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How to become a secondary school teacher

Kanika H., secondary school teacher
21 Jun 2023
5 min read
How to become a secondary school teacher

Secondary school teachers play a valuable role, helping young people to develop and fulfil their potential in the key transitional period from teenager to young adulthood.

Read on to find out the steps to landing great secondary teacher roles.

The difference between primary and secondary teaching

Primary and secondary teaching offer very different experiences. Apart from the obvious difference in the age range of children you will be teaching, while a primary school teacher will typically be responsible for one class, teaching a range of subjects, secondary school teachers teach one or two subject across year groups. This will also tend to include being assigned a form group, a group of students who you will take registration for every day, and for whom you will be a key contact throughout their school career to offer general advice and support.

How to become qualified as a secondary school teacher

To become a secondary school teacher in England, you will need to have a degree and complete a period of initial teacher training (ITT) in order to obtain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). There are a few different routes you can follow to achieve this, depending on your current qualifications:

If you already have a degree:

If you already have a degree, you can take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status. This course typically takes around 1 year to complete full-time or 2 years part-time, and combines teaching theory with placements in schools. PGCEs are offered by many universities and higher education colleges. You may be eligible for Student Finance to help fund your studies, although there are also bursaries available for certain teaching subjects.

If you don’t yet have a degree:

If you don’t currently have a degree, you can complete a subject-specific undergraduate degree that will lead to achieving QTS at the end - for example, a Bachelor of Education (BEd), Bachelor of Arts (BA) with QTS, or Bachelor of Science (BSc) with QTS. These courses focus on both the specialist subject knowledge and classroom experience you will need in order to qualify as a secondary school teacher. To see what kinds of undergraduate courses are available, you can use the UCAS course search tool.

Subjects you can teach

Naturally, you will need to have an in-depth knowledge of the subject you wish to teach, typically gained from your degree. However, if you feel you would benefit from further subject knowledge before completing your teacher training, you can complete a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) course. Completing a subject knowledge enhancement course can be beneficial if, for example:

  • Your degree was in a different, but related discipline to the subject you wish to teach
  • You completed your original subject degree a long time ago and want a refresh
  • You studied an unrelated degree, but have relevant professional experience in that field

Subject knowledge enhancement courses are currently available in 9 secondary subjects, and can last anywhere between 8 and 28 weeks, depending on the extent of your gap in knowledge.

Bear in mind however, that you will need to complete an SKE course before you begin your teacher training. If you think that you will need to complete an SKE course, speak to your teacher training provider and they can support you in deciding whether this is something you need, and where to find an appropriate course.

The importance of real-life experience

Most Initial Teacher Training providers will require you to complete a minimum of 2 weeks work in a school prior to accepting you.

This is where supply work can help you get ahead. By working as a TA different schools and gaining a range of experience, you'll stand out from the crowd in your journey to becoming a secondary school teacher. With Zen Educate, you can easily find secondary TA roles in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol – and get paid more than with agencies.

As you progress throughout your journey, the more exposure you can get in a secondary school environment, the better. Although you will complete school placements as part of your official training, it’s never too early to start seeking these out of your own accord. This helps you build your confidence early on, and is also a great way to begin cultivating key relationships with schools you might want to work for once you are qualified.

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