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teaching subject at A-level without related degree?

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by josh_east, Dec 10, 2019.

  1. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Hey guys, nice to meet you all. I am currently considering retraining as a teacher and I am just looking at my options and future career paths. I have a 2:1 undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and also took two modules of English in my first year. I would like to teach English (which is related to Philosophy), and it does seem possible for me to do that, although I may have to do an SKE course in English to do so. Most of the PGCE courses I'm looking at in secondary education say that they train you to teach at ages 11-18. I would really like to teach English at A-level, but I am wondering what the job market is like in practice.

    As an NQT, would I be able to teach English at A-level without a degree in the subject in most schools? By competing against teachers with English degrees, would I be limiting myself to the less desirable jobs? And what about teaching in sixth form colleges? I have looked at a few sixth form jobs which say they will consider NQTs, but would I have a chance applying as an English teacher without an English degree? I know that a lot of this will come down to the discretion of the headteacher of a particular school and but any advice I can get can get is much appreciated. Thanks!
  2. Morninglover

    Morninglover Lead commenter

    Did you do English at A Level yourself? That would certainly be a plus point. To be honest, thinking of the schools I worked in, you'd be unlikely to be given an A level class to begin with, but after a few years when you had a track record of successful teaching 11-16 and had, perhaps, shown your depth of subject knowledge I don't see why not. But it would depend on the HoD and HT.
  3. Skeoch

    Skeoch Lead commenter

    Memories of a well-exoerienced colleague. School needed an A Level teacher for a subject he was interested in, but had no qualifications. Taught the course, took the A Level exam himself alongside his students. Got an A grade (this was before the arrival of the A*).
  4. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Hey guys, thanks a lot for the replies. I'm sorry, I should have mentioned in my original post that I also have a B grade at English A-level. Which sounds like it will be helpful, although still not as useful as an English degree
  5. physicsfanboy

    physicsfanboy New commenter

    I've been teaching A level Physics without a degree for about 15 years. If you have the ability, you can do it. Because of the changes in teaching, no one needs any qualification whatsoever to be a teacher. You just have to persuade the head that you are a good choice. Qualifications help in this regard, but aren't necessary. As there is a catastrophic shortage of teachers willing to teach, there is progressively more pressure to not be a stickler for qualifications.
  6. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    As a former HoD for English and from a professional standpoint, I would assign an English A-level class to the NQT who has a degree in English and who is a specialist English teacher. It would be poor judgement on my part to hire you over the above applicant.

    It would be different if your Philosophy degree had 50% or 40% English and you had experience in teaching English at GCSE/A-level during your training. I mean, my BA was in English and Philosophy and it was either English or RE specialism. Of course I chose English. I did teach A-level philosophy but that was during my training. I found teaching it to be very different to teaching English. It's very different and very difficult - did not like it. And although both subjects complement each other, they are very different to teach.

    They'll always be a need for English teachers. But I couldn't justify giving you a position as an English teacher simply because you did two English lit modules in your first year at uni and you have a desire to each A-level English. Am I right in saying your first year of uni doesn't count towards your final degree classification anyway? So those English modules wouldn't be part of your (hons) degree. Which is even less credible compared to someone with a single or dual honours in English.

    The recent A-level reforms are relatively still new to experienced teachers, so I don't think schools would give you A-level classes to begin with. You'd need to "prove yourself" with GCSE classes first. At first I found A-level teaching way more difficult than GCSE. The knowledge you need in both teaching and subject is tenfold, imo. As years passed me by, I found it was easier teaching A-level than GCSE. But that's another story.

    Anyway, it also depends on the needs of the school. For example, with my last school, we struggled for a time at getting an English teacher so we had to split the year 7s with HoD for Humanities because she had a degree in English and she was great. My point is, if you can demonstrate great teaching skills in your specialist subject, some schools may give you an odd class. There was an NQT I mentored with a media specialism but wanted to teach A-level English Language. So I gave him a shot with 3 classes in the two week timetable for the year. 4 years later, he was teaching both AS and A-level English Language and Media Studies.

