Teaching and education
secondary education

Secondary education: teaching specialism

Graduates who want to go into secondary school teaching need empathy, a calm approach and enthusiasm for their subject.
You have to like teenagers to teach at secondary level and not feel intimidated by them.

Secondary education is compulsory for children between the ages of 11 and 16, but as a secondary school teacher you may be teaching young people up to the age of 18. This depends upon whether your secondary school has a sixth form or not – many secondary schools in metropolitan areas, for example, no longer have a sixth form, so post-16 education is provided by separate sixth-form colleges. This can make a difference in where you choose to teach, particularly for science teachers who are required to teach all sciences to key stage 4 level and only get to specialise in their degree subject in post-16 education.

Secondary teachers need to know the national curriculum

The national curriculum sets the pattern for secondary education but there’s huge diversity in how this pattern works in schools, particularly with the increase in the number of specialist schools and academies. Secondary schools also offer subjects outside the core national curriculum list, such as drama, dance and media studies, and there are ITT courses available that specialise in these.

Since September 2015, 14 to 16-year-olds have been able to study Technical Awards alongside GCSEs and 16 to 19-year-olds can study Tech Levels alongside or instead of A levels.

Changes ahead in secondary schools

A new national curriculum was implemented in September 2014. It has been designed to set out only the essential knowledge that children need to acquire, while giving teachers more freedom in how they deliver this. The GCSE system in England is also set to change from 2015, moving away from coursework and continuous assessment to exams at the end of two years. A new grading system of numbers instead of letters will also be used.

Do you have what it takes to be a secondary school teacher?

Qualified teacher status (QTS) is required to teach at secondary level. You have to like teenagers to teach at secondary level and not feel intimidated by them. Empathy and sympathy are important, as well as organisational and time management skills. It’s also vital to be calm, as you will come up against both teachers and pupils who will test your patience.

Energy and enthusiasm are essentials, but that doesn’t mean you have to be wildly extrovert or exceptionally charismatic. Some of the best teachers are quiet people who love their subject and can transmit this enthusiasm to children.

Keep on learning while teaching others

There is still an emphasis on exam success and this can put pressure on teachers. You can have days that are frustrating and distressing, especially if you work with children who have difficult backgrounds. However, it can be rewarding to know that you can really make a difference. You get a chance to pursue a subject you really love and keep on learning while teaching others. It’s also never dull working with young people.

AGCAS editors, September 2014