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Your career and pay questions answered by John Howson

Q I am considering doing a PGCE course in modern languages. After getting my degree I spent some time working as a teaching assistant. When I came to apply for a postgraduate course, I was dismayed to discover that I needed a pass in GCSE mathematics. I don't have this and I am not very good at the subject. Is there any way I can still become a teacher?

A Unfortunately, no. It is mandatory that all newly qualified teachers in maintained schools hold a GCSE grade C or better in mathematics and English. Those teaching in primary schools need the same grade or better in science if they were born after 1979. Some training providers offer tests that are the equivalent of the GCSE standard to people such as you. If you pass, this test you are deemed to have met the required standard. But without this there is no way you can obtain qualified teacher status. You may find a teaching job as an "instructor", or possibly in a school outside the state system, but that is unlikely and may not offer as much in the way of satisfaction or security. You will need to get the mathematics qualification or, sadly, find another career.

Q I teach in a small primary school for half the week on a temporary contract. There is a gap between lessons, for which I am not paid. If I am asked to worked this period, to cover for an absent colleague for example, I am offered time off in lieu. I would much rather be paid. Is there anything I can do about the situation?

A This is a matter for negotiation between you and the school. Convoluted contracts of this type have become increasingly common as schools have tried to save money by paying part-time teachers only for the time they are actually in the classroom. In the end, the relationship between teachers and schools is much like any other marketplace. If you can find a better deal somewhere else, you are free to take it. If you can't, make the best of what's on offer.

John Howson is visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and managing director of Education Data Surveys. Send your career questions to him at

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