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Career clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about teaching a different subject and visual impairment

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about teaching a different subject and visual impairment

Is your type of degree key?

I have been teaching for 10 years. My PGCE is in biology with science and I have a biology degree. My current post is in an 11-18 school, where I am technically a biology teacher. I have been looking to teach A-level psychology, but have had no success, not even an interview. I suspect it is down to the fact that I don't have a degree in psychology. I am passionate about teaching post-16 and don't want to give up teaching A level - in fact, I would like to work in a sixth-form college. Is it essential to have a degree in the subject you wish to teach?

As you probably know, it is not essential to have a degree in a subject to teach it, as qualified teacher status is not limited to a particular subject or phase. However, in the present climate, it may be necessary to have one. It could help you to obtain a promotion, or secure a new post in a school where your value will be unknown and only judged by what they see on paper.

If a sixth-form college that is advertising a suitable post receives plenty of applications from those with psychology degrees, you are unlikely to be considered, despite your teaching experience.

Either you have to progress in a science department, and probably stay where you are, or take a distance-learning degree in psychology if that is what you really want to teach. You may not have to complete it to secure a post teaching the subject, if you can demonstrate good exam results. However, with no post A-level qualification, and a government putting greater emphasis on teachers possessing at least a 2:2 degree and knowledge of what they are teaching, that may be the only way forward.

Disability dilemma

What advice do you have for a person with a disability looking for a teaching job? I have been unemployed for a year, but I have a visual impairment and it does take me longer to fill in applications. I have a PGCE in primary education. Should I try supply work as an alternative to a full-time job?

One of the early questions I received was from a teacher in a wheelchair. I reminded that questioner of the fact that a national teaching award one year went to a teacher in a wheelchair. You don't say how serious your impairment is or whether it is degenerative or stable. Both may play a part in you securing a job, despite the anti-discrimination legislation.

However, you were accepted for a teacher preparation course and gained QTS, so you meet the standards for a teacher. Contact your professional association's headquarters, as many have means for teachers with impairments to discuss issues of common interest together, and some have done good work in championing the cause of teachers such as yourself.

As for supply, that is a matter for your judgement. Can you deal with different schools and classes on a regular basis or do you want to work in familiar surroundings? Have you considered tutoring as an alternative while you look for a teaching job? Sadly, at this time of year there will be few job opportunities and many teachers still seeking a job. That won't make your task any easier.

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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