    At the end of the day, there are many variables as to why some will flat our refuse, consider or say yes. If you can show your enthusiasm, passion, excitement and knowledge for English Lit, I would give you a chance with heavy mentoring though. But everyone is different!

    I do believe you should perhaps consider OU English courses. Check A-level curriculum - Victorian, WW1, Women's Literature, Gothic, Modernity, Shakespearean and even Medieval literature are all options on the current specs. So I would say if you can, get some courses under your belt (Shakespeare, Victorian and WW1/Modernity) modules would be your best bet as all these are taught from years 7-11. Whereas other literature like Medieval are usually taught in Year 7 and A-level.

    Hope I've helped. :)
  7. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Hey guys, thanks for your replies. Yes, you are correct in saying that the two modules I took in English lit didn't count towards my final degree. I have heard of physics and maths teachers being able to teach at A-level without a degree in subject, but I think that is because there is such a shortage of teachers of these subjects. Although English is a core subject, I don't think there is the same level of demand.

    Thanks a lot for all the information, VeronicAmb. So, to sum up, am I right in saying that I could certainly get a job as an English Teacher without an English degree, but that I would probably not be able to teach A-level, until I have a couple of years of more of experience? So getting a job as an English teacher in a sixth form college as an NQT is unlikely to be an option?
  8. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    Realistically there will not be much takeup for A Level English amongst pupils at state schools- sadly. The school might run just one group in each year and all the specialists will be asking for a slot. As a non specialist you will be at the bottom of the list.
  9. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    Well I can't really talk about Maths and physics. But I am assuming they're very similar. Those two cross over almost like language and literature do. If an English teacher with a degree in Linguistics asked me "in the future, could I possibly take a Year 12 Lit class?" or whatever, I would say (1) see how you go with A-level Language and (2) if you're going to take the necessary steps in order to teach A-level Lit (courses, CPD, etc) then cool. If a History teacher did the same thing and asked to teach A-level Lit, I would say no. Even if they had an A-level in Literature. It's just not the same. But that's just me and how I would run my dept/who I'd want in it.

    A biology teacher wouldn't teach psychology just because the biology teacher studied 2 or 3 uni modules related to the brain. However as you mention a shortage, I could see it happening. For example, we had to give a drama teacher a few English classes many years ago. But that was still hard itself because a drama teacher may know Shakespeare in relation to staging, scripts, acting, etc. But in a literary sense, perhaps not so much.

    I mean I'm only speaking from my personal experience.

    No you are not correct. In order to become a qualified teacher of English, you need to hold a degree that is at least 50% English (Lang or Lit). Without it, you wouldn't beat a qualified teacher with an English degree/specialism. I mean, I'm sure it's happened before, but not with good reason (perhaps through desperation). And you should always think twice if a school is so willing to take on an unqualified teacher to teach a specialist subject.

    I'm afraid I don't know how colleges work to answer that. But I would imagine, because you'd be teaching exam classes GCSE and A-levels (maybe even functional skills), they would definitely want a qualified teacher with English specialism/background.
  10. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Ah, I didn't quite realise that. Talking to universities on the phone about PGCEs they did seem to think that I would be able to get a place on a PGCE in secondary English, although I might need to take an SKE. I know that I might not have the edge of an English teacher with and English degree, but I've certainly heard of secondary teachers in subjects which they don't have as a degree who have retrained through an SKE. Although this was usually in Maths or Physics. Talking to some of my friends who teach, they all seemed to think that your ability to teach was more important than really in-depth subject knowledge, and that I should be able to get a job if I really sell myself in the interview. But you've certainly given me food for thought. If I topped up my knowledge through an SKE do you think I would stand a chance of getting a decent job further down the line?
  11. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    I think it depends on how traditional the school is. Some will strictly remain adamant about having a degree in the subject you want to teach. Other schools are more relaxed or flexible (teach two subjects, etc).

    I'm not saying you wouldn't be able to. There's no denying you'll be at a disadvantage when it comes to other trainees with an English degree. But the discretion is solely up to course providers and their partnerships with schools.

