From Astrophysics to Teaching – by Jake Harding

I completed my MSci project, modelling the epoch of reionisation, at Lancaster back in 2017 under the supervision of David Sobral and after graduating decided to pursue a career in secondary and sixth form teaching. I wanted to use this blog to present two things, routes into teaching as a Physics graduate and my 10 top tips after achieving Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). So here goes…

Jake Harding

Routes into Teaching

Firstly, as an Astrophysics graduate, you’ll be all too familiar with the challenge of interpreting the cosmic array of acronyms and subject specific jargon, and you may be surprised to find that this skill sets you in good stead when it comes to navigating the art of teaching (known as pedagogy). All routes into teaching follow the same basic pattern of qualifications:

Training Year: PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) this is an M-level academic qualification at a university, is worth 60 credits and consists of readings and essays that you do alongside in-school teacher training in your own time. Throughout your in-school training, you’ll be collecting evidence to support that you are meeting the teachers’ standards and this folder is collected by your training provider near the close of the course. If they feel that you have satisfactorily met all the standards, then they recommend you for QTS to your first proper teaching job…

First Year: NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) this is a probationary year to prove that you can still meet the teachers’ standards in your first full time teaching post. The process is much the same, you will be collecting evidence to support that you are meeting the standards and this folder is collected by your school near the close of the year. Again, if they feel that you are consistently meeting all the standards then you are awarded QTS and you are now a fully qualified teacher!

Second Year: RQT (Recently Qualified Teacher) to be honest, this doesn’t really mean anything, but it is a bit like having P plates after you pass your driving test. The school may offer you extra support in the form of informal coaching, for example, but there is no statutory requirement for them to do this. However, what you can expect is an incremental pay increase every year from now on…

Now, if you thought that was complicated, matters are complicated further by the fact that there are multiple routes through the training year, the main ones of which I have tried to simplify below:

University: this is the traditional route, you apply to the university through UCAS and funding from Student Finance. The course is based at a university with teaching placements in associated schools. I would say this is a good route if you prefer face-to-face lectures, seminars, tutorials and if you have not already completed an M-level degree.

Apprenticeship: this is a salaried route and you apply to the school directly. This will likely lead to a teaching post at the same school but does mean you lack experience in other school settings. The PGCE element will therefore likely be distance learning on an online university platform.

School Direct: this is very similar to the above apprenticeship route, but often has the options of being salaried or Student Finance funded.

SCITT: (School-Centred Initial Teaching Training) this is as the name implies, you apply to the school through UCAS and funding from Student Finance. The course is based at a central hub school with teaching placements in associated schools. I would say this is a good route if you want to maximise your teaching time in-school training (there are no face-to-face university lectures) and if you have already completed an M-level degree as the PGCE element will be distance learning on an online university platform.

There are many and varied other options available to suit your individual circumstances, but those are the main routes applicable to graduates from a 3-5 year Astro/Physics degree course.

10 Top Tips

  1. Apply for the Institute of Physics Teacher Training Scholarship – you could receive up to a £26k tax-free bursary on top of your Student Finance (at time of writing), meaning that you can concentrate on your training and not have to worry about money;
  • Once you have been conditionally accepted by your training provider, you’ll additionally need to pass the Maths and English Professional Skills Tests. These are done in test centres, much like driving theory tests, and you must pass them both in order to be accepted onto your course. I would strongly recommend attempting the practice tests online first;
  • Plan your PGCE readings and essays around your school half-terms and holidays to avoid overwhelming yourself with additional work on top of lesson planning and marking during term time;
  • Collect your evidence in a folder as you go along, don’t leave it all until the last minute!
  • Regularly read the Early Career Framework (ECF) and keep a copy to hand. This is an invaluable document. It highlights what sort of evidence you should be collecting to the support the teachers’ standards, techniques to improve your teaching in all the standards and an extensive reading list that will help you to find relevant references for your essays;
  • If you want to pursue a career in educational research, you can top up your 60 PGCE credits over your NQT and RQT years to a full 180 credit MA in Education. Even if you don’t want to go into educational academia, this qualification will significantly boost your portfolio when applying for leadership and management roles;
  • Plan to spread out your marking to avoid overwhelming yourself, especially if you teach multiple classes of the same year group;
  • During your training year it may take you an hour to plan an hour lesson. This is fine at the beginning. However, as your timetable increases you will need to reduce this time. By the end of the year, I would aim for under half an hour, in preparation for your first full time post. Don’t spend ages searching for the perfect image online, or making your PowerPoints look pretty, and keep written text clear, concise and to the point (bullet points);
  • Get involved with extra-curricular activities, such as sports, music and clubs. This will build your rapport with the kids and introduce you to colleagues with similar interests;
  • Finally, and most importantly, teaching is a vocation so enjoy it! Whilst there will be stressful times throughout the year, if you find yourself consistently bringing piles of work home, burning the candle at both ends and generally not enjoying your course, don’t hesitate to ask for support from your university and/or school.

Jake Harding

July 2019