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What it's like to be a secondary school teacher

Lois Hollingworth studied the BA Applied Theatre and Community Drama at LIPA before completing a PGCE and taking up the role of cover supervisor and teacher of drama and theatre studies at a secondary school in Cheshire

How did you get into teaching?

During my three years of study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), elements of the course explored working with young children in an educational setting.

As part of my final project, I was working with local schools in the area to make a difference on the stigmas that arise in young people. This is when I truly believed that I could have an impact on the generation of today.

I then finished my course and applied for a PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) back in my hometown of Manchester.

What did your PGCE involve?

The PGCE consisted of weekly lectures, lessons, observations and CPD (continuing professional development) training. The assignments and lesson planning took up a lot of my time too. However, the support I received from the university helped me manage my time effectively and wisely.

Getting the right work/life balance is a crucial skill you'll learn. I had a three-day teaching timetable, then I had two days with lectures and planning afternoons. This got me into a good routine each week. I also had a part-time job at a bar so that I could support myself financially and switch off from work. I always found this balance was manageable.

What does a typical day as a secondary school teacher involve?

I attend morning briefings with my team or the whole school to go over the week, including any deadlines, CPD, notices and to discover what we want to achieve for our departments and the cohort of the school.

On Mondays and Tuesdays my day looks slightly different as I'm a cover supervisor. I cover any part of the school due to staff absences or meetings that arise. This gives me a full insight into the school as a whole and I'm grateful to see the young people shine across other subjects and not just my main subject, drama.

I also have the role of form tutor for a Year 7 class. I meet with them for 20 minutes a day, to make sure they have everything they need or if they need someone to talk to that isn't one of their subject teachers.

We also attend assemblies and take part in competitions across the school. This allows the young people to work as a team. Then the rest of my week is dedicated to teaching drama to Years 7-13.

I teach KS3 (Key Stage 3), GCSE and A-level. This gives me a variety of learning and teaching, but it also makes each day different for me as a teacher.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

One of my proudest moments in my career was receiving the GCSE and A-level results for drama in summer 2022. They were one of the highest sets of results for the school, which I'm proud to have been a part of and recognised for my hard work and determination.

What's the hardest part of secondary teaching?

Getting the right work/life balance. It's important for everyone to look after their wellbeing and mental health but knowing when to switch off can be tough. This is still something that I'm working on, but I see progression in this each year. However, this has certainly been the hardest part of teaching, as you always want to be better and knowing that what you're already doing is more than enough.

What has surprised you the most about becoming a teacher?

The impact that I have on the young people's lives. That one lesson can really make a positive impact on so many individuals - you don't often realise what you're truly doing. This became apparent to me when the young people would stay behind after class and simply say 'thanks for today, miss', 'I really loved that lesson', 'thanks for listening to me' etc. These are just some examples I hear daily and that really surprised me at the start of this job. It makes you love teaching more and more.

What are three things you wish you'd known before becoming a secondary teacher?

  • There's a lot more admin work than you think.
  • You are not alone - each school provides wellbeing support. Take it if you need it, don't shy away because you're worried it would look negatively on your part.
  • It requires more 'out of hours' attention - you don't just finish at 3pm.

Find out more

  • Consider becoming a secondary school teacher .
  • Explore what's involved with completing a PGCE .
  • Discover how to get a teaching job .

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Teaching in a Secondary School Setting

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Teaching in a secondary school

When thinking about a career in teaching you may already know the age group you wish to work with. However, it is still useful to find out more about working in a specific school setting, so you have a better understanding of what to expect. Here we look in more detail at teaching in a Secondary School.

What are the different types of Secondary School settings?

In most areas of England and Wales, Secondary Schools are for children aged 11 to 16, covering Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum, ending with pupils taking their GCSE exams. Some Secondary Schools also have a Sixth Form, where pupils can choose to stay on to age 18, studying for AS and A level exams.

