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How To Become A Teacher
If you are considering becoming a teacher in the UK, you may be wondering how to go about gaining the experience and qualifications you need to pursue your career. The most obvious way to do this is by studying a PGCE, though there are alternative ways to get into teaching.
Teaching, it is often said, is both an art and a science. In truth, it is possible to become proficient in certain aspects of the job through practice – and this will help you develop into an effective teacher.
However, each teacher is also an individual and brings something unique and personal to their own teaching. In addition, certain skills and techniques must be acquired, understood, and applied with insight – never mechanically.
An effective teacher gradually learns to integrate the theoretical aspects of teaching with their developing practical experience, regularly reflecting on actual teaching outcomes in order to develop and progress as a maturing professional.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to become a teacher in the UK. From how long it takes to the qualifications you’ll need, and much more.Find a PGCE
Decide who you want to teach
The first thing to do is decide the level of education that you want to teach at – and this may partly depend on what subjects you studied for your A-levels and undergraduate degree.
The choices are primary school or secondary school teaching options – some people may prefer to teach general subjects to younger students, while others may prefer to teach specialised subjects to older students.
Gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) allows you to teach any age, but you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to work with particular age groups and have relevant experience.
For primary education, you train to teach the complete range of national curriculum subjects. Generally, primary schools have broader and more diverse approaches to educating their pupils.
In the UK, the age range for primary school students goes from four-years-old to eleven, which means students receive primary school education for seven years.
Primary education is split into three sections:
- Early years foundation stage (EYFS): nursery and reception (0-5 years old)
- Key Stage 1: years 1-2 (5-7 years old)
- Key Stage 2: years 3-6 (7-11 years old)
The national curriculum subjects taught at KS1 and KS2 at primary schools in the UK is very varied, including:
- Art and design
- Design and technology
- Languages (at KS2)
- Physical education
- Welsh (in Wales)
For primary teaching, you need to have achieved minimum requirements of Grade 4/C in GCSE English, Maths and Science.
For secondary level, you would be teaching one or more national curriculum subjects, or vocational subjects, to exam qualification level – GCSE and/or A-level. Because students at secondary school need to acquire exam qualifications during the course of their education, the major focus of secondary education is on meeting that requirement.
The age range for secondary school students is from 11 years old until 18, although at the age of 16 some students may choose to leave education to pursue an apprenticeship or some other training scheme.
Secondary-level education is also split into three sections:
- Key Stage 3: years 7-9 (11-14 years old)
- Key Stage 4: years 10-11 (14-16 years old) – concluding with GCSE exams
- Sixth Form: years 12-13 (16-18 years old) – concluding with A-levels and/or BTECs
Key stage 3
The compulsory national curriculum subjects in Key Stage 3 are:
- Art and design
- Design and technology
- Modern foreign languages
- Physical education
- Science – Biology, Chemistry and Physics
In addition to this schools must also provide:
- Relationships, sex and health education – parents can ask for their children to be taken out of sex education
- Religious education – parents can ask for their children to be taken out of RE
Key stage 4
At this stage students are working towards national qualifications, usually GCSEs, and the compulsory national curriculum subjects are known as the ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects.
Core subjects are:
Foundation subjects are:
- Physical education
Secondary schools must also offer at least one subject from each of these areas:
- Design and technology
- Modern foreign languages
In addition to this secondary schools must provide relationships, sex and health education, and religious education at Key Stage 4.
How long does it take to become a teacher in the UK?
To teach in England and Wales you need to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which usually takes one to two years. The length of time it takes to achieve this qualification can depend on the type and style of course used to obtain QTS.
The general route to get into teaching after finish school is:
- Bachelors degree (three years)
- Relevant work experience
- Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) courses
- PGCE (one to two years)
Types of school in the UK
Broadly speaking there are two types of school in the UK, state-maintained schools and independent schools. State-maintained schools are free for students to attend whereas independent schools require the payment of fees. The type of school that you want to teach at will dictate what teaching qualifications you need to obtain, as different types of school have different eligibility criteria.
If you want to be a teacher at an independent school (also known as private schools and more-confusingly public schools) you do not necessarily need to have a PGCE, although it is often preferred. It is up to each independent school to stipulate their own requirements for their teachers.
Rather than being funded by the government, independent schools are fee-paying institutions. At these private institutions pupils do not have to follow the national curriculum. However, all private schools must be registered with the government and are regularly inspected.
To be a teacher at a state-maintained school in the UK, you usually need to have a PGCE qualification. There are several different types of state school in the UK, these include comprehensive schools, faith schools, grammar schools, academies and free schools. All of these types of school are non-fee paying.
A comprehensive school is a secondary school that is funded by the government and run by the local authority. Anyone can go there regardless of the academic ability. Comprehensive schools follow the national curriculum.
Grammar schools are also secondary schools that are funded by the local authority but they select pupils based on their academic ability. To gain a place at a grammar school pupils must sit an exam when they are in year 6 called the '11-plus'. In the UK, state grammar schools only exist in parts of England and Northern Ireland, there are no grammar schools in Scotland or Wales.
