A careers interview with… Suzanne – Head of Department for H&SC


Job title – Head of Department for Health and Social Care

Tell me a little bit about your job. What are your main responsibilities?

My primary role is a Health and Social Care Teacher and I do everything in relation to this, for example, managing the programme, developing the curriculum, liaison with awarding bodies, auditing, assessment and moderation. I also organise work experience for the students which is a key part of their programme. Every student goes out for at least 2 days in the Summer term.  This really helps to bring their learning to practice.

What motivated you to go into this type of work? Talk me through your journey from leaving school.

When I left school, I worked at British Steel. My first job was in administration. I was a receptionist back in the days when there was a typing pool! I soon progressed to working in internal sales, external sales and I was a North East Representative for them.

Later I moved to the training department at British Steel and worked on the emerging Apprenticeship programmes. So, a completely different sector to what I am in now. The company evolved to be a training provider and I worked as a Sales and Marketing Manager. I was responsible for running two training arms of the company, one in Nigeria and of course, the local one. My role was mainly marketing and selling training courses – commercial training and Apprenticeships.

While I was working, I decided to undertake a degree in Education and Care at Teesside University. The education part of the degree was closely related to teaching basic skills, which I also did at the training provider. A lot of our students lacked these skills, so I wanted to support them.

The training provider shut down in 2006. Because I had a background in working in education (even though it was a specific sector) I knew a lot about core subjects as I was responsible for things like the delivery of Math, so I applied for a job as a Numeracy Assistant in a Secondary School. I liked it, so I decided to do a PGCE programme.  At that time, I was only allowed to teach Key stage 3 math, which is year 7-9. I wasn’t qualified in math at the level required for Key Stage 4.

I got more involved in the health and social care department and the more this grew, there was less time for math, so my timetable began to change to health and social care. I can also teach RE and Sex Education.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I prefer working in the care sector more than engineering and I really enjoy delivering Sex Education. When you teach vocational subjects in school, you don’t necessarily have a full timetable, so health and social care teachers are usually required to teach other areas too. These might be closely related, e.g. Sex Education or RE.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to guide young people and give them the knowledge they need to live more fulfilling lives. There are so many misconceptions in this area, and young people think certain types of behaviour is ‘normal’. Teaching health and social care allows you to explore societal issues as well as psychological issues, so it is a great subject to reinforce positive and healthy behaviour. I’m a bit like Miss Jean Brodie! It’s about setting appropriate standards.

 Apart from the challenge I feel valued and needed and that I am making a useful contribution to life of the students beyond school.

What do you least enjoy?

Most definitely the ‘data’ part of the job, and I mean things like targets and gathering data. At times the job can feel data driven not learner driven. I think vocational subjects are just as important in a student’s education, and particularly subjects like this, because you are impacting on behaviour lifestyles. I’m not complaining though because my school is fabulous for delivering pastoral support for students.

What type of ‘careers’ issues do you come across?

The routes available into health and social care are often complex and pathways into some careers are very difficult to navigate. It is my role to keep abreast of the changes, for example the emerging Nursing Apprenticeships. In my opinion this is not pushed enough in secondary schools and I know students who (I believe) would make fantastic Nurses and other health and social care professions who have ended up working in a call centre, purely because the career guidance and information is not there.

I don’t like to waste good talent and I feel it is getting wasted. I feel strongly that the bursaries were removed, and I think the whole sector needs to be funded better. I want everyone to be the best they can.

What would you say are the most essential qualities to thrive in this type of work?

Reflection is a big part of what I do and being judgemental is out of the question. In my role I can’t and won’t judge where are people from, what’s happening to them, what is influencing them. You need to keep up with what you teach, who you teach and how you teach.

A key quality is resilience, and by that, I mean resilient to societal change. In health and social care careers you can’t afford to be stuck in the past in terms of your viewpoints, otherwise you won’t connect with young people.

I see behaviour and communication declining in society, for instance the concept of families eating together is alien to some of my students. This has a massive impact on their communication skills, and this then impacts on their chances of progression in health and social care careers. Communication and empathy/human interaction are fundamental and if students aren’t learning those skills outside of school, it can cause barriers to progression. I notice this particularly when the students go out on Work Experience and the feedback is often ‘poor communication skills’.

Often Health and Social Care Employers will ask the student to do a self-assessment; this is to gauge their personal qualities e.g. patience. This can often help students understand the sector and know if it is the right route for them.

Do you currently hold a CACHE qualification? If so, what is it and did it help you pursue this career route?

I don’t hold a CACHE qualification, but I teach them! I think the CACHE Diploma is a great qualification that prepares students well and sometimes it is the only subject that students enjoy!

If you were to give people advice about going into a career in health and social care or childcare and education, what would be your top tips?

I would say you’ve got to have a caring nature and like working with people. I would also advise people to research the range of opportunities in this sector. There is a misconception that every job is ‘touchy/feely’ and this is not the reality. I would advise people to look closely at job descriptions and person specifications. For example, not everyone can change an elderly person’s nappy, it’s not something that I would do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work in health and social care!

What skills or life experience do you think helps someone to do well in a career in health and social care or childcare and education?

Health and Social Care Teachers need to be flexible to do different roles in schools. And they also resilient and being able to adapt to change.

What kind of career progression opportunities are there in your field of work?

There is career progression opportunities and I am an example of someone who has transferred my skills (even from a completely different sector). For me if I was looking to progress now, I would consider something like Pastoral Manager or a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. I might have considered going into Social Services. There are so many similarities in terms of skills for both health and social care sectors.

In my opinion you can’t be a teacher unless you possess the same skills as Social Workers.