State schools are funded through the local authority or directly by the government, and most must follow the national curriculum. All children of all abilities in England and Wales are entitled to a free place in a state school, with the exception of grammar schools.

There are different types of schools within the state school system. The majority are maintained schools, funded and/or controlled by the local authority. Non-maintained schools operate without local authority influence. All maintained schools must follow the national curriculum, whereas non-maintained schools can follow a different curriculum.

Maintained schools

  • Community schools – these are owned by local authorities, who have control over funding and how they are run. This includes employing staff, admissions procedures and the services offered.
  • Foundation and voluntary schools – these are funded by local authorities but are usually owned and run by a governing body who employ the staff, control admissions, and provide the services.
  • Faith schools – these are like community schools but have links with a church or faith-based organisation. They can choose what they teach in religious studies and can have different admission and staffing policies.

Non-maintained schools

  • Free schools – these are funded by the government but run by an independent body such as a charity, university, faith group or business. They have more control over how they do things such as setting their own pay and conditions for staff, and changing the length of the school days and school terms.
  • Academies – these are funded by the government and run by an academy trust. They have more freedom in how they are run and have trustees responsible for the performance of the school. They can set their own term times.
  • Private schools / independent schools – these are not funded by the government so charge fees to attend. They are completely independent of any local authority control. They can set their own hours and term dates, and choose which exams pupils will take.

Other types of schools

  • Grammar schools – these are only available in some parts of England. They can be run by either the local authority, a foundation body, or an academy trust. Pupils are chosen based on their academic ability and must pass the 11+ entrance exam to attend.
  • Special schools – these provide education for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)   whose needs cannot be met in a mainstream setting. At secondary age these schools can specialise in one of four areas of SEND. Special schools can be maintained or non-maintained.

You can find out more about the types of secondary schools here.

What is it like to be a Teacher in a Secondary School?

When thinking about working in a Secondary School, it is useful to understand the expectations of a Teacher in this setting. As children become young adults, there is less parent contact and involvement as compared with Primary School, so being a Secondary Teacher can be quite different.

As well as specialising in teaching a specific subject, you will be teaching pupils across a range of year groups at different levels of maturity, and you may need to adjust your teaching style accordingly. Secondary School children are at an age when they are beginning to take more responsibility for themselves, forming their own ideas and opinions. The experience can be quite rewarding, though sometimes challenging, for Teachers.

Read our interview with a Secondary School Teacher   to find out more about working in this role.

An important part of secondary education is to ensure pupils gain the foundation of skills, knowledge and abilities for their future studies and careers. As well as learning the curriculum requirements to sit their GCSEs, pupils need to learn to study independently and get used to working under exam conditions.

Day-to-day tasks of a Secondary School Teacher may include:

  • Planning and teaching lessons.
  • Preparing teaching materials.
  • Marking and assessing pupils' work.
  • Taking registers, updating records and writing reports.
  • Assigning tasks to learning support staff.
  • Contacting and updating parents and carers about their child’s progress.
  • Providing a safe environment and following safeguarding procedures.

Other tasks may include:

  • Attending parents’ evenings.
  • Attending staff meetings and training.
  • Organising outings, after school clubs, exam revision classes and other school social activities.

A Teacher needs to have good leadership skills as you are, essentially, leading a group of young people. As a Secondary School Teacher you will need to be confident in your own subject knowledge and be able to share that in a way that interests and engages your pupils, so that they enjoy the subject and retain the skills and information you teach them. You need to be aware of different pupils’ backgrounds and cultures and may have to adapt some teaching accordingly. Patience is very important, along with the ability to remain calm in sometimes stressful and challenging situations. As well as working independently to teach your classes, you are also part of a team, working alongside colleagues within your department and the school as a whole.

The National Careers Service has some more useful information on being a Secondary School Teacher.

The role and duties for Secondary School Teachers may vary depending on the type of school you work in. If you work in an academy or private school, you may be teaching a different curriculum than in a community school. If you work in a SEND school then you will need additional skills and experience to work with pupils who have varying disabilities. Find out more about being a SEND Teacher here .

