Education Quandary: 'My husband, who's 51, wants to train as a science teacher. Is this possible? What's the best way?

By Hilary Wilce
Thursday 21 February 2008 01:00

Hilary's advice

Yes, it is possible. No one is too old to teach – in fact, legislation enacted in 2006 makes age discrimination illegal – and some heads see the benefits of older teachers. Also, as a science teacher, he will be more sought after than those two-a-penny arts specialists.

The less good news is that many older people report that they have encountered prejudice after doing their teacher training, and some have had to settle for supply teaching or associated areas such as adult training. Much will depend on the attitudes of your local schools.

As in all areas of life, it may all come down to personal relations. Your husband is committed to this move, and with his experience as a school governor, he knows what he is letting himself in for. That should give him a good basis on which to start building relationships with local schools, maybe by asking if he can come in to observe lessons and chat to the science teachers. He could try offering volunteer help, perhaps by tutoring struggling pupils or by proffering the IT expertise he has from his current career.

As to training; he should go for a one-year, full-time Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), rather than on-the-job training, which is not always available and can vary in quality. Undertaking a concentrated period of training will help him to cement his commitment to his new career.

Readers' advice

In the past 10 years, 1,927 people aged over 50 have gained qualified teacher status. Secondary science teachers are in demand by schools, and the most popular route is the PGCE – trainees receive a bursary of £9,000. A £5,000 golden hello for science is available. The graduate teacher programme (GTP) allows graduates to qualify as teachers while they work. It's a good choice for people who want to change to a teaching career but who need to continue earning while they train. To take part in the GTP, you can either respond to an advertisement for the GTP programme, apply direct to a GTP provider, or find a job in a school to support you through the programme. Candidates on the GTP are not eligible for a golden hello. Advice is available from the Teaching Information Line – telephone 0845 600 0991 – and at

Peter Eaton, Teacher Development Agency, London SW1

Age is less important than happiness. Go for it and be happy.

Geoff Ward, London E17

I did a teaching degree when I was 50. I have not been able to find a position in a school since. I don't know whether it's an age thing or not. However, I do believe that, at our age, we have wisdom and experience that does not easily "mould" into the education system. My advice would be to put your heart into your future and follow your dream, but be prepared for unforeseen obstacles. I do my own thing in private tutoring, but that may not be sufficient to meet your needs.

Marion Valentine, Derbyshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

My daughter works hard at school, but struggles to remember things like dates in history and formulae in science. At someone's suggestion, we had her tested for dyslexia, and she's not dyslexic. She simply doesn't seem to have a very good memory, which is a real handicap for exams. How can we help her?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 25 February, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition

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