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Primary school teacher: Entry requirements

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Unless your first degree is a Bachelor of Education (BEd) or a BA/BSc with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), it is essential to gain QTS (or, in Scotland, a teaching qualification (TQ)) in order to teach in the maintained/local authority sector. Independent schools are permitted to employ teachers without QTS/TQ, but in practice this is uncommon.

QTS/TQ may be gained through one of the following routes:

  • a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), or in Scotland a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) - available at many universities and colleges of higher education;
  • Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) (England and Wales only) - an employment-based scheme for which you usually need considerable professional or classroom experience. The GTP will close for 2013 recruitment and will be replaced by School Direct;
  • School Direct  (England and Wales only) - a new school-based training route with the expectation that participants will go on to work in the school, or partnership of schools, in which they trained. In most, but not all cases, a PGCE accredited by a higher education institution (HEI) will be awarded;
  • School-centred initial teacher training (SCITT)  programme (England and Wales only) - offered by consortia of schools;
  • Teach First  (England only) - a two-year programme including a PGCE where top graduates are placed in challenging schools. On completing the programme, you have the option to remain in teaching or pursue other careers.

Most course providers require a good honours degree for PGCE/PGDE entry. Primary teacher training is open to graduates in all subjects, but a degree in a curriculum subject area, e.g. English, science, or mathematics, increases your chances. Some disciplines, e.g. sociology, media studies and psychology, are scrutinised for relevance to the curriculum and your pre-university education may be taken into account.

Most applications for PGCE/PGDE courses are made through the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR)  in the autumn before you wish to commence training. In Northern Ireland, you should apply directly to the course providers. Competition for places is high and early application is advised.

The Assessment Only (AO) route leading to QTS is possible for candidates who have a degree alongside a substantial amount of teaching experience in the UK, but do not have QTS. This involves submitting a portfolio of evidence of your work and a day-long assessment where you are observed whilst teaching at your school.

Since April 2012, further education lecturers who have been awarded Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status by the Institute for Learning (IfL)  and are IfL members are able to work in state-maintained schools as qualified teachers in England.

The Overseas Trained Teacher Programme (OTTP)  is available for teachers who have qualified in other countries and wish to teach in the UK. Contact the UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom) to find out whether your qualifications are equivalent to a UK degree. Teachers who qualified in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA are recognised as having QTS and are automatically able to teach in England without any further training.

For more information about obtaining QTS, see Teacher Training Options .

Classroom experience is essential for entry to all training routes. Arrange to visit schools to observe and talk to teachers. Become familiar with the primary curriculum. Ask if you can help a teacher with non-teaching duties on a regular basis. Try to do this over an extended period, rather than just before you apply for a PGCE/PGDE. A post as a teaching assistant could give you valuable experience.

Visit open days and try to attend taster courses organised through schools and universities. Contact your university careers service or school of education to find out about any local opportunities to gain experience in schools. Get experience of working with children in other ways too, e.g. mentoring, summer play schemes, summer camps, Brownies, Sunday schools, supplementary and mother-tongue schools, etc.

The Primary Experience Programme (PEP) is a scheme launching in autumn 2012 offering male graduates the opportunity to gain ten days' experience in a primary school.

Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal abilities;
  • good organisational and time-management skills;
  • energy, enthusiasm, stamina, patience, dedication and self-discipline;
  • initiative, leadership and supervisory skills and teamworking abilities;
  • imagination, creativity and a sense of humour;
  • good judgement and an analytical mind;
  • a satisfactory health record and criminal record check through the Disclosure and Barring Service .

Extra skills, such as music, art, IT, drama, sport, community and modern languages, can be advantageous.

To teach in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you must be registered with the relevant teaching council: the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) , the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW)  or the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI) .

Full details of routes into initial teacher training (ITT), PGCE courses, taster courses, fees and the financial incentives can be found in routes into teaching and applying for teacher training. For training in Wales, see Teacher Training & Education in Wales ; in Scotland, see Teach in Scotland ; and in Northern Ireland, see the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) .

For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.

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Written by Laura Stanley, University of Wolverhampton
July 2012

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