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What is it like to teach in a secondary setting?

Explore teaching in a secondary school setting
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

Now let’s turn our attention towards secondary schools. While in a primary setting, you would typically teach all areas of the curriculum to a single class, in a secondary setting, you will most often teach your specialist subject to a number of classes within the school.

In the secondary setting, you may find a wide curriculum is taught in the lower year groups and then as the pupils progress through the education, they may have the option to choose fewer subjects which they study in a greater depth. Some of the choices that the pupils make may have an impact on what they can study at university or future career paths.

As an example of a secondary education system, let’s look at the system used in England. We encourage international learners to point out key similarities or differences in the comments below.

In England, secondary education teaches pupils between the ages of 11 and 18. In Years 7, 8 and 9 (Key Stage 3), all pupils are taught the following subjects: English, maths, science, languages, design technology, religious education, history, geography, computing, physical education, music, and drama/dance.

In Years 10 and 11 (Key Stage 4) pupils continue to study compulsory subjects such as English, maths and science alongside other subjects of their choice. These can include a modern foreign language, a humanity subject like history, geography or religious studies, an arts subject like music, drama, art and design or a technical subject such as design and technology, food technology or computer science.

Schools might offer a mixture of GCSE and vocational courses to support the learning of all their pupils.

In Years 12 and 13 (Key Stage 5) pupils will study three or four A-level subjects which often link to their future career prospects.

What does a typical day look like?

As a secondary teacher, you will often work within a department or faculty and teach your specialist subject to all age groups within the school.

You may feel that you need to have expert knowledge of your subject, but all secondary teachers review and improve their subject knowledge as part of developing as a teacher – no one has perfect subject knowledge to begin with. As you develop your teaching practice, you will learn how to teach aspects of the curriculum to pupils of different abilities and needs.

You may also be a form tutor and therefore have a pastoral role to support pupils with their schooling. This is an important aspect as a secondary school, as you will a gather picture of how pupils are performing across the school and are able to support individuals to overcome hurdles that they come across in their learning or life.

You may need to guide pupils on possible career choices and what subjects they will need to study or grades that they need to achieve to follow their next steps/chosen career.

In the ‘Common myths about teaching’ step, we discussed how a teacher’s commitments do not end as soon as the pupils leave. When teaching hours finish, there will be additional expectations and requirements for secondary teachers to complete. This could be getting involved in extracurricular activities with pupils or attending departmental or whole-school staff meetings.

What do you think?

What key skills do you think a secondary school teacher needs? How do you think this role is different to a primary school teacher?

Further reading

Tes Institute Team. (2019). What’s the difference between primary and secondary teaching? Tes.

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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