Those who can teach, then bank

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Teach First, a UK programme that begins this year, is open to graduates with a 2.1 degree in any subject. Students are offered "accelerated career opportunities" at various organisations, including several investment banks.

But there are strings attached. Participants must spend two years teaching in a challenging London comprehensive school. The idea is for private sector businesses to help provide the schools with good teachers, even if they do not stay long.

Over the past three years, some investment banks have reduced their graduate intake by half but the scheme can provide a good route into a bank for students despairing of becoming graduate trainees.

Teach First is modelled on Teach America, an initiative that has been running in the US since 1990. The selection process is rigorous. There are spaces for 260 people and 750 have already applied, of whom more than a quarter are expecting a first or 2.1 from Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College, London University.

Successful applicants will undertake an intensive teaching course this summer before arriving in the classroom in September. As teachers, they will earn salaries of between 17,000 (€25,300) and 20,000.

The money is not the main attraction. It is the chance to do put something back and, more importantly for some perhaps, the prospect of enhanced career opportunities when the programme is over.

Teach First is supported by business sponsors, including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, UBS Warburg and the consultancy McKinsey. During the second year of the programme, some sponsors will offer Teach First participants business mentors, internships and the opportunity to attend business seminars and networking meetings.

Participants also undertake a Foundation of Management Certificate known as a "mini MBA".

One of the candidates accepted by Teach First is Sai Lakshmi, a mechanical engineering final year student at Imperial. Lakshmi was an intern in the investment banking division of Citigroup last summer, but did not receive a full-time offer. He hopes to use the Teach First programme as a springboard to a financial career. "Teach First will give me the opportunity to meet vice-presidents and managing directors and to learn more about divisions like fixed income and equities. I will be able to make an informed decision about where I really want to work."

Jennifer Scardino, head of corporate affairs at Citigroup Europe and a board member at Teach First, says the programme should appeal to future employers. "It teaches incredible skills. Participants will come away with a broad perspective, experience and added confidence."

In the US, about 40% of Teach America participants continue as teachers when the course has finished. But Brett Wigdortz, chief executive of Teach First, says the intention is not for people to stay on. "The goal of the programme is to get people who would make really good teachers to teach for two years, before going on to a fast-track career in something else," he says.

One financier moving in the opposite direction to become a teacher is Talia Foa, a former private banker at Merrill Lynch who was made redundant last June. She is studying for a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) at the University of Kingston in London and plans to teach science to 16- to 18-year-olds.

Foa says teaching offers stability: "A lot of people can't face going into another City of London job only to face redundancy again in another six months or a year."

Education is not well paid. An experienced classroom teacher can earn up to 35,322 in inner London while banking pay packages often extend into six figures. But Foa says the advantages are not purely financial: "I sometimes wonder whether I have done the right thing. But teaching is very emotionally rewarding, I really enjoy working with difficult and disaffected kids."

Foa is not alone. Until September 2001, Jeremy Cooper was a partner at City of London headhunting firm Charterhouse Partnership. He left as the market deteriorated and is also studying for a PGCE. Others such as Simon McBride, a former analyst at the UK watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, are working in inner-city secondary schools.

All agree that, in one sense at least, working in financial services provides a solid foundation for a teaching career - you can pay off the mortgage before you start.

The appeal of teaching for stressed, financially cushioned bankers has not gone unnoticed. For a week last month, the UK government's Teacher Training Agency (TTA) ran a leaflet campaign at Bank, Liverpool Street, Tower Hill, Moorgate and Blackfriars stations, aimed at City employees.

Andy Bates, a spokesman for the TTA, says banking professionals often have degrees in subjects where teachers are scarce, such as maths, modern languages and sciences. Financial incentives are on offer to tempt people to teach in these areas.

Bates says teaching holds increasing appeal for career-changers, with 40% of applicants over the age of 30. When Teach First participants move into banking after teaching, they are likely to pass some bankers heading the other way.

Further information: www.teachfirst.org.uk. Closing date for applications is March 30.

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