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Part time Degree with the OU while teaching (Physics and Maths)

Discussion in 'Career clinic' started by Kublai, Dec 21, 2019.

  1. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter


    I was after some advice about doing a part-time degree in Maths and Physics through the OU.

    It is a bit of a long post - sorry but I thought I would give as much detail and context as possible.


    I have been teaching for 8 years and currently Physics teacher in a standard comp. I am by trade a Biologist but for 3 years been teaching Physics up to A-Level. My degree is in an unrelated field but converted over as I enjoyed teaching and learning Physics more. I do not have a Physics A Level.

    The degree is Maths and Physics Q77: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/qualifications/q77

    I am Mid-thirties, I have a young family (2 kids under the age 4) and live very close to work. I work in a standard comp school, the behaviour is fine, I fit in well in the school and on the whole, enjoy my time there (obviously they have bad days!). The workload is standard, I have done a lot to move up through the ranks fairly quickly and I have had to teach myself A-Level Physics.

    Reasons for wanting to do a degree:
    1. First and foremost I enjoy learning and progressing: I have taught myself A-Level Physics and got myself to a standard of getting A-A* of Physics A-Level papers, and feel I would be able to do my job better if I knew my subject in more depth. Also, I do not like sitting still and thus see this as a challenge.
    2. I also feel that if I am doing the studying I might as well get the letters after my name.
    3. On paper, I would always be classed as a non-specialist. Whilst this is quite an ego reason and/or insecurities seeping out, regardless of where I go even if I had 15 years of experience teaching the subject, I am always a non-specialist and applying for other jobs this will/may hold me back.
    4. Exit Strategy from the state sector: thinking about my family, a possible route may be to go into the independent sector and on paper, I would always be rejected. Reasons for going into the independent sector would be for the perceived opportunities for students and doors it could possibly open up in the future. It could also be an environment that I could teach longer in - up to/past 60 without burning out. I am a very energetic teacher and can't see myself being like that when I am 60 in a state school.
    5. Exit Strategy away from education: a Physics and Maths degree would open up more doors outside of education. Quite possibly could open up routes into the IOP, to coach other teachers. I wouldn't even be considered for these roles unless I had a degree in Physics. I have been told this by people within.
    Reasons not to:
    1. Extra workload. My norm is to get up early and work before school, it may shock a few people, but I am far far more productive in the mornings than I am evenings and thus get up at this time. This time would be the time I would plan to my studying.
    2. Time away from family. This time is very important to me, I have turned a couple of jobs - outside education - down as my current life/package (role, school, commitments etc.) is so convenient, other jobs actually adds more time away from my family.
    3. No real pay progression having an extra degree so why do it?
    4. Do a MSc. The MSc's I can find do not have enough Physics in them to satisfy the real reason for me wanting to do further study. And or are based onsite, this is impossible for my scenario.
    5. Long time studying. I am expecting this to take 5 years but fully accept it may take 10. I have no idea how this will feel further down the road.
    6. It will not benefit me if I wanted to climb the SLT ladder.
    Where I would like help from you:
    - Considering I am teaching Physics, will the load be that extra? My rationale is if someone works in an office job outside of Maths and Physics and hasn't touched the subject since school days, the load of studying would be high. Will it be that much extra for someone effectively working within the field and discussing Physics/Maths every day? As well as having access to a very good Maths department to clarify any problems I may run into.

    - With respect to being considered for Independent roles, are my thoughts on this correct? Would I not be considered or find it very difficult to get a job without a relevant degree? If I had a Physics Diploma, would that be beneficial?

    - Has anyone else completed an OU degree whilst working full time in teaching and having a young family? If so, how did you find it? How long did it take? Do you regret it?

    - Has anyone completed this exact course (long shot I know)? How was it? How was the content and examinations etc?