Faith schools focus on a particular religion and applicants usually need to follow that religion to be eligible to attend. Faith schools can be primary or secondary schools and they do follow the national curriculum, however they may have some freedom when it comes to what is taught about religion.
Academies are run by academy trusts and receive funding directly from the government. They have more control over how they do things than comprehensive or faith schools, however they must follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools. Students sit the same exams, ie GCSEs and A-levels, but academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum.
Free schools, as the name suggests, are free to attend and are run on a not-for-profit basis. They are funded by the government, but as they’re not run by the local authority they have more control over how they do things. Free schools are ‘all-ability’ institutions, so they can’t academically select their students like grammar schools.
Both academies and free schools don't have to follow the national curriculum and they may focus on a specialism such as business and enterprise or art. Students at these schools do pursue GCSE and A-level exams.
Once you have worked out what type of school you would like to teach at it is useful to gain work experience in that specific type of school before embarking on your teacher training.
Teaching-related work experience
Before being accepted on a teacher training course, training providers will need you to have spent at least some time in a school. This will help you decide if a teaching career is for you. It can involve volunteering as a mentor, working as an assistant, or observing an experienced teacher.
Some training providers also run short taster courses for this purpose – these will be helpful if you wish to gain some work experience.
Entry qualifications for teaching in the UK
Those who want to train as a teacher in England must have the necessary qualifications:
- GCSE qualifications in both Maths and English at grade C/4 or above. Anyone who intends to teach ages 7-14 must, in addition, have a GCSE in Science at grade C/4 or above.
- To qualify as a teacher in the UK, you will need a university-level undergraduate degree or a recognised equivalent qualification. This usually equates to a grade 2:2 degree or above.
- For secondary teachers, your degree must also relate to the subject you intend to teach. This is necessary because a teacher training course will focus on how to teach rather than on subject detail.
As regards specific subject knowledge, teacher-training providers will assess your level of knowledge. If your subject skills should need a 'top-up' to meet the demands of professional teaching, your provider will discuss any preliminary subject knowledge enhancement course with you before you begin training.
Every trainee teacher must apply for a DBS certificate before being allowed to work or volunteer in a classroom, as this setting will put them in close direct contact with children on a regular basis. A DBS certificate checks their criminal record for any relevant offences. Student teachers must apply for the most in-depth criminal record check – the enhanced DBS check with barred list – this checks for convictions, warnings, reprimands, cautions and any other relevant police notes, as well as checking the register of people that are banned from working with vulnerable adults or children.
Different entry requirements for becoming a teacher in the UK
The different nations of the UK have different entry requirements for teacher training.
Teacher training entry requirements in Wales
In Wales, the entry requirements for teacher training are:
- GCSE grade B/5 or above in Maths and English. Primary teachers also require grade c/4 or higher in one of the sciences.
- Undergraduate degree. This must be relevant to the subject being taught if opting for secondary teaching
- You do not have to pass professional skills tests, unlike with English teacher training
- Must pass all DBS checks
Teacher training entry requirements In Scotland
In Scotland, the entry requirements for teacher training are:
- SCQF level 6 in English, level 5 in maths
- Two other SCQF qualifications at level 6 and one other at level 5
- Undergraduate degree
- Membership of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme
- Classroom experience
Teacher training entry requirements in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the entry requirements for teacher training are:
- Two pass grades at advanced GCSE level. Grade C or above in three subjects at GCSE to get a place on a BEd course
- Undergraduate degree that’s approved for PGCE courses
- Must pass all DBS checks
Becoming a qualified teacher in the UK
In the UK there are three main ways of gaining QTS (qualified teacher status) and becoming a teacher:
- Train on a postgraduate teaching course through a higher education institution (HEI) – you study full time or part time to gain QTS. The most common types include PGCEs (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) and PGDEs (Postgraduate Diploma in Education).
- Train as a student teacher through a (student-training) school – you also train as a student teacher, but at a school rather than an HEI as above.
- Become employed as a teacher at a school – you are paid as an unqualified teacher until you gain QTS.
The first option, training as a student teacher through a higher education institution, is the most common method of completing initial teacher training (ITT) and acquiring QTS. Our article on five reasons to do a PGCE outlines why this is a good route to follow into teaching.
School-led vs university-led teacher training
When choosing a PGCE, you’ll need to consider what type of training best suits your situation, either school-led or university-led. Both approaches involve a minimum of 24 weeks teaching practice over the year, spent in two different schools, and lead to the award of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). However, there are some important differences to consider. Certain school-led courses are salaried, which may take some pressure off if PGCE funding is an issue. Alternatively, if pursuing an unsalaried school-led or a university-led PGCE in England, you could qualify for a £26,000 bursary.
While school-led courses allow you to gain practical teaching experience from the beginning, university-led courses may allow for greater reflection on teaching methods, leading to more efficient learning. Our PGCE student diary gives a greater insight into what it is like to follow the School Direct PGCE route and our article on PGCE funding also contains useful information.
Studying teaching at a university
A PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) qualification is the most popular route into teaching, and takes one year to complete with full-time study, or two years part time. Funding for PGCEs, like undergraduate funding, is covered by student loans and maintenance grants. However, because high-quality teachers are in demand, extra sources of funding are available – especially for subjects with teacher-shortages.