What job roles can be found in Secondary Schools?

There are a range of teaching roles in a Secondary School. As a qualified Teacher you will teach a specific subject, such as English , Maths , Science , a language, history, geography or music. With experience there are opportunities to move into Senior Leadership roles within your department and into other areas of school management.

Secondary Schools also have opportunities for Teaching Assistants and Learning Support Assistants. With this age group, these roles are often working with SEND pupils, enabling them to attend a mainstream school with extra support. Teaching Assistants may also assist in the classroom and with administrative tasks, as directed by the Teacher. Learning Support Assistants work one to one or with small groups of SEND pupils, helping them with specific tasks and assignments.

Cover Supervisors are also needed in Secondary Schools. Their job is to lead classes in the absence of the Teacher. Find out more about this job role here .

In addition to teaching staff, Secondary Schools also employ a range of other support staff, including Administrators, Technicians, Caretakers and Lunch Supervisors.

To see all our available Secondary Teacher and support staff jobs, click here .  

Where next?

You can stay up-to-date with our latest blogs  here . For our latest news follow us on  Facebook  and  LinkedIn. 

Keep a lookout for the latest opportunities in your sector by regularly searching the job vacancies on our website:  

  • Early Years and Nursery Jobs
  • Primary Jobs
  • Special Educational Needs Jobs  

Earn up to £200 in vouchers just for recommending your fully qualified teaching friends to us. We can help find work for Teachers, Nursery Nurses, Cover Supervisors and Teaching Assistants; all you need to do is click here.

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How to get the work experience you need to teach in a primary or secondary school

Chloe Evans

Last updated: 9 Oct 2023, 09:53

Find out about the expectations of teacher training providers when it comes to getting primary and secondary school experience.

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Training providers want to know that you have the skills and motivation to teach. You will usually be required to show you have work experience with children of the relevant age – preferably in a primary or secondary school environment.

What teaching work experience in schools do I need?

Getting classroom experience will help to confirm that teaching is the right career for you. Schools should be able to give you the opportunity to observe classroom teaching and pastoral work. Some providers may stipulate a minimum period of classroom experience, but it is always worth checking to get an up-to-date understanding of what is required.

If you're not able to complete the experience quickly, don't delay sending your application - but state in the application that you have experience arranged in the near future.

How do I approach primary and secondary schools to get work experience?

Use your contacts through family and friends. You can also contact schools directly to ask for work experience, observe classes or shadow teachers. Research where you could apply at Get Information about Schools .

You may be requested to obtain a DBS check.

What are other ways to get the work experience I need to teach?

Work experience in schools is popular and it may take time to arrange a placement, so try to plan in advance. Although you can approach schools speculatively (for example by writing to a local school asking for work experience), there are also a number of formal schemes which can help:

  • Get School Experience service (England only) : This is a programme for students and graduates interested in gaining experience in the classroom. School placements that range from one day to three weeks are available in all subjects (at secondary and primary levels) to those planning to apply for teacher training courses in the current cycle. You can apply online for the Get School Experience service.
  • Paid teaching internship programme (England only) : This offers a three week internship in a school paying £300 per week in June/July. It is only available in certain subjects and in 2023 they were: chemistry, computing, maths, physics and languages. Applications for 2023 are now closed. Applications for summer 2024 will open in early 2024 and information on applicable subjects will be released then too.
  • Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme (UAS) : If you are a mathematics, science, technology or engineering undergraduate, your department may offer a classroom-based module. This would involve spending 3-4 hours per week working in school for around ten weeks. You will get credit that counts towards your degree while also gaining valuable classroom experience. There are currently participating universities in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • STEM ambassadors : It may also be possible for students of mathematics, science, technology or engineering to become STEM ambassadors. This involves enthusing school students about these subjects and the careers they open up.
  • Taster courses and open days : These are organised by schools, universities and others (such as Teach First) to provide an insight into teaching and teacher training. Taster courses tend to be targeted at shortage subjects or candidates from under-represented groups.
  • Paid work : You may be able to obtain paid work in schools as a cover supervisor, teaching assistant, laboratory technician or learning mentor, for example. These posts are usually advertised on local authority websites or through recruitment agencies.
  • Voluntary work : Most local authorities run schemes for voluntary mentors to work with pupils on a one-to-one basis - contact your local authority for more information. Many universities work closely with local schools to encourage pupils to consider higher education.

