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Finding a different route into teaching

Louise is a teaching assistant and has an ambition to become a qualified teacher. Through online distance learning, she is working towards a degree with The Open University to help her achieve her goals – here’s Louise’s story…

Louise is a teaching assistant and has an ambition to become a qualified teacher. Through online distance learning, she is working towards a degree with The Open University to help her achieve her goals – here’s Louise’s story…


Louise has been a teaching assistant in a secondary school for six years and really enjoys her job. However, her ambition has always been to become a fully-qualified teacher, with an eye to specialising in sport. To realise that ambition she knew she needed to acquire a degree-level qualification. Four years ago, she took the decision to embark on a part-time Open University BSc (Honours) Sports, Fitness and Coaching degree. And when she finishes that course in two years’ time, she will use the qualification to enroll on a teacher training course.

“Once I finish my degree, I intend to go straight into a teacher training programme. I want to become a PE teacher, with a second subject of science, just to keep my career prospects open,” she says.

Louise knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was at school – she took English language, history, psychology and PE at A’level because she wasn’t sure which direction she wanted to go with as a teacher. Post A’levels, she started studying at a traditional bricks and mortar university in 2016, but didn’t enjoy the experience. “I did a sports and exercise science course, but I just didn’t get on with it. I really didn’t enjoy it. The structure of the learning didn’t work for me – it felt really impersonal and I didn’t feel like sitting and listening to someone talking at me for hours a day was a brilliant way for me to learn. I didn’t find it particularly engaging or interesting, so I decided to leave and see what other options were out there for me.”

Discovering distance learning

Her first move was to take a teaching assistant role, which has worked really well for Louise, but she still knew she wanted to become a teacher. A friend suggested The Open University (OU) as a route into teaching. Louise liked the idea of studying while still working and the flexible nature of OU education was a big draw for her. “I wouldn’t have to drop days at work, like other people I knew did. And I wouldn’t be tied to specific evenings. I really liked the idea of being flexible and being able to fit it into my own timings.”

Giving up work was not an option for Louise. She also thought she was gaining invaluable experience as a teaching assistant that would stand her in good stead as a teacher. “Being a teaching assistant gives you a really good insight into what it’s like to work in a school, compared to say a two-week placement. It gives you a lot of experience in different areas. When I qualify I will have the experience and the qualification.”

Over the past four years of studying with the OU, Louise has discovered that she really likes being in control of her own learning. The OU’s model suits her much better than the traditional university model. “I like being able to learn at my own pace and being able to fit it into my life. It’s really nice to strike the balance of doing something I enjoy and also working on my personal development at the same time. I don’t have to sacrifice one or the other.”

Louise is one of many teaching assistants who have decided to take their career to the next level through studying with the OU. There are several options available to people – and to employers who wish to offer progression routes to their workforce – depending on individual needs and context.

How the OU can help

“We can help people at teaching assistant level who are looking to gain their teaching degree,” says Nicole Edgington, Head of Education Partnerships, at the OU. “Without a degree, they can’t move on to specialise and get a teaching qualification, but there are a host of things that people can do with the OU that can help them along their journey and to progress their career.”

At a very basic level, people can get a taste of what it is like to be a teacher through the OU’s free FutureLearn course Becoming a Teacher (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/thinking-about-teaching). Another option – and the option that Louise chose – is to take a BA/BSc Open (Honours) course, tailored around their particular needs and interests.

Louise spent some time looking through the range of OU modules to decide if she definitely wanted to specialise in sport or pursue another specialism, such as history. Sifting through the content and resources and gaining a good understanding of the structure of the learning helped her decide the course she wanted to take. It also gave her a good sense of what the programme would entail and what would be expected of her.

The course she chose (https://www.open.ac.uk/courses/sport-fitness/degrees/bsc-sport-fitness-coaching-q76) covers a broad topic area, including sports science, psychology, working in the industry, etc. 

Although there is a lot of flexibility about how, where and when Louise studies, the structure of the course was very clearly set out from the word go, as is what would be expected from her. Louise really likes that as it helps her to plan her work. “You have your study guide for the year, so you have all the module materials and activities and reading that you need to do as you progress through. And at the end of each module or study topic you have an assessment.”

Student life at the OU

All OU students have regular tutorial sessions with their tutor, plus sessions with their tutor groups. This gives students the opportunity to ask questions, discuss module options, share insights and experiences, discuss any challenges and build relationships with other students. Students have access to various community forums where they can discuss study topics further.  There is also the OU’s Student Association which provides opportunities to volunteer and engage with other students

So far, Louise’s favourite module has been a sports psychology module. “It built a what I learned in my A’levels. It was more in depth and applied in a different way to when I studied it at school.”

September data for ITT recruits shows the target for secondary trainee teachers is likely to be missed this year

A wider offering

Like Louise, a lot of OU students like the flexibility of the OU’s offering. They like being in control of when and how they learn and they like having the ability to personalise their learning according to their individual needs and aspirations. Nicole says there are so many courses and modes of learning to choose from, from short courses like microcredentials to longer post-grad programmes and Open degrees. “There are lots of different opportunities and routes people can use to move forward. People can tailor their qualification to what they want.”

Not everyone wants to or can commit to a longer programme of study, even when it’s part time. For them, a 10 or 12 week microcredential course might be enough to help them on the next step of their career journey. During the pandemic, record numbers of people have gained microcredential qualifications, with people and business management courses being particularly popular.

If you would like to find out more about what the OU offers, please visit: open.ac.uk/business Or email us at ukpartnerships@open.ac.uk

Photos are for illustrative purposes only, and do not represent any person or persons mentioned in this advertorial.

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