department of American Express - a badly paid job with few prospects. By contrast, teaching modern languages at the 670-pupil school in Highbury, which she has been doing since last September, is a challenge. She finds it hard teaching French and Spanish to mixed-ability classes but says it is more satisfying than her job in the private sector - and better paid.

Pay is not the critical issue in recruitment, though it is important. Starting salaries for teachers in the capital, including London weighting and points for a second-class degree, are about pounds 15,000 a year, which is considered respectable for single people with no car or commitments. After that, there are annual increments, but the salary progression is fairly slow. By the time teachers reach their thirties and acquire mortgages and children, they do not find the pay as attractive.

Oxford graduate Robert Lobatto, 28, who teaches history and is head of faculty has already been left behind in the salary stakes by friends who went into accounting and law. Michael Thompson, 30, who has a PhD in chemistry and teaches science, has had the same experience. But it is clear that both love their jobs more than the money. Mr Lobatto believes teaching is a vocation.

"My father was an accountant," he explains. "He was not too happy when I became a teacher. He would have been happier if I had done something else, but I decided I wanted to be involved in education."

Teaching is something you must want to do, say teachers at Highbury Fields. If you simply fall into it, you will not last the course. The headteacher, Ann Mullins, adds: "Teachers tend to be idealistic rather than materialistic."

This is why her deputy head, Marilyn Lehmann, thinks the job may be less alluring today. The attraction of teaching is being able to improve people's understanding, enlarge their ideas of the world, spark their imaginations. You cannot do so much of that when you have to fill in the forms and complete all the paperwork that comes with the national curriculum, she argues.