School Teacher

The Job and What's Involved

School teachers play an essential part in helping children and young people to acquire and develop the knowledge and skills they will need in later life. The work involves building relationships with pupils that encourage them to learn and fulfil their potential.

In England and Wales, teachers are required to teach the National Curriculum. They must adapt their teaching style and methods to the age and ability of their pupils. There is no National Curriculum in Scotland, although there are curriculum guidelines.

Primary teachers teach pupils ranging from 5 to 11 years of age (12 in Scotland). They usually teach one class in all subjects. Some primary teachers are specialists who visit a variety of schools teaching subjects such as PE, music or art.

Secondary school teachers teach 11 to 16 year olds (or pupils up to 19 years of age if the school has a sixth form) in England and Wales, and 12 to 18 year olds in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Teachers in secondary schools usually teach one or two National Curriculum or vocational subjects to different classes. A large part of their job focuses on preparing pupils for external examinations.

Teachers in special schools (all ages) may be qualified to teach in primary or secondary schools.

Additional qualifications are required to teach the visually impaired in both special schools and special education units attached to primary and secondary schools. There are no suitable courses in Northern Ireland.

Teachers spend most of their time teaching, but they have a range of other duties which may include:

  • Planning lessons and preparing materials.
  • Setting and marking coursework and exams.
  • Talking to pupils about their work and making constructive suggestions.
  • Keeping records of pupils' marks and progress, and writing formal reports.
  • Taking registers and keeping a record of attendance.
  • Maintaining order and discipline.
  • Identifying pupils who may be underachieving and giving them access to additional help and support if necessary.
  • Giving advice and support to pupils experiencing problems in or out of school.
  • Organising field trips, educational visits, sporting events and work experience.
  • Helping to organise extra-curricular activities such as clubs, school concerts and plays.

Teachers liaise with a wide range of people including parents and carers, other teachers, school governors and other professionals such as education welfare officers, social workers and healthcare professionals. They may also supervise the work of teaching classroom assistants, learning support assistants and other support staff.

A teacher's working day must cover school hours (typically between 8.45am and 3.40pm), Monday to Friday. In England and Wales, teachers in state-maintained schools must work for 1,265 teaching hours in any school year (an average of 32.5 hours a week). They are entitled to ten per cent of their time tabled teaching commitment for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA). In Scotland, teachers work 35 hours a week, of which a maximum of 22.5 hours are spent teaching.

A school year in state-maintained schools is 195 days (39 weeks). However, teachers are expected to spend some time in the evening, at weekends and during school holidays preparing lessons, marking work, attending meetings, undergoing training and supervising pupils attending events such as sports matches and outdoor activities.

Depending on the subject they teach, teachers spend much of their working day in a classroom, laboratory, language laboratory, gym or other sports facilities. They may spend some time out of school on field trips, visits or other school activities.

The starting salary for a newly-qualified teacher in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is £20,133 a year (£24,168 in inner London).

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Over 485,000 teachers work in state-maintained schools. Full-time, part-time and short-term (supply teacher) positions are available.

Most teachers work in state-maintained schools and are employed by local authorities, but there are also opportunities to work in:

  • Sixth form colleges.
  • City academies and technology colleges.
  • Independent schools.
  • Non-maintained special schools.
  • The Armed Forces.
  • Young offenders' institutions or secure units.

Teaching is an increasingly popular career for students and career changers. However, there is still a demand for more people to train as maths, science, modern languages, ICT and design and technology teachers.

In Wales there is also a shortage of teachers of Welsh.

While there is not a recognised shortage of teachers in Scotland, some of the remote local authorities do have problems in recruiting teachers into their area. In addition, due to a decision to reduce class sizes, Scotland requires more English, maths, home economics, physical education and technology teachers.

Vacancies are advertised in local and national newspapers, specialist publications such as The Times Educational Supplement (TES), The Times Educational Supplement (TES) Scotland and The Teacher, on the websites and job bulletins of local authorities, and through specialist agencies.

Education and Training

To teach in a state-maintained school and in many other institutions, candidates must have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or a Teaching Qualification (TQ) in Scotland. These are obtained by completing either Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in England and Wales or Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Candidates must meet nationally recognised standards for physical and mental fitness and undergo a criminal records check.

They must also have some experience of working with children, for example through volunteering at a local school or working at a youth club, holiday activity camp or club. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) can arrange for a potential applicant to talk to a practicing teacher, visit a school or attend a taster course in England.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Candidates for any form of teacher training must have GCSE's (A-C) in English and maths (or equivalent qualifications). To teach in a primary school or at Key Stage 2-3, candidates also require a GCSE (A-C) in a science subject. In England, candidates must pass tests in literacy, numeracy and ITC.

To obtain QTS, candidates may select from a number of routes:

Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree - offered by many universities and colleges throughout the UK. Courses generally take three or four years full time or four to six years part time. Entry requirements vary, but a minimum of two A levels or equivalent is normally required. Degrees with QTS status are also available in a variety of subjects.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) - offered by universities, colleges and schools throughout the UK and via distance learning. Courses last for one or two years full time or two years part time. The normal entry requirement is an undergraduate degree relevant to the subject the candidate intends to teach. Pre-training courses are available in some subjects for graduates who need to develop their subject knowledge.

