To be a successful primary school teacher, you need a passion to inspire young minds and a commitment to ensuring that every child achieves their potential

As a primary school teacher, you'll develop schemes of work and lesson plans in line with curriculum objectives. You'll facilitate learning by establishing a relationship with pupils, keeping your learning resources organised and creating a positive learning environment in the classroom.

Your role is to develop and foster the appropriate skills and social abilities to enable the optimum development of children, according to age, ability and aptitude.

You'll assess and record progress and prepare pupils for national tests. You'll link pupils' knowledge to earlier learning and develop ways to encourage it further, challenging and inspiring pupils to help them deepen their knowledge and understanding.

Responsibilities

Primary schools in England (following the national curriculum) are usually divided into:

  • Foundation Stage - nursery and reception (ages three to five)
  • Key Stage 1 - years one and two (ages five to seven)
  • Key Stage 2 - years three to six (ages 7 to 11).

Primary schools in Wales (following the national curriculum and Foundation Phase) are typically divided into:

  • Foundation Phase (ages three to seven)
  • Key Stage 2 (ages 7 to 11).

A new curriculum and assessment framework, Curriculum for Wales 2022, is being rolled out in schools across Wales. This will mean that education in Wales will become one seamless curriculum for pupils aged 3 to 16 years old.

Primary schools in Northern Ireland (following the Northern Ireland curriculum) are generally divided into:

  • Foundation Stage - years one and two (ages four to six)
  • Key Stage 1 - years three and four (ages six to eight)
  • Key Stage 2 - years five to seven (ages 8 to 11).

Primary schools in Scotland (following the Curriculum for Excellence - CfE) are usually divided into:

  • Nursery and P1 - primary (ages four to five)
  • P2-4 - primary (ages six to eight)
  • P5-7 - primary (ages 9 to 11).

Tasks are broadly the same for all primary school teachers and include:

  • teaching all areas of the primary curriculum
  • taking responsibility for the progress of a class of primary-age pupils
  • organising the classroom and learning resources and creating displays to encourage a positive learning environment
  • planning, preparing and presenting lessons that cater for the needs of the whole ability range within the class
  • motivating pupils with enthusiastic, imaginative presentation
  • maintaining discipline
  • preparing and marking work to facilitate positive pupil development
  • meeting requirements for the assessment and recording of pupils' development
  • providing feedback to parents and carers on a pupil's progress at parents' evenings and other meetings
  • coordinating activities and resources within a specific area of the curriculum, and supporting colleagues in the delivery of this specialist area
  • working with others to plan and coordinate work
  • keeping up to date with changes and developments in the structure of the curriculum
  • organising and taking part in school events, outings and activities, which may take place at weekends or in the evening
  • liaising with colleagues and working flexibly, particularly in smaller schools
  • working with parents and school governors (in England, Northern Ireland and Wales) or parent councils (in Scotland) to maximise their involvement in the school and the development of resources for the school
  • meeting with other professionals such as education welfare officers and educational psychologists, if required.

Salary

  • New entrants to the profession in England start on the main salary scale, which rises incrementally from £24,373 to £35,971. Enhanced pay scales apply for teachers working in or near London.
  • In Wales, new entrants start on a salary of £24,906, rising incrementally to £35,971.
  • New entrants salaries in Northern Ireland start at £23,199, rising incrementally to £33,906.
  • In Scotland, the new entrants' starting salary is £27,498, plus any payments made through the Preference Waiver Payment (PWP) scheme, rising incrementally to £41,412.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, there are opportunities to move up into the role of lead practitioner in England and Wales. In Scotland there are opportunities to move into chartered and then principal teacher roles. Salaries for head teachers can rise to around £100,000.

Academies, free schools and independent schools set their own pay and working conditions.

Experienced classroom teachers undertaking additional responsibility may receive teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payments.

Details about pay are available from the teaching unions and the Department for Education (DfE) Get Into Teaching website (for England).

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours vary between schools but are usually from 8.30am until 3.30pm or 4pm. Most teachers are in school before the school day starts and remain after school is finished.

Teachers are entitled to a minimum of 10% of timetabled teaching time for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA). In Scotland this is a minimum of seven and a half hours. Teachers also often spend time at home planning and preparing lessons and assessing pupils' work.

Teachers are in school for 39 weeks of the year, but may also use time within the 13 weeks' holiday for marking, planning and preparing.

Part-time work and career break opportunities are possible. Supply teaching is also an option. For more information on working hours, see the NASWUT, The Teachers' Union.

What to expect

  • Primary teachers are usually based in their own classrooms, although they may teach elsewhere in the school to cover staff shortages or because of their specialist subject area. Resources vary between schools.
  • Teaching posts are available in all areas, although there are more jobs in towns and cities than in rural areas. Certain areas of work, such as nursery or special needs, are only available in some schools.
  • Men are currently underrepresented as teachers in primary schools.
  • There may be occasional trips with pupils, or staff development opportunities, which involve staying away from home and/or overseas travel.