    Possible start dates are Jan 2020 or October 2020. To finance this, I would qualify for an extra student loan and this would just be added to the tax I already pay.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, as you may sense, this has been on my mind for a while (for about a year now) and it is not a quick decision I am making as it could potentially be a 10-year project and impact way more than just my time.

    Apologies for the double post I thought it would be more suitable here as it is to do with my career.

    Thanks in advance. Any advice and guidance will be much appreciated.
    MathMan1 likes this.
  2. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I cannot agree that not having a degree will hold you back, either in the state or independent sector. I've no idea who has told you that, but they are completely wrong. Your experience will count for a lot more than your degree.

    You have several years of physics teaching to A Level to your name...you will be fine applying for physics posts, in both state and independent. Fortunately for you, physics is a subject where few people are prepared to teach it, let alone are also qualified in that subject. When you apply for posts, write 'physics teacher' as your job title and write all you have done in your statement, and your degree won't matter a jot.

    Some of the stupidly snooty independents might be fussed about a lack of physics degree, but one from the OU wouldn't satisfy them either. And they aren't too keen on anyone who hasn't dedicated their life to the private sector, so you could rule them out anyway.

    If you are considering a move to the independent sector, now or in the future, keep a look out on TESjobs in Jan/Feb and see what's on the person spec for a physics job. You can almost certainly meet the requirements.
    agathamorse and Kublai like this.
  3. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    Thank you caterpillartobutterfly for the reply. I appreciate the time you've taken out on your Saturday to read and contribute.

    The advice came from a person who interviewed at an independent school and turned it down. They said they asked quite a bit about their degree (could mean a few different things). Also from a person who works within a independent school and a person who works at an Oxbridge college.

    I don't even know if I would fit in at an indy school, as a person that is. I like teaching kids in the state sector just not the outside demands. But this may just be grass is greener thinking. This route is primarily thinking about opening as many doors for my children as possible.

    But you have a huge point in the fact that they could look down at the OU as an establishment.

    Equally you are also right in thinking Physics is a tough job to fill. Two indy schools are currently looking and one has advertised twice now. o_O
    agathamorse likes this.
  4. phatsals

    phatsals Established commenter

    Couldn't you just do the relevant units to up your physics knowledge? You already have a degree in Biology, you may find the Stage 1 units too simple. Look at the Stage 2 course and perhaps start there.
    MathMan1 likes this.
  5. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    Hi phatsals and thanks for the reply.

    Yup. Hence why I thought a diploma in physics. This just has level 2 physics modules - which pretty much covers the whole A level course to year 2 standard- and maths component.

    Issue is, it's £5k and I don't have that and no way of funding it (bursary or loan etc). But it would be 3 years part time which is massively more advantageous.

    I was thinking of transferring my previous credit to skip some easier modules.
  6. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I teach in an independent now and have taught physics (and science) and maths in state secondaries and state middle schools. I've also taught in state primaries before moving to a prep school just a few years ago.
    My degree has been utterly irrelevant for all but my very first job over 20 years back.

    The kind of independents that care about what subject your degree is in will also care about where you obtained that degree, what secondary (public) school you went to and are probably not the kind of independent you'd want to work in, given you already aren't sure if you'd fit in. However, the grass is definitely a different shade of green!

    The is a greater range of independent schools than there is state.

    The one readvertising will probably snap you up in a heartbeat!
    agathamorse likes this.
  7. phatsals

    phatsals Established commenter

    Could you approach your school for funding? Professional development etc, they might find it worthwhile to make a contribution as it would help them. Otherwise couldn't you apply for a tuition fee loan through the OU? it's available even when you already have a degree.
  8. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    I completely agree. Teaching experience and the ability to teach to a high level has no relevance to your qualifications.

    How interesting. How have you found the changes to the younger years?

    Have you found it to be an overal more enjoyable shade of green?

    I have thought of this and dismissed it as SLT and the HT make a big deal of having no money. But perhaps I am answering for them to avoid the conversation. With Ofsted's new framework it would be in their interest to fund this.