Eligible trainees on postgraduate courses may receive state-funded, tax-free bursaries.

School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) - offered by groups of neighbouring schools and colleges throughout England (but currently not in Wales), and designed to allow trainees to spend more of their training time in the classroom. Courses last for one year full time. Trainees are based at one school, but complete teaching placements at other schools in the group. Some courses also lead to a PGCE. The normal entry requirement is a degree in the subject the candidate intends to teach. If the candidate has a degree in another subject, it may be possible to take a pre-training course. Eligible trainees may receive state-funded bursaries.

Teach First - a two-year programme which allows graduates to spend two years working in challenging secondary schools in London and Manchester, qualifying as a teacher and completing leadership training and work experience with a range of employers. It leads to QTS, but trainees also develop the skills needed to enter a commercially orientated career. Entry requirements are a minimum of a 2.1 degree in any subject, providing at least 40 per cent of it relates to a National Curriculum subject; 300 UCAS points (equivalent to BBB at A level); and a Grade C or above in GCSE English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. Candidates must also demonstrate a high level of skill in leadership, teamwork, resilience, critical thinking, communication, initiative, creativity, respect, humility and empathy. Trainees receive a training salary.

The Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) - involves on-the-job training, allowing graduates to qualify as a teacher while they work. Candidates must either respond to an advert for the GTP programme, apply direct to a GTP provider or find a job as an unqualified teacher in a school that will support them throughout the programme. Training takes from three months to one school year or longer and is tailored to the individual's needs.

The Registered Teacher Programme (RTP) - aimed at non-graduates with at least two years' experience of higher education (for example, an HND, DipHE or the first two years of a degree course). Candidates must be working in a school as an unqualified teacher, and training (which takes at least one, but normally two years) is tailored to the individual's needs. The school works with a local higher education institution to ensure that trainees receive suitable training to extend their subject knowledge to degree level.

Newly qualified teachers with a PGCE in maths and science may also be eligible for a 'golden hello' payment worth £5,000 (taxed) after successfully completing their induction period. Those with a PGCE in English, modern languages, drama, design and technology, ICT, music or religious education may receive £2,500 (taxed).

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To qualify as a secondary school teacher in Scotland candidates may choose from:

A Bachelor of Education (BEd) course or combined degree course - studied at a Scottish university. Courses last four years. Candidates must have three H grades as well as suitable qualifications in English and maths. Candidates must also have studied at least two subjects from the following areas: science, social studies, expressive arts, religious and moral education, technology and modern languages.

A Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) - a one-year, full-time teaching course. Some part-time PGDE courses are also available via distance learning. Applicants must have a degree in the subject they want to teach. Candidates should check with individual institutions for specific entry requirements.

Students on PGDE courses may qualify for financial support. They may also have their tuition fees paid by the Scottish Executive.

Skills and Personal Qualities

A school teacher should:

  • Be able to motivate young people and encourage them to reach their full potential.
  • Be creative, in order to bring subjects to life.
  • Be able to relate to young people from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and abilities, and gain their trust.
  • Have excellent communication and listening skills
  • Have good organisational skills.
  • Be patient and able to manage challenging behaviour.
  • Be able to adapt their teaching methods to bring the best out of pupils of different abilities.
  • Be able to relate well to a wide range of people including parents and carers, colleagues, governors and other professionals.
  • Be good at working in a team as well as independently.
  • Work well under pressure.

Your Long Term Prospects

In primary schools, teachers may take on responsibility for coordinating key areas including literacy, numeracy or special educational needs. Primary teachers who are interested in management can aim for promotion to deputy head or headteacher.

In secondary schools, teachers may be promoted to head of department or faculty, or into a curriculum role and take on responsibility for a particular subject. They may also become a head of year or key stage coordinator and take on responsibility for a particular age group.

There are opportunities to move into specialist areas such as special educational needs or pastoral care, and eventually to senior management roles such as deputy or assistant head and headteacher.

In England and Wales, there are opportunities for teachers who have reached standards of excellence in teaching to become advanced skills teachers (ASTs). They spend 80 per cent of their time as classroom teachers and the remainder focusing on raising standards of teaching and learning in their own and other schools. A new Excellent Teacher Scheme (ETS) also enables experienced teachers to be rewarded for staying in the classroom and sharing their expertise with colleagues.

Experienced teachers may also move into a number of related careers including teacher training, educational advisory work, educational research and writing, and schools inspection.

There may even be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Department of Education,
Northern Ireland, Rathgael House,
Bangor, Co. Down BT19 7PR
Tel: 028 9127 9279

General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS),
Clerwood House, 96 Clermiston Road,
Edinburgh EH12 6UT
Tel: 0131 314 6000

General Teaching Council for Wales,
4th Floor, Southgate House,
Wood Street, Cardiff CF10 1EW
Tel: 029 2055 0350

Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR),
Rosehill, New Barn Lane,
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL52 3LZ
Tel: 0870 112 2205

Independent Schools Council,
St Vincent House, 30 Orange Street,
London WC2H 7HH
Tel: 020 7766 7070

The Open University,
40 University Road, Belfast BT7 1SU
Tel: 028 9032 3722

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