How to Become a Primary School Teacher: 2021 Edition
Our up-to-date guide on routes into teaching in UK primary schools.
So you are thinking about starting a career in education as a primary teacher, but do you even know where to start? With seemingly so much information and regulations to read through and digest, becoming a primary teacher is a lot harder than first thought!
What are a primary school teacher’s daily, weekly or monthly responsibilities? Do you know what qualifications are required to become a primary school teacher, and is there anyone out there that can help you get started?
At PlanBee we aim to help primary school teachers across the UK with our range of ready-to-use primary teaching resources, lesson plans and information on how to get into teaching. This article will (we hope!) give you some good information and advice if you're thinking of starting a career as a primary school teacher.
How do I Become a Primary School Teacher?
In 2021, there are more options than ever for those looking to get into teaching. While you must have qualified teacher status (QTS) to work in state-maintained schools in England and Wales (and in all special schools), free schools, academies and independent schools can employ unqualified teachers if they wish to. Having said that, here at PlanBee we believe that achieving QTS is preferable for anyone going into teaching as it opens up the broadest range of job opportunities and ensures you receive adequate training.
1. Get a degree with Qualified Teacher Status
The most common routes into teaching start with university courses that lead to QTS. There are many undergraduate degrees like this, most of which will take four years to complete.
2. Take the teaching 'fast track': complete a PGCE course
Almost as common after this route is the postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). This is a fast-track route into teaching for those who already have a degree. It takes up to one year to complete.
3. Undertake an apprenticeship (the 'Teach First' route)
A growing number of programmes enable prospective teachers (who already have degrees) to train with an apprenticeship. The appeal of this route into teaching is that it is 'hands-on' (you'll be working in school straight away) and you'll be paid a salary as an unqualified teacher. Because of these benefits, places are limited and competition for them is high.
Of the various apprenticeships, the Teach First programme is perhaps the most well-known and popular.
Apprentices train for two years to achieve Qualified Teacher Status.
4. Go your own way: train part-time
While it's not the quickest or necessarily the easiest route into teaching, many superb primary teachers have trained while working as teaching assistants or in other school roles, studying part-time over several years.
On a personal note, some of the best teachers I have ever known and worked with have achieved QTS in this way – some of whom did not even have the required GCSEs when they started! Their hard work and tenacity showed in the quality of their teaching when they finally finished training.
Qualifications Required to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)
At a Glance:
- GCSE at grades A* to C (9 to 4) in English, Maths and Science
- An undergraduate degree
- Initial teacher education training (as described above)
- Passes in the professional skills tests
- Previous experience in schools or working with young children
You'll also need to pass enhanced background checks…
What are enhanced background checks?
Enhanced background checks are required for those working with children. They involve checking to see if you have a criminal record (including spent convictions, unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands – the lot, basically) PLUS checking with local police to see if they have any information about you that's relevant to your role as a teacher.
These Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are rightly extensive: they are to determine if you are safe and trustworthy enough to work with young and vulnerable people.
You will be required to have enhanced background checks during your initial teacher training as you will be frequently working in schools as you train.
Once you have achieved Qualified Teacher Status and successfully applied for your first teaching job, your employer will conduct an enhanced background check, too. New checks may be conducted by every new school you work in after training. The recently-introduced DBS update service (£13 per year) allows you to take your background check from one job to the next, and give your new employer access to it each time. Your Initial Teacher Training provider should provide information on the most appropriate form of background check to enable you to complete your training with them.
What happens once I've finished training?
Having completed your initial teacher education training via the routes described above, you will need to successfully teach in a school or an equivalent teaching job for at least three terms before you officially gain your Newly Qualified Teacher status (NQT). During the NQT year, teachers will have a reduced timetable (by 20%) and will be put through a series of observations.
You can teach short-term supply for up to 5 years if you haven’t completed your NQT year. This means that even if you are unable to find a full-time role immediately after completing your initial teacher education training, you can take on supply work with a view to landing a role later on.
The NQT year is, for many teachers, the hardest year of their career!
Check out our advice for maintaining some semblance of a work-life balance during your NQT year
Once you have your QTS you are officially able to teach in maintained schools in the UK. However, your training and development will not stop there. Throughout your career as a primary school teacher you will be required to continue your professional development as a teacher to keep up to date with changes to the National Curriculum and the changing standards as set by the Department of Education.
Your Continuing Professional Development (CPD) will mainly happen in the form of staff meetings and training days, both onsite (INSET days) and off-site (courses).
Steps to Becoming a Primary School Teacher
By now you will hopefully be clued up on the different routes you can take, and the qualifications and experience you will need to becoming a primary school teacher. Follow our step-by-step guide to start your new career as a primary school teacher:
1. Qualifications & Teaching Experience
Do you have all the qualifications and in-school teaching experience to meet the minimum requirements to achieve your Qualified Teacher Status?
Remember, to be a primary school teacher you will require at least an A* to C (9 to 4) grade in GCSEs in English, Maths and one Science subject, previous in-school teaching experience, passes in the professional skills test and to have completed the Initial Teacher Education Training programme and gained your Qualified Teacher Status. You'll need to be able to pass an enhanced background check, too.
2. Apply for additional teacher training courses (if required)
If you do not currently have all of the teaching qualifications and experience required to become a primary teacher then you can start by applying for the relevant additional teaching training courses.
You can also register with education.gov.uk for additional personalised support for trainee teachers. They also have detailed information on the range of teacher training programmes available out there.
3. Decide what age group(s) you would like to teach
As a primary school teacher you have three separate age groups to teach; Early Years Foundation Stage (3-5 years), KS1 (5-7 years) and KS2 (7-11 years). At primary school level, you will be expected to teach all subjects in the primary National Curriculum.
