Sunday, 1 February 2009

It's time to protect our market

I've been thinking for a long time about how I can do justice to the subject of marketing AT services. My views on this subject have not changed since I first began my teacher-training in 2002.

The publication of the ATEAM study in August 2008 heralded a new era in the AT profession. At last we can put to bed the futile argument about whether AT is a therapy or a form of education. When used to help people with bad backs, it's educational therapy. The study showed that AT was more effective than other forms of remedial treatment because the educational element of AT extended the period of its effectiveness as a therapy for chronic lower back pain.

If we continue with the line that AT is purely education then we cut ourselves off from this potentially lucrative market of new pupils seeking treatment for their backs. Ask a random sample of the population why someone might book AT sessions and the vast majority will say something about improving their posture or about back problems. Ask them where they might expect to see AT advertised on the Net and they will invariably mention the words alternative and therapy. They might even use the words medical or treatment but I'm willing to bet that virtually none of them will say anything about education.

If we really insist on disabusing our pupils of the notion that AT is therapy, there is a time and a place to do it - and that's in a lesson, once the new pupil has committed, and absolutely NOT at the time where we are prospecting for new pupils.

So what's my point about protecting our markets I hear you say.

We are entering the mother of all recessions since the great depression of the 1930's. Thousands of people are losing their jobs every week and those who are still employed are getting anxious about their own particular job security. Whether or not there is any need for it, people are beginning to tighten their belts and economise, preparing for the possibility of bad times to come.

Those who may have been considering taking-up Alexander lessons or even training to be AT teachers will be having second thoughts. It's going to be tough for existing AT practitioners and for teacher training schools.

So when I read in the recent newsletter that new teacher training schools (heads of training) had been applied-for, I immediately wrote off an email to STAT to suggest that they refused permission - at least in the UK.

We are a private society of members who are each invited to join STAT, when we apply for training at STAT-approved schools. There is no automatic right to membership and, as a private society, we have the absolute right to refuse membership to anyone for any reason provided such refusal is within the remit of our constitution and represents the will of the membership.

I think the time has come for STAT to protect existing practitioners and established training schools from an over-supply of qualified teachers. In the current economic climate, I would be furious if STAT were to grant an application for a new teacher training school in my geographical locality. Business is hard to find and the prospect of a local school churning-out newly qualified teachers into an already saturated market would fill me with dismay.

Nowithstanding the possible new demand that may be stimulated in the medical sector by the ATEAM study, we should not continue to undermine our existing, limited markets by opening new AT teacher training schools.

As it happens, the current proposals for teacher training schools don't particularly affect my geographical area, so I'm therefore arguing my point from common sense rather that from a NIMBY attitude. Unlike many struggling AT teachers, I have my own alternative form of income that means I'm not dependent on an income from teaching so again, I'm not being self-serving by arguing for more regulation of the market.

You only need to look at what has happened to the acting profession to see the effect of over-supply. Most actors spend more time out of work than in-work because there are probably 10 actors (or more?) available for every one job. It's a classic example of an unregulated market. There is no framework to enable the supply of new actors to be stemmed, unlike in AT, where accreditation by a recognised professional organisation is seen by our customers as an important requirement, if not exactly a prerequisite.

We know from recent salary surveys of AT teachers that there is a crisis amongst those who are teaching AT as their primary source of income. Compare today's typical lesson fee of £30 to the 4 guineas charged by FM Alexander 90 years ago. His fee corresponded to around £200 by modern standards! It's my understanding that he expressed concerns about the dilution of the market by newly qualified teachers: fears which evidently were well-founded.

I therefore intend to propose a motion for debate at the next STAT AGM, providing I can find a seconder. At the moment, I'm thinking of something on the lines of the following:

"The membership feels that too many teachers are being trained at present and would like Council to explore a moratorium on new schools in the UK for 5 years. After this time, the granting of new heads of training will be strictly controlled having regard for the demand for AT lessons in the geographical location relative to existing supply in that location and to the will of the membership."

If you have a view on this or would like to second such a motion, please Send me an email or comment on this blog.