    Yes, SKE is fine. But I wasnt referring to that in my original post. And even if you were accepted onto a PGCE without an SKE, I'd think about how that could affect your opportunities after you complete your PGCE.

    I personally disagree with your friends, without any disrespect. I've helped a few struggling teachers to get where they needed to be. But I think it's a mix of both essentially. But it's more hardwork, tiring and frustrating to teach a teacher content they have to learn because they dont know the basics. In order to teach right, knowing the basics of a subject isn't enough. You dont need to know everything, but I would want a teacher who is not only confident in teaching, but confident in subject knowledge, esp if given exam classes. You just cant afford to mess up in schools anymore. It's about passing rather than learning.

    I think you defo would. But English teaching is saturated with all sorts of litters coming through the door. It would be very tough to come across as sincere and passionate without sounding like you're desperate, if that makes sense. It's the same with someone who wants to come across as passionate but sometimes comes across as arrogant.

    I think personally, you'd have better success in sixth forms and colleges rather than secondary schools.
  12. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    It depends who else is applying for the jobs in your area. If there is a shortage of English teachers maybe...but as a Hod given a range of candidates I would be unlikely to shortlist a candidate without a degree in the subject if other qualified candidates were available. What about Phse or even Re?
  13. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Hey guys, thanks for the replies. I have been pretty busy doing family stuff over Christmas and NYE and I totally haven't got round to replying on here, sorry.

    I've considered this, but I don't think I'd like to simply because Philosophy A-level is quite a niche subject, and I think I'd be limiting myself in terms of jobs security and choices of where to work, whereas English is a core subject. Also, to be honest I regret doing a degree in philosophy, I found it too abstract. I'd much prefer to teach English, and I think you have to care about what you teach if you're going to succeed in it

    Well, that's encouraging to hear, as I think I would rather teach in a sixth form college than secondary. But I thought that my not having English at degree level would be a barrier towards my teaching it at A-level, whether in a Secondary School or Sixth Form? From what I've heard most sixth form colleges would expect their teachers to have the subject at degree level?
  14. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    Personally I think you are being unrealistic in focussing on A Level. Are you prepared to teach lower school? Are you prepared to teach Gcse in Sixth form college to those who need to do retakes? If you are only aiming for A Level you will be disappointed in your Pgce placements where you will be unlikely to get any A Level. Indeed many schools may not even be running it. And why the focus on A Level? Do you feel that lower school teaching is less worthwhile?
  15. teselectronic

    teselectronic Occasional commenter

    I would suggest to teach any subject effectively, you need a qualification, one level > than the subject you expect to teach. Why not do a degree in English while you are teaching in your School, this would help both you and the pupils!
  16. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    I've done observation experience and a little supply teaching (or 'cover supervising') in a few schools so far, and my experience has been that I prefer, and am better at, teaching older kids (16+) than younger. This is the main reason for my wanting to find out whether I'd be able to teach at A-level or not
  17. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    A surprising reply. I have never known sixthformers having a supply teacher. They just get given the work and get on with it. Are you concerned about behaviour? You need to realise that most teachers in secondary schools have relatively little time with sixthform and the bulk of teaching time in the lowe school. Indeed many subject teachers of option subjects will be predominately in ks3. This would not apply to English obviously but I feel it would not go down well at interview if you indicated that you were unwilling to teach all groups in the school including younger pupils and the less able. Quite frankly I would not be prepared to have a pgce student who felt like that. You need to learn your craft before you pick and chose like that.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2020
  18. josh_east

    josh_east New commenter

    Yes I know that, I'm not saying that I only want to teach A-level and I know I won't be able to pick and choose just one age group, and I don't mind teaching younger or less able. I only did supply work once with sixth form, the rest of the time was with GCSE or younger, so yes it's true that supply work is rare for sixth form. I'm just trying to find out whether I stand a chance of being able to teach A-level or not with my qualifications, I wouldn't expect to only teach A-level
  19. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    The short answer is: you'll struggle to find work with your present qualifications. Fresh Englidh graduates will beat you every time for that teaching position.

    You'd struggle, even as an unqualified teacher who wants to teach English because you dont hold a degree in that subject.

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