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Career Clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about what to teach and moving from FE to secondary

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about what to teach and moving from FE to secondary

A question of subject

I am considering going into secondary teaching and accept that, with my current degree in sociology, I would have to do a further degree in a relevant subject. Having browsed the job forums, I see that securing a job once qualified is difficult. Why is this? I would be happy to train in geography, history or RE. Which subject offers the best job prospects at the end?

The reason for the difficulty in securing a job as a teacher is basically down to the economic situation. The Government calculates how many teachers to train each year. However, it cannot always correctly guess the number of former teachers seeking to return to teaching. That can happen because they need to work or because they have been made redundant by local authorities or the private sector.

That is one of the reasons why you can suddenly end up with lots of teachers doing supply work. Between 2008 and 2009 alone, the General Teaching Council for England registered an extra 30,000 supply teachers.

I'm afraid I have no idea what the job market will be like in a few years' time. But, on present trends, geography is likely to be the easiest subject in which to secure a training place in 2013.

However, there is no guarantee of employment. For example, in the first three months of 2011 I found no geography post offered across the whole of East Anglia.

So anything is a risk, but 20,000 teachers did find a job last year. If you do a new degree, with all the costs involved first, you won't enter teaching until 2015 or 2016 and by then it may be an entirely different world.

Nevertheless, I remain concerned that you don't really seem to mind which of these three subjects you will concentrate on. I cannot really believe you would be equally happy teaching all three to A-level. It would be better to go with the subject you enjoy most.

We know that when teachers enjoy teaching a subject, students pick up on that enthusiasm. Although limited, there are some training places in social studies where your sociology degree might well be acceptable - and you wouldn't need to study for another degree.

Switching sectors

I am a further education teacher who wants to teach in the secondary sector. Will a secondary school take me based on my qualifications and experience or would I have to do a secondary PGCE? What slant should I take when applying for jobs to increase my chances of getting an interview?

There has long been an issue about the fact FE lecturers have skills they could bring to teaching the 14-19 age group in schools. School teachers have always found it possible to lecture in FE with their QTS (qualified teacher status), so it has seemed unfair that this was not reciprocal.

The Wolf review of vocational education last year, and the Government's response to it, should change that. It envisages that there will be freer transfer of qualifications for FE staff with QTLS (qualified teacher learning and skills) to QTS. However, regulations for that will need to be laid down, so the date that it will come into force is not yet clear.

The fact that both qualifications are not subject-specific means lecturers should then be able to compete for any teaching post on an equal footing with teachers, thus making the job market potentially even more competitive.

If you have a PGCE (FE), you won't be eligible for another teacher preparation course. As to what to put in your application, it depends on your subject and exam experience. But you might need to think about how you would teach key stage 3. After all, the experience of many FE staff is that they work largely with people who are learning voluntarily. In schools, you have a captive, but not necessarily compliant, group of learners. It might be worth seeing if you can spend a few days volunteering in a secondary school with KS3 students before making any final decision about switching sectors.

If you want a career in leadership in the secondary sector, you will certainly have to understand how secondary schools work across the whole age range and not just the 14-19 age group.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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