For advice on alternative ways to gain work experience for teacher training, take a look at our article becoming a mentor .

Tips for work experience in primary and secondary schools

  • Keep a diary of any work experience you do. This will be invaluable when it comes to writing your applications or preparing for interviews. Record the key skills you have gained doing your work experience; such as communication, leadership, presenting and organisational skills.
  • Write notes about anything that you experience. For example, if a lesson did not work - think about how you would do it differently.
  • Think about classroom control, different teaching styles and effective uses of technology.

Written by Chloe Evans, Cardiff University, July 2023

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Occasionally targetjobs will work with another organisation to provide impartial careers content. This is to provide you with the most relevant information to make the best decisions about your future. As such, ‘in partnership’ content has been written or sourced by the partner organisation and edited by targetjobs as part of a content partnership.

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Top 5 Benefits of Work Experience for Secondary School Students 

  • Posted on December 23, 2022
  • Job , Students
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Séamus Kenny 

(Transition Year Student)

Students often develop a misleading story in their secondary education that what they are learning in school is not going to be applicable in real life. Due to a lack of awareness, some students lose interest in their studies. It is true that you cannot learn everything from a textbook before you use it or implement it in your real-life problems. It is because of this reason; work experience can play a vital role in shaping your career and can help students learn future-proof skills. Here, I am sharing the top 5 benefits of work experience for students. 

1: Helps you decide what career you would like  

Students normally choose their career path under the influence of their parents, friends, or stuff they watch online which includes movies or stories. Work experience is especially useful if you do not know what career you would like. Even if you did not like the work, you have learned something. Work experiences can give students an opportunity to work and feel the environment of a particular career. 

2: All the useful skills you learn  

In work experience, you will improve on many skills you may have begun to learn in school or at homes such as punctuality, discipline, and self-management. You may learn how to conduct yourself in the workplace, and how to interact with managers and co-workers. Many of them are soft skills such as analytical skills, problem-solving, and social skills which are also called skills for future jobs. Depending on your age you may also learn how to use public transport and factor it into self-management. All these skills and any others learned will help you succeed in securing your future employment and build your confidence. 

3: Finding the required qualifications for a given job/career  

Work experience also gives an idea of what college or apprenticeships you may need to do to be qualified for the job. This can help you figure out the points you need from your leaving cert. This is important to ask about while in the placement because the requirements may surprise you or not be quite what you think. 

4: Experience with the working world  

Work experience of how the working world works. This gives you an idea of how to manage deadlines and workload. It shows how to get from home to work and how to have a decent work–life balance. One of the most important skills that can be learned is that how to say “No” politely. Learning this skill can help you avoid burnout at work and manage a healthy relationship with your peers.  

5: Creating an optimum daily routine    

Work experience shows what a day in the 9-5 job looks like, how many hours you work, and how much time you have for breaks. You will learn how professionals manage their time at work to be more productive and about team-building activities including holidays which help them manage their work-life balance. An optimum daily routine gives you an opportunity for self-reflection and to track your progress.  

This is not an exhaustive list as there could be more benefits of work experience depending on the type of working environment and the potential of an individual candidate. All employers value work experiences and hence this will increase the chances of your selection for a given role. 

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secondary school and work

This website is no longer being updated. Please visit vic.gov.au/education for information about early childhood, primary and secondary school, or schools.vic.gov.au for resources to support school staff.

Workplace learning for secondary students

Manage and run workplace learning programs for secondary school students.

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