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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;
  • School Direct (England and Wales only) - a 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 a 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 in England and Wales are made in the autumn before you wish to commence training through UCAS Teacher Training . In Scotland you will need to apply through Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) . In Northern Ireland, you should apply directly to the course providers, usually in November and December. 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.

Qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) status with the Society for Education and Training (SET) is legally recognised as being equal to QTS, meaning you will be qualified to teach in schools and can be recruited to a permanent position with no further training. 

To find out whether your qualifications are equivalent to a UK degree contact the UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom) . 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.

Those who trained in a country outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) can work in England as a temporary teacher for up to four years without QTS. The status award must be achieved however, to take up a permanent teaching post in a maintained school.

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 such as:

  • mentoring;
  • summer play schemes;
  • summer camps;
  • Brownies;
  • Sunday schools;
  • supplementary and mother-tongue schools.

The School Experience Programme (SEP) is available for final year students and graduates interested in gaining experience in the classroom and considering teaching mathematics, physics, chemistry, computing, foreign languages or design and technology at secondary level.

Applicants to the SEP programme need to meet certain eligibility criteria, including qualifications and experience. Further information can be sought from the Department for Education's School Experience Programme (SEP) website.

Additional skills such as music, art, IT, drama, sport and modern languages can also be advantageous to your application.

To teach in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you must be registered with the relevant teaching council:

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 teacher training in:

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

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Written by AGCAS editors
August 2014

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