Career clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about changing specialisms and NQT favouritism

Professor John Howson

I want to teach history

I recently completed my secondary PGCE in modern foreign languages and am wondering how I would best be able to convert to teaching history. I want to change specialism for a number of reasons. As much as I enjoy teaching languages, my main passion has always lain with history. Should I do supply while doing a history degree?

Curiously, despite the education secretary's messages about the need for excellent teachers, and his recent thoughts on the ability of teacher trainers to deliver such individuals, he refuses to limit how people apply their qualified teacher status. So, once you have the magic letters QTS, you can teach anything to anyone.

In some parts of the country there may even be a demand for history teachers now that the training places have been cut back so much. You could do your induction year teaching history. However, my advice would be to start teaching languages - but ask a school whether there is any history you can teach for part of the week. Schools often have odd lessons and classes that need covering because of the way the timetable is put together.

This approach will allow you to see whether you have the same attitude to the Battle of Hastings as to the Somme, and to both the Roman Empire and the Second World War. Because QTS is transferable between subjects, I doubt you will need (or even find) any conversion courses. However, you may want to investigate the Historical Association website ( for possibilities.

A degree in history would be a good idea, but I am not sure about doing supply rather than finding a full-time teaching post for September. You risk leaving question marks in the mind of someone who just looks at your CV and does not bother to investigate why you took a particular route.

Am I losing out to NQTs?

I'm an FE-trained teacher who has been working in schools for a number of years, and I am paid at the equivalent of main pay scale point six. Currently I am on maternity cover, ending in July, and I have had half a dozen interviews over the past few months, with flattering comments about my lesson, student panel interview and main interview. However, I have been rejected in favour of an NQT each time. Given that one headteacher admitted that everything I did was excellent and could not be faulted, would I be right in thinking that money talks louder than ever at the moment, and I have to face the fact that NQTs are cheaper than someone who is at the top of the scale, or could there be another reason?

This is a well-worn theme over the past few years, and in some places I am afraid you may be correct.

However, it may depend on your subject area and where you live. In some parts of the country, NQTs complain that they receive the same sort of treatment, but due to their lack of experience.

Essentially, where there are more applicants than vacancies, there will always be those who lose out. If schools are facing budget problems then it perhaps not surprising that they go for the cheapest possible option.

Nevertheless, if you are being shortlisted you must be capable of being appointed, so I am sure a vacancy will arise eventually. It must be frustrating to pay to attend interviews and always lose out to an NQT. In view of your experience, how about applying for posts with a teaching and learning responsibility not open to NQTs? Can you also investigate whether your FE qualification is now transferable to QTS? This is also an aspect that could distinguish you from most applicants.

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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Professor John Howson

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