    So the impression I am getting, much like other teachers I have spoken to, is not to bother with the degree?

    Is this due to that there is genuinely no requirement to do it? And/or doing some modules/diplomas would be a less taxing effect on my family whilst increasing my subject knowledge?
  9. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    Most comments seem to be on the whether you need this or not. But have you considered the credits and levels?

    I am not sure you’ve got some proper advice on accredited prior learning which would enable you to obtain your OU degree fairly easily. The thing is, why are you doing level 4, 5 and 6 units? You’ve already got all the credits at that level you need. If you do the MSc then you are demonstrating you have level 7 knowledge. That makes the level 6 knowledge redundant. Doing two 30 credits a year for three years is quite manageable on a full time job. You would then present as a science teacher (biology degree) who has then got an MSc in physics. They are excellent credentials for school, both state and indy as well as industry. (There is a strata of Indy school who favour specific universities and straight degrees, but underneath that strata the Indy sector will be perfectly happy with the MSc).
    agathamorse, sabrinakat and Kublai like this.
  10. Deirds

    Deirds Senior commenter

    Don’t underestimate the expense and extra work involved.

    Would it really help you progress in teaching?

    Would you do it if you were only doing it as a hobby? If not, concentrate on teaching.

    You can pick up OU texts on eBay reasonably cheaply if you want to decide how interesting you would find the material.
    MathMan1 and Kublai like this.
  11. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    This has been advised in the past and one that has significant merit and I agree with your points. If you study you might as well have something that is higher standing than you already have right?

    My only concern is that most MSc's - that I can find anyway so quite possible I have missed some - are quite light on physics knowledge. And offer leadership modules (which do interest me).

    Have you completed a MSc part time? Did you find you needed to stick to the 15-18 hour recommendation?
  12. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    This is one thing I think I'm somewhat nonchalant about - the workload. I'm very black and white in my approach and if something needs doing I accept this and do it. Which is why I also feel like having the pressure of this would mean I stick to it. Conversely, it could put a huge strain on my family life.

    The main driver is probably because k love learning and what to know more so I can teach better.

    I did not think of this! Very good idea.

    You speak as if you have done some OU modules?

    I also feel that it won't be value for money.

    I do really appreciate the input and time people have spent. It does mean a lot.
  13. CWadd

    CWadd Star commenter


    If you want to study because you love studying, and a new challenge - go for it. But as others have said, please don't think it will help progress your career.

    I'm a Historian by degree, but have also taught GCSE RS despite not having a Theology degree. The students still got good results!

    As for Indies - yes, some are very scathing about certain Universities. I went to an interview at one a few years go who seemed quite disparaging that I wasn't Oxbridge. I pointed out that they knew this from my application, declined their free lunch, and walked out.
    agathamorse and sabrinakat like this.
  14. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I love it!
    I got bored teaching GCSE/A-Level with the constant pressure for grades as all that mattered, especially in maths.
    So I moved to a middle school and stayed for a long time, teaching years 5-8 as a subject specialist in maths and physics with a few bits of other subjects.
    Then I moved house, so had to decide on primary or secondary and went for primary.
    I got bored after a few years teaching year 5 and 6 so moved to KS1.
    Then moved to EYFS a year or so ago.
    All the moving is just to stop the boredom really. All have been completely different jobs.
    I admire those who spend 20 plus years teaching the same subjects to the same year groups, but it wasn't for me. Horses for courses and all that.
    Absolutely yes. I wouldn't go back to state for all the tea in China!
    If you enjoy teaching and are fed up of all the rubbish, but are prepared to work hard in term time then you'll enjoy the independent sector. You won't necessarily teach fewer hours in term time, but you will spend them on more enjoyable tasks.
    Do check the terms and conditions of your contract before you sign.
    You may not get the same kind of sick pay or parental leave, you may not be in the TPS. Etc, etc.