You can find out more about funding your PGCE later in this article and in our dedicated article on PGCE funding.
Course content includes theoretical work – mostly HEI-based – and plenty of practical teaching experience with two or more school placements. For support, you will have regular contact with an HEI tutor and also a school mentor. They will guide you and assess your progress, with the school mentor acting as your 'line manager' on school placements.
The majority of your time will be spent teaching in school where the PGCE course requires you to achieve a range of standards, gradually accepting more teaching responsibilities over time. By the end of the course, your teaching timetable and responsibilities will be close to those of a qualified teacher.
Having finished your PGCE with a 'pass', you will gain a PGCE certificate and automatic QTS status. Now known as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) for the first twelve months of your career, you may apply for teaching jobs as a highly prized, qualified entrant to the teaching profession.
Funding for teacher training
Trainee teachers have access to a range of funding options.
Government funding is available to help you train to teach, including:
- Tuition fee loan of up to £9,250 to cover your teacher training
- Maintenance loan of up to £12,667 to help with living costs
You can apply for a tuition fee and a maintenance loan even if you already take out a student loan for your undergraduate degree and will only have to make loan repayments once you’ve started earning.
Teaching bursaries and scholarships
When training to become a teacher, you may be eligible for some teaching bursaries and scholarships that do not need to be paid back, this is tax-free money. Postgraduate teaching bursaries and scholarships are only available for certain subjects.
Teacher trainers do not need to apply for a bursary and will automatically receive one if they are eligible. Teaching scholarships are offered by independent institutions and students need to apply through the relevant scholarship body. You cannot receive both a teaching bursary and a scholarship.
This table shows the current subjects eligible for bursaries and scholarships, together with the amounts:
Design & Technology
There are teacher training schemes in the UK that enable the students to take salaried roles within a school whilst gaining their teacher training qualification. School Direct (salaried) and Teach First are both employment-based training programs. With these schemes you don’t need to pay any tuition fees and you’ll earn a salary while you train.
Additional student funding
If you have chosen a non-salaried teacher training program you may be able to access further funding, for example Parents' Learning Allowances, Childcare Grants, or Child Tax Credits. You can use the Student finance calculator to find out if you are eligible for extra funding.
What skills do you need to become a teacher?
To become a teacher, you will need to have various skills and qualities:
Subject knowledge – particularly relevant if you are going into secondary teaching, a good knowledge of your specialised subject is essential to keep the students engaged and interested in your subject.
Communication skills – teachers need to be able to communicate their knowledge across to their classes in a clear, understandable and engaging way.
Good organisation – being well organised is essential to ensure you keep on top of the heavy workload, both as a trainee teacher and once your qualified, too.
Empathy – in your day-to-day work you will be dealing with plenty of students from many different backgrounds and with various issues – you will need to be able to empathise with them when they need help and to be approachable so they can come to you for advice if they need to.
Confidence – children can sense fear from 100 yards! Seriously though, you need to command your class with confidence or else the children could run rings around you. You also have to display similar confidence with their parents at parents’ evenings.
Adaptability – not every teaching method suits every child and not every child is interested in every topic. You need to be adaptable in your approach to teaching the different classes and the different children to ensure you do your subject justice.
Enthusiasm – if you can’t be enthusiastic about the subject you’re teaching how can you expect your students to be? A good teacher has a passion for their topic, and this is conveyed to their class. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Integrity – a strong moral fibre is an essential quality for a teacher to possess and will stand you in good stead for a successful career in one of the world’s most highly regarded professions.
Other tips for getting into teaching
- Apply for teacher training courses early, as spaces can be competitive.
- Apply for all entry routes to improve your chances of success.
- Apply for one of the many available teaching bursaries to alleviate the stress of funding your program.
- Most importantly, research, research, research!
PGCE student case study
AJ was a PGCE student at a university in North Wales
Whilst studying for his undergraduate chemistry degree, AJ undertook voluntary mentoring at a local school. This, he explains, "Sparked an interest in education and helping young people to gain knowledge and confidence in science."
Following this AJ was confident that he wanted to train as a teacher, so he applied and was accepted on a PGCE course within his local area. The course, AJ said, had a good balance between "fantastic support and advice within your subject area as well as more general areas within teaching."
AJ's course had two major components: school teaching placements and university training weeks, plus many other lectures and workshops.
After an initial briefing and preparation period, AJ's school placements began. These were at two secondary schools and involved teaching various age and ability levels. AJ was also supported by a university tutor during this period.
AJ observes: "The main difference between my undergraduate degree and the PGCE is that teacher training is a far more applied learning experience. You are a lot more independent in your study, especially since you can be away from university for up to 14 weeks during school placement. That said, a lot of support is available from tutors, so you don't have to worry about struggling through the course alone." On the course, AJ progressed massively thanks to the quality of teaching and advice provided. Overall, he found the experience rewarding, challenging and enjoyable. AJ is now qualified and has accepted a job as a chemistry teacher in the north of England.Find a PGCE