14th March 2003 at 00:00
Your career and pay questions answered by John Howson

Q I have been considering applying for a PGCE to teach French. However, will there be any jobs for modern languages teachers after the proposed changes to the national curriculum?

A For many years, PGCE courses in languages have failed to fill all their places. This is despite many providers recruiting trainees from other countries, most notably France. It is too early to say whether any reduction in the amount of language teaching in secondary schools will do more than bring the supply back into line with demand. However, if you are worried, there is always the primary sector where some specific places have been allocated to help train languages teachers. If you want to work with students in secondary schools, it might be worth having a second subject that you can offer as well as French. It needn't necessarily be another language.

Q I have been teaching in the same school without a break for 20 years. I arrived as a probationer, and just never left. At first, I taught 11-year-olds, but now I am a reception class teacher. This year, for the first time, I am teaching the daughter of one of my original pupils, and it's a bit scary! I would like to take a term out for reflection and renewal. Can I ask my school for this length of time off?

A Your question raises both personal and professional issues. Your employer has no need to grant any request you make for a term off, even without pay.

However, as you are probably approaching the halfway point in your career, it would make sense for you to undertake a period of professional development, and a good head would recognise this. After all, if the government thinks short sabbaticals are useful for teachers with only four or five years of service, why shouldn't they also be of benefit to someone like you who has 20 continuous years in the classroom?

As an alternative, you could look for a new teaching post a term ahead, and create your own space. The best time to do this is during the autumn term since, with the summer break added in, you can effectively create a five-month period away from the classroom. If you take this option, do remember to allow yourself time for re-entry. However, the most tax-efficient time for a short break can be from half term in February until half term in May. This allows any loss of income to be spread across two tax years.

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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