Getting into primary school teaching
What is Primary School teaching?
Primary school teaching provides initial compulsory education for children aged five to 11 (and, in addition, in many areas Reception Year for children aged four is offered prior to compulsory education).
Primary education is offered through infant schools (for children aged five to seven), junior schools (for children aged seven to eleven), and primary schools (combined infant and junior schools). In some parts of England schools are arranged as first schools (for children aged five to eight) and middle schools (for children aged eight to 12).
Primary teaching stages are divided according to the national curriculum:
Key Stage I (ages five to seven)
Key Stage II (ages seven to 11)
Reception Year is covered by the Early Years Foundation Stage of the national curriculum.
Primary school teachers usually take responsibility for teaching all areas of the national curriculum to the same class, for the period of a year. However, it is possible to become a subject specialist within a primary school, perhaps co-ordinating the provision of a subject throughout the school or in some cases teaching a particular subject across all age groups, most commonly for music, drama and PE.
As a primary school teacher you are responsible for ensuring that children get the best start in life by teaching them the core academic and social skills they will need in the future. Added to that, teachers at this level must ensure their pupils achieve certain basic standards.
Primary teachers plan, prepare and present lessons catering to the needs of the entire class. Maintaining discipline is an important part of the role, as is discussing with parents how their child is progressing. More details on the role and responsibilities of a primary school teacher can be found on the Prospects Primary School Teacher job profile .
What do you need to be a Primary School teacher?
In terms of qualifications to become a primary school teacher, your goal is to achieve the professional standard Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which is required in order to teach in the state sector in England and Wales. There are various training routes which lead to QTS. The Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) includes QTS. This period of training is referred to as Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Information on different training routes is available on the Government’s Department for Education support and advice website Get Into Teaching .
To train as a primary school teacher you must have the following qualifications:
A UK undergraduate degree, or a recognised equivalent
GCSEs English, Maths, and Science at grade C/4 or above or acceptable equivalents.
To have declared any previous convictions and undergone the criminal records check through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
It is important to note that these requirements apply to England and Wales, and requirements vary slightly if you are planning to teach in Northern Ireland or Scotland; the UCAS website provides a breakdown of eligibility requirements for primary school teacher training in all parts of the UK.
There are essentially two different types of training routes open to you: tuition fee courses and salaried courses. Postgraduate teacher training courses are available across England, led by universities or schools. Detailed information and explanation for these can be found on the Get Into Teaching and Prospects websites.
In terms of personal qualities you will need to demonstrate to become a teacher, just like teachers at other levels, primary teachers must be able to work with others to plan and coordinate work, be prepared to work evenings and be flexible.
Inspiring young children is demanding and rewarding, you’ll need passion and commitment to help inspire pupils to learn important skills and increase their knowledge and understanding. Good communication skills are a must, along with strong organisational skills, stamina, energy and empathy. And of course, you must enjoy working with children!
At this level and age group, gaining some experience of teaching children in a classroom setting will enable you to gain a realistic idea of what teaching is like, it’s important to be sure of what you are committing yourself to! Having school experience is no longer a mandatory requirement, but it will help you strengthen your application, as you will be able to draw on the insight you have gained from being in school to explain why you want to teach.
Whilst experience in a state-maintained school will be really helpful in providing a realistic idea of what it’s like to teach, other experience working with children and young people may be equally beneficial in helping you to decide if teaching is the right career for you, and informing what you might include in your application form.
Usually the Careers and Employability Service’s Volunteering Team, in collaboration with local schools run a Reading Scheme that offers students the opportunity to gain school-based experience working with children in Portsmouth primary schools. Previously students have volunteered for an hour or more a week, helping children to read in Years 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. The Scheme has previously been run at 12 inner-City schools. For queries relating to this and similar opportunities in working with your desired age group, please contact our volunteering team on email@example.com.
Recruitment for the Reading Scheme tends to take place in August and September each year, however, this has been delayed for the 2020/2021 academic year as we await confirmation if and when these schemes are likely to continue during the pandemic. You can register your interest on MyCareer’s Volunteering Project: Reading Scheme page.
Teach Portsmouth provides support on routes into teacher training as well as help in finding suitable positions once qualified. The programme is an important part of the Portsmouth Education Partnership, where education partners work together to provide the best possible education for all pupils across the city.
It may also be possible to arrange your own in-school experience, by taking a ‘speculative’ approach, asking schools directly about opportunities to shadow primary school teachers or observe classes or help out in school as a volunteer. This approach would involve asking schools directly about opportunities to shadow primary school teachers or observe classes or help out in school as a volunteer. If you don’t have local knowledge about schools, the Register of Schools and Colleges in England is a comprehensive register where you can begin your search, to identify locations and types of school. The Register provides basic contact information, from which you can check out the school’s website to find out more about the school.