    Have a read of some of the threads on the independent board.



    There are heaps of others, these are just a few to give a flavour.
    agathamorse and Kublai like this.
  15. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    15-18 hours per week? Not a chance. I did four hours every Sunday morning. That was ample. Masters in three years part time whilst teaching full time.
  16. Deirds

    Deirds Senior commenter

    Yes, I’ve done rather a lot of OU study. It may have helped on Supply but it was usually disregarded when I was a permanent teacher offering to swap subjects.

    All that was a long time ago, however, when the OU was more affordable. I don’t know how student loan is affected by previous study but you may need to check that out. I wouldn’t do it now due to cost and trying to fit everything in ...
  17. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    I'm studying part-time for an Adv. Diploma in local history and do spend quite a lot of time doing researching and reading (I'm focused on Tudor History) and have managed reasonably well. It has helped at my current school as it's recent experience and now teach Y7 and Y8 History along with my usual Classics.

    I would argue that the OP should do the MSc as another poster suggested.

    ps. I did go to Oxbridge and am studying the diploma there as well. I hate the types of independent schools who are pretentious about it (at a lovely girls indie for the last five years).
  18. MathMan1

    MathMan1 New commenter

    TLDR - I'm studying an OU degree myself (to become a maths teacher) and would say the following:

    1. Working full time in any job, especially teaching, will be difficult as you progress past year 1 of an OU degree.

    2. A part-time OU degree will take 6 years, min, else it won't be part-time & so you'll need to balance that extra work over those future terms.

    3. Years 1-2 will be level 1 courses, years 3-6 will be levels 2-3 ie more difficult and time-consuming.

    4. Deadlines and exams. Your L1 courses have on-line submissions but you'll need to sit exams for L2 and 3 ... invariably around the time you'd be helping your classes to revise and take theirs, which may cause more stress for you.

    5. You are quite easily able to source many modules of OU courses from the OU website. There are direct links to these from each main degree and course page, to provide you with tasters and there's the Open Learn section where many other parts are 'stripped-down' and available. By judicious use of the OU search box plus the relevant course code you'll find lots (have done this for maths myself already so I know this works).

    6. Cost. The OU is not free, currently just over £3k per 30 pt course and you'll need 12 in total, and therefore you should take a serious look at what the financial benefit vs cost of going down this 6-year rabbit-hole will do for you, vs simply studying what you want to learn 'simply for the enjoyment factor'.

    7. There are useful OU forums about taking studies, both on the OU website and Facebook, etc, so there may be others on there who've considered what you're thinking about too and they may have some other ways of looking at this idea of yours also.
    Kublai likes this.
  19. MathMan1

    MathMan1 New commenter

    Just to say that if someone is selective when searching on the OU website, ie they know what the course codes are, then it's quite possible to download A LOT of any course in pdf format. At the very least there are the "... am I ready ..." diagnostic questions, the syllabus, along with a couple of full texts for some of the parts of a few modules. Then, if one goes to the Open Learn site, part of OU's site there's usually more parts to download. Stitch that together an you've got a big chunk of work to read through.

    That info should also provide you with details of any other recommended books to read, if you're interested.

    Then, there's a FB groups specifically set up to enable OU'ers to trade textbooks without the dealing fees of various on-line sites and hopefully in a more trustworthy way than other FB trading methods.

    Lastly, yes, those on-line sites do carry the books for physics too.
    Kublai likes this.
  20. frangipani123

    frangipani123 Lead commenter

    Have you thought about approaching the type of independent school you think you'd like to teach at and find out what they think about your qualifications?

    From my experience of studying and teaching for the OU the workload is a consideration, plus there are the exams which may clash with your job. There is a lot of information online about the courses, and looking at recognition of prior learning would be valuable too.

    Also, if you were to go ahead, would it be better to wait until your children were at school? How does your partner feel about your studying part-time for years?

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