Many parents struggled through home schooling and felt relieved when their children returned to school. But for others, the experience was an inspiration – and the incentive for a career move into childcare, early years education and teaching.
Applications to tiney, a new initiative focused on early years education that was created by the founder of Teach First, soared during the pandemic. The company, which started accepting applications in May 2019, received 4,672 inquiries in the 10 months before lockdown – but 12,345 applications were made in the 12 months from March 2020.
What was even more surprising than the exponential rise, said its founder, Brett Wigdortz, was that 35% of applications came from people who had been working in white-collar industries – up from 16% in the previous 10 months.
More than half the applications came from people with no previous experience of working in childcare or education, compared with 35% before lockdown.
“We have seen a big uplift in people switching from corporate careers to train with us since March 2020: we’ve had applications from a diamond dealer, dentists, corporate secretaries and a founder of a City tech start-up,” Wigdortz said.
“Lockdown has definitely played a role. People discovered how much they enjoyed spending time at home or were prompted to re-evaluate their career goals. Many applicants over the past year have told us that the idea of going back to their ‘old’ life, complete with commute and office politics, had lost its appeal.”
Now Teach, a charity that helps experienced professionals retrain as teachers, reported a 70% rise in applications a month between March and May 2020. It received three times as many applications in October and November 2020 compared with the previous year.
Katie Waldegrave, the co-founder of Now Teach, said: “The pandemic has prompted people to ask themselves what happens when the busy distractions of people and office disappear? The people we are recruiting now are the ones for whom the pandemic has highlighted a real need and desire to engage with their community, give back and be useful.”
Sandrine Finel swapped her job as an assistant finance director in a City-based firm to train and register as a childminder after home schooling her 10-year-old son during lockdown.
“Working with children is so much more positive than working for a big company, with my only target being the increase of someone else’s profit,” Finel said. “I’m loving my new career. I wake up smiling, knowing I’m going to have a tiring but completely rewarding and really important day.”
Bronte Scott, from Huddersfield, enjoyed teaching her five- and seven-year-olds so much during lockdown that she left her corporate job in learning and development to embark on an accelerated degree in primary education. It will lead to a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) next year.
“I’ve got a lot to thank lockdown for,” she said. “Home schooling made me realise that helping my children to learn was way more fulfilling than adults who really didn’t want to.”
Bronte wants to be a primary school teacher with a focus on early years education. “It’s a big step,” she said. “My previous job was very secure and of growing importance within the company. But lockdown made me realise it just wasn’t fulfilling.”
Frances Vulliamy decided to give up her job as an executive coach in the City to become a childminder after looking after her baby during lockdown. “It was a particularly intense maternity leave because there weren’t any baby classes to go to or other distractions,” she said. “But I found that while others were struggling, I loved generating all the ideas for my daughter.”
Vulliamy completed a three-month online course with tiney before setting up her own childcare business, which is now so successful that she has taken on an assistant.
“Prior to lockdown, I never thought I’d want to work in childcare,” she said. “It’s not seen as an aspirational career for intelligent, skilled people, which I’ve realised is just so wrong. This is one of the most important periods in a child’s life and it takes a lot of skill to look after them well.”
Casmira Nan, whose child is 18 months old, worked with diamond dealers in the jewellery trade before lockdown. During the pandemic, however, she retrained as a childminder. “This career change has changed my life in a positive way. It’s hard work but very rewarding; children’s development is truly a wonder,” she said.
Dr Stephen Kennedy, from Cambridge, has two daughters aged seven and five, and has spent more than 12 years in investment banking in London and Hong Kong.
“Home schooling wasn’t something I would have chosen to do, but on a good day it was great to see my daughters making progress, to see that something they had been stuck on had suddenly stopped being a problem,” he said. “Those victories gave me a buzz.”
What made Kennedy think seriously about switching to teaching was when a science video he made with his daughters, showing how to use a glass bowl to make rainbows on the floor, inspired their classmates to do the same. “I had got children exploring for themselves,” he said. “That was pretty magical and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could do this!’.”
During the first lockdown, Kennedy got a scholarship from the Institute of Physics to study for a the PGCE course at the University of Cambridge.
“I’ll be teaching physics in secondary schools and I’m feeling really good about the change,” he said. “I hope I can do my bit to help children catch up on what they missed out over the past year.”