Once you are sure that the school you wish to apply to is the right school for you, you can focus on making sure your CV reflects your relevant skills and abilities, and on preparing a convincing cover letter to apply for school-based experience.
It is a good idea to address your letter and CV to the headteacher. Resources to help you develop your CV and cover letter are available on the Careers and Employability Service website: CVs and Cover Letters . Our advisers will be happy to review your CV and cover letter with you and a 20-minute appointment can be booked online through MyCareer. More advice on securing school experience independently can be found on the Get into Teaching webpage 'Arranging school experience independently.'
In England and Wales, the Department for Education manages The School Experience Programme (SEP). The SEP offers the opportunity to book a day’s worth of experience in a participating school which is convenient for you (further days should be negotiated directly with the school once you are on your placement). Registering with the DfE’s Get Into Teaching website will allow you to access the online booking portal.
Finding experience during the Covid-19 pandemic
The changing nature of the pandemic and the impact this has had on society has been felt across many employment sectors since March 2020 and Education is no exception. Whilst we would always recommend referring to the ‘Getting Experience’ guidance listed in the section above as the best way of gaining a valuable insight into teaching, it is understood by the Education sector that it isn’t always possible to gain practical experience at the current time. As such, it is important to consider alternative ways of getting exposure to teaching and gaining some experience remotely. Remote and online experiences are still valuable, especially if the alternative would be to have no teaching insights at all. The learning you gain from your online experiences can be used to strengthen your teaching application. The following virtual activities provide some suggested and recommended ways you can build on your experience when you’re unable to get to a classroom:
Get School Experience (Virtual Opportunities)
As well as offering-in-school experience when possible, Get Into Teaching’s Get School Experience programme has also extended their offering to include some virtual school experience placements at participating schools. The search engine allows you to find schools who are open to providing both in-school and/or virtual experience within your local area once entering your postcode.
A range of video resources are available to support those already in, or looking to pursue a career within the teaching profession. These have proved a valuable way of accessing insights into key teaching areas such as behaviour management and observation of real classroom interactions where opportunities in the classroom are limited. As well as observing the material, it is also important to reflect on what you have learned from watching these videos. Taking notes on some of the key points raised is good practice and considering why suggested methods or interactions are effective (or not) will allow you to really start understanding what is required of a teacher and how this might inform your practice.
The following are a few recommended channels that offer a particularly good range of content and the learning gained could be used to support your applications and interviews and demonstrate your understanding.
Laser Learning - The team at Laser Learning have created a range of high quality online teaching resources to help strengthen your practice as an educator. Their main offering is a range of interactive courses to support and learn in a variety of teaching areas but they also have their own dedicated YouTube Channel which can be accessed for free.
MediaMerge - Mediamerge have worked with schools across the UK to bring together a large collection of professionally filmed classroom practice via their YouTube channel. The videos capture typical classroom interactions between teachers and pupils and therefore offering a digital equivalent of observing in the classroom.
Teachers TV - The Education community has put together a movement, EdChat, that discusses best practice within the sector. As part of this they have created a dedicated YouTube playlist, ‘Teachers TV’ that provides a series of short videos focusing on a range of key teaching topics and challenges.
In addition to some of the suggestions listed above, you may find other ways to develop your experience and build on any skill gaps. As highlighted above, our volunteering team is continually searching for voluntary opportunities that can be carried out safely and remotely, which could provide you with opportunities to gain some experience in working with your desired age group, or brush up on your planning or other core teaching skills. Our blog post on ‘Making the Most of Uncertainty’ also provides a range of ideas on how you may be able to build on your skills and learn remotely.
Whether you choose a university-led or school-led training course, all teacher training courses will offer:
Qualified teacher status (QTS), which is needed to teach as a qualified teacher in England.
Plenty of classroom experience.
Training to meet the Teachers’ Standards.
Academic and practical guidance from mentors and tutors who are there to help candidates succeed.
School led or based routes include School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) or School Direct (non-salaried), School Direct (salaried), and Teach First. The local Portsmouth SCITT is a long-established and highly-rated scheme.
Another school-based initial teacher training route for graduates was announced late in 2017: the Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship programme. This programme will enable graduates to be employed as unqualified teachers whilst training, successfully completing the 12-month course will result in the award of QTS, but there will be further assessment within the first three months as a newly qualified teacher to achieve the Apprenticeship Certificate. The details of this route may vary depending upon the provider and currently the UCAS website offers the most up-to-date information. Currently there is a limited number of vacancies offered by 119 accredited providers; if you are interested in this route keep track of when providers are opening applications on UCAS.
