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Tes Institute

Non-subject specific degrees - a help or a hindrance?

If you want to become a teacher, then it’s ideal to have a degree in the subject you want to teach. Tes Institute investigates what happens when this is not the case.
11 Nov 22

Are non-subject specific degrees a help or a hindrance? Well, ultimately that depends on the degree type and subject that you want to teach. To begin, let’s define what we mean by “non-subject specific”.  This is when your degree subject isn’t an exact match with the subject that you want to teach. This is more often than not the case, particularly for career changers, so don’t panic if this sounds familiar for you.

Do I need a degree in the subject I want to teach?

Having a degree in the subject you want to teach is the perfect scenario, but if it’s not a direct match then ideally your degree needs to relate to at least 50% of the subject that you want to teach.

For example, if you want to teach English, but have a degree in say, Law or history, then you will need to have covered enough modules during your degree that are related to English. The same would apply for psychology or engineering graduates looking to become a maths teacher. Ultimately, the decision of how relevant your degree is will be down to the initial teacher training provider that you apply to.

What to do if your degree doesn't match your teaching subject

For those with non-specific degrees, your teacher training provider will assess your subject knowledge, looking into your degree modules and A-levels. If they decide that your subject knowledge is in need of strengthening, they may recommend you to complete a Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course if you want to teach a shortage subject. This is a common condition set by teacher training providers and will help increase your subject knowledge before you begin your training.

You can also ask to complete an SKE course during your teacher training applications- in fact, many providers will look upon this initiative favourably.

An SKE course will help you to prepare for your initial teacher training as well as give you deeper subject knowledge and the skills you need to be able to teach your chosen subject. They are available in biology, chemistry, computing, English, French, geography, German, maths, physics and Spanish. 

If a teacher training provider decides that there isn’t enough transferable knowledge from your degree, they will then look at your A-Levels to see if they match and will be looking for at least grade B or above. If you don’t have this they may recommend you sitting one.

Your school may also take into consideration any transferable skills from your professional experience. For example, if your previous career was in engineering, this may help you to teach maths as a subject.

Schools can be flexible in what criteria they will accept, but can differ from one to the next, so enquire with your school to find out the next step.

What if it’s been a while since I graduated?

Even if your degree subject is relevant, if a long period has passed since you graduated then the subject content and curriculum may have changed. In subjects that are constantly changing, such as sciences, it may be worth freshening up your skills and taking a biology, chemistry, or physics SKE course.

For further reading on SKE courses and how they can support you in your journey to becoming a teacher take a look at our article; Subject Knowledge Enhancement: what you need to know.

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