If you are unsure what age group you would prefer to teach it may be a good idea to get some in-school classroom experience before deciding what age group is right for you. This has some bearing on the type of initial teacher education training you choose, as there are different routes for those looking to specialise in Early Years Foundation Stage.
Once qualified, you'll have to choose which teaching jobs you apply for. A deciding factor for many is the year group that you'll be teaching. That's not to say you'll always have a choice, though: many employers will advertise for a teacher without specifying a year group for the role, and decide where to place the successful candidate after the application process. Once you're teaching in a school you may be required to move to another year group after your first year.
4. Applying for a teaching role
Applying to become a primary teacher in the UK is not a difficult process, however, it does take some know-how which we will aim to provide within this section.
Some areas in the UK have ‘Talent Pools’ where teachers can submit one application form, have one interview, receive a grade and then wait to be contacted by schools in the LEA. Once you have been contacted by local schools you will be invited to visit and look around the school before going for an interview with them.
Other LEAs and most independent schools advertise for jobs either on their website or through websites like Jooble, eteach, or through supply agencies. It’s best to use the Internet and compile a list of local primary schools in your area, check what methods they use to recruit primary teachers and then apply to them.
The benefit to the Talent Pool option is that you only need to apply once, but other than turning down interviews/jobs you don’t have any control over who wants to employ you. Applying to schools directly gives you more control but is slightly more time-consuming. You may end up filling in several application forms, but it’s worth giving it a try.
5. Prepare for the interviews
There are lots of very good examples that are available online on what primary teachers might be asked during their interviews to work at schools. These 50 sample teacher interview questions and answers by SupplyMe are really useful. I particularly like the tips beneath each question, which give a detailed insight into why interviewers are asking that particular question, and what they're probably looking for in your response.
Here are our five quick tips for preparing for those dreaded interviews:
- Ensure you are up to date with current curriculum changes/education news.
- If you are nervous in interviews you might like to create a portfolio with examples of annotated plans, marked work, photos of displays, photos of children completing practical tasks. This will give you a great starting point, and help to jog your memory.
- Don’t over prep and leave yourself so exhausted on the day that you are not at your best.
- Wear something smart but that you feel comfortable in, you will have enough on your mind without adding extra stresses and remember you will probably have to teach as part of your lesson so you will need to be able to move easily around the classroom.
- Have a few tried and tested ideas up your sleeve that you can fall back on. Remember: you don’t know the children, their levels or their prior learning. Interviewers will be looking to see your rapport with the children, your ability to assess how the lesson is going and adapt if necessary, and your ability to reflect on your teaching during the formal interview.
Additional Information about Primary Teaching
What are my Responsibilities as a Teacher?
As a primary school teacher, you will most likely be teaching children aged between 3 and 11 years old. You will be responsible for their educational, social and emotional development whilst they are within your care. One of the primary teacher’s key responsibilities is to develop schemes of work and lesson plans. Many schools, including all maintained schools, teach the National Curriculum; your planning will be required to address its objectives.
If you are looking to cover a particular objective, check out our handy filter to search our schemes of work by National Curriculum objective as set out by the Department for Education.
In addition to teaching all areas of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, primary teachers have responsibilities that extend past your initial qualifications and experience.
Other teaching responsibilities include:
- Planning and presenting your lessons, and preparing your teaching materials
- Marking your student’s work
- Being able to assess and manage individuals
- Responsibility for the academic progress of each of your pupils
- Motivating your class with enthusiastic and creative schemes of work
- Managing overall class behaviour
- Organising and taking part in school events and outings
- Working with colleagues to plan and coordinate lessons
- Attending meetings (parent’s evenings, etc.) and teacher training programmes
- Keeping up to date with changes and developments to the national teaching curriculum
What are the Average Weekly Working Hours for Teachers in the UK?
On average full-time teachers work around 37-40 hours per week – according to the National Careers Service, anyway! In our previous teacher surveys, we found that a majority of teachers spend more than an hour a day planning, and more than a third of teachers spend at least an hour a day on marking, too.
The workload of primary teachers is significant, and something that all those seriously considering going into teaching should bear in mind. Teaching is a rewarding career, but one that eats into life outside the school day, like it or not.
School hours for most teachers in the UK start between 8:30 am and 9:15 am, with the day finishing between 3:15 pm - 4:00 pm. It's worth bearing in mind that you'll often have to stay later for routine activities such as parents evenings, after-school clubs, staff meetings etc.
Outside of school hours, in addition to planning and marking, teachers will be required to take part in additional activities such as pupil performances, school trips and open days.
Teachers in maintained schools are required to work for 39 weeks of the year, which is split over three academic terms.
What is the Average Starting Salary for a Primary School Teacher?
Once you have completed your initial teacher training you can begin working in schools in England and Wales as an NQT with an average salary of £24,373.
Useful Links & Websites on Becoming a Teacher
- education.gov.uk - Department for Education
- National Careers Service
- UCAS Teacher Training
Once you're qualified, we're here to help make your teaching life a little easier!
So what happens when you are a fully qualified primary school teacher? Your days will be filled with preparing for lessons, ensuring that you are teaching the curriculum your school follows, ensuring all of your pupils are safe, happy and making progress and much, much MUCH more! These all create pressure on you, the teacher, and you'll have to cope with that daily. Teachers are an incredibly hard-working and resilient bunch, of course – but all those pressures are a lot for anyone to have to deal with!
At PlanBee, we want to help teachers by providing high-quality lesson planning and resources which save them time, reduce the pressures they experience and help restore their work-life balance. Our schemes of work are all made by experienced former primary teachers, and include practically everything you need to deliver enjoyable and engaging learning experiences.
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If you liked this, read our other blogs written for the teaching profession.