Every teacher training course includes training on how to ensure pupils with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) can progress within the curriculum. If this is an area that you want to specialise in, there are courses that focus on providing opportunities to develop further skills for this. The Get into Teaching website explains how to search for courses with a SEND specialism here.
An overview of initial teacher training routes is available on Target Jobs How do you train to become a teacher?.
You can search for training providers through the DfE teacher training course finder which will help you to identify a course and location that is right for you.
The information in this section is based on information from the 2020/21 academic year and should be used as guidance only for funding that may be available in 2021/22. Check the sources linked in the content below regularly for updated details as figures are subject to change.
The most up to date information about funding to train at primary level is available on the Department for Education’s Get into Teaching website, on their funding for training to teach at primary webpage. Additional bursaries may be available if you plan to teach maths at primary level.
The School Direct (salaried) route offers the opportunity to earn a salary whilst you train. You will be paid and taxed as an unqualified teacher. Salaries may vary depending on the school you choose to train at, so check the salary with the school before applying.
If you are training to teach through the Teach First Leadership Development Programme, initially you will be paid the salary for an unqualified teacher, further information about this is available here: Teach First - Salary and Benefits.
There is a small number of ‘flexible’ (e.g. part-time, including distance learning, perhaps with start dates other than September) providers; more information is available on the Get into Teaching website with suggestions of how to search for these opportunities.
Applications for PGCEs, PGDEs, SCITT and School Direct in England are currently made either through UCAS or the Department for Education’s Apply for teacher training. Traditionally, teacher training applications have always been made via UCAS but once applications open for teacher training starting in Autumn 2022, applications will made solely through the new Apply for teacher training application.
Currently as training providers are currently in the process of moving over to the new Apply system, both Apply and UCAS are being used for teacher training applications with an Autumn 2021 start date. It is recommended that you check both systems to find your preferred training providers for the upcoming academic year. The user-friendly information on both websites will guide you step-by-step through the application process for their respective systems.
At the current time it is unknown whether teacher training providers in Wales will adopt the new Apply route and it is possible that they will continue to use the UCAS system instead. For up-to-date information on how to become a teacher in Wales, see the information on the gov.wales website. Similarly, teacher training providers in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also not expected to use the Apply system and up-to-date information on these two can be found at Education Scotland or the Department of Education Northern Ireland
Applications for Teach First Primary should be made online direct to Teach First, more information about the application process is available here: Teach First - How to Apply .
The Personal Statement section of the application is your chance to explain why you want to teach primary age children, and to convey your enthusiasm for teaching. Please see the Planning and writing your personal statement section of this guide for information on how to approach this.
The Department for Education offers workshops in key national cities, as well as webinars and telephone appointments, to support students in preparing applications for teacher training in 2021, details of upcoming webinars and workshops are listed here: Get into Teaching Events .
As part of the selection process, you will have an interview and might need to take part in other selection activities, such as group exercises, before being offered a place on a teacher training programme. As with any interview, preparation is key and the information offered on UCAS, Get into Teaching, Targetjobs, and Prospects websites around typical interview questions, and the skills and qualities providers might be looking to test at interview, may be helpful. A mock interview with a Careers Adviser can be arranged through the Careers and Employability Service to build your confidence and strengthen your interview skills.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parts of the selection process that would normally take place face to face have often been undertaken virtually since lockdown was imposed in March 2020. If the current situation is expected to improve as intended, we may see a rise in face to face interviews again, however, many are still taking place remotely at the current time.
The Department for Education offers tailored support for students applying for ITT through its Teacher Training Adviser service. Once you have registered for this service you will be paired with an experienced adviser who can offer informed support through every stage of your application. This can include anything from helping you to arrange school experience and detailing funding you may be entitled to, to helping you to prepare for skills tests and interviews. To find out more about this service, and to register, visit the DfE’s Get into Teaching website.
Getting a job once qualified
Once you've passed ITT you will be awarded QTS. Traditionally this has led to undertaking an induction year as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) which upon completion provides fully qualified teacher status.
From the 2021/2022 academic year, however, it has been confirmed that this process has changed and will be replaced by a new trainee induction programme referred to as the Early Career Teacher (ECT) programme that is expected to last for two years rather than the single year required previously. Throughout the programme new teachers will be allocated a mentor who will offer support and guidance to help you become a successful teacher.