To find out what to expect in terms of timetables, term structure and rewards and challenges, see life as a primary school teacher.

Qualifications

To work as a primary school teacher in a maintained school (England and Wales), you must have a degree and achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) by completing a period of initial teacher training (ITT), (initial teacher education (ITE) in Wales). QTS is awarded by the Teaching Regulation Agency (England) or the Education Workforce Council (EWC) (Wales). You must also register with the EWC to teach in Wales.

Independent schools, academies and free schools are permitted to employ teachers without QTS but, in practice, this is uncommon.

In order to achieve QTS you can take an undergraduate Bachelor of Education (BEd) or a BA/BSc with QTS.

However, if you already have a degree, you can gain QTS in a number of ways. These include:

Most applications for PGCEs are made through UCAS Teacher Training in the autumn before you wish to commence training. The DfE is setting up a new Apply for Teacher Training service, which will eventually replace UCAS Teacher Training. Until then, both application services will run side by side. Competition for places is high and early application is advised.

Most course providers require a good honours degree for PGCE entry. Primary teacher training is open to graduates of all subjects, but a degree in a national curriculum subject area will increase your chances. You must also have GCSEs in English, maths and science. For more information about obtaining QTS, explore your options at Get into Teaching.

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 while teaching at your school.

In Scotland, you'll need a degree and a Teaching Qualification (TQ) gained through undertaking a programme of ITE to qualify as a teacher. You must also register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). All teacher training programmes are university-led and you can take either a four-year undergraduate programme or a one-year Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). Applications are made via UCAS Undergraduate for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

To teach in Northern Ireland, you must have a degree and a recognised teacher training qualification, gained by taking either a four-year undergraduate BEd or a one-year PGCE, and must register with the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland (GTCNI). Applications for the PGCE are made direct to the course provider, usually in November or December.

For information on teacher training in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales see:

If you trained in Scotland or Northern Ireland and want to teach in England, you'll need to apply for QTS. Information for teachers who've qualified outside the UK is available at GOV.UK - qualify to teach in England.

Find out more about funding for teacher training.

Skills

To be a primary school teacher, you'll need:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal abilities
  • good organisational and time-management skills
  • energy, enthusiasm, stamina, patience, dedication, resilience 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.

It's helpful if you have additional skills in areas such as:

  • art
  • community
  • drama
  • IT
  • modern languages
  • music
  • sport.

Work experience

Training providers expect you to have some school experience with the age group you want to teach, and having experience in a classroom will help you make a strong application. 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. For more information see volunteering in schools.

A post as a teaching assistant could also give you valuable experience.

Attend open days and 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
  • Rainbows, Brownies, Beavers, Cubs
  • supplementary and mother-tongue schools.

Employers

Many primary school teachers work in state schools, which receive funding either from the local authority (LA) or directly from government. These include:

  • community schools (also known as LA maintained schools) - follow the national curriculum
  • foundation schools and voluntary schools - funded by the LA but have more control over how they do things and may be supported by religious groups
  • free schools - funded by government on a not-for-profit basis but aren't run by the LA and don't have to follow the national curriculum
  • academies - receive funding directly from the government, are independent from the LA and are run by an academy trust with more freedom and the option to follow a different curriculum
  • grammar schools - run by either the LA, a foundation body or an academy trust (pupils are selected based on academic ability).

You can also work in independent schools, which charge fees, rather than being funded by government, and don't have to follow the national curriculum. Independent schools must be registered with the government.

If you train for the lower end of the primary age range, you may consider nursery schools, while if you train for the upper end, you may consider middle schools in the small number of areas where these exist. If you trained in Scotland, you'll be able to teach in any stage of primary school education.

Some primary teachers take on supply work through an agency or arrange supply work directly with schools. Although less stable than a permanent contract, the flexibility of supply work may suit some people.

Once trained and experienced, some teachers look for positions overseas. Many countries expect a teacher to have qualifications gained in that country, but sometimes there are reciprocal agreements. Some teachers go on exchange programmes to other parts of the world, such as the USA and Australia, and some undertake voluntary work in developing countries through organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as EduStaff and eTeach also handle vacancies.

Many LAs operate a 'pool' system for recruitment, in which applications from NQTs are dealt with centrally rather than schools advertising vacancies individually. Others operate a database/registration scheme whereby potential candidates' details are forwarded to schools wishing to recruit NQTs.

The peak time for jobs is between February and June, although jobs are usually advertised from January onwards.

To learn more about where to look for vacancies, how to apply and teaching interviews, see how to get a teaching job and discover how to structure a teaching CV.

Professional development

NQTs in England and Wales must serve an induction period, normally of one year. During this time you must demonstrate that you meet the Teachers' Standards (England) or Professional Standards for Teaching and Leadership (Wales). You'll be monitored and supported, have a reduced timetable and a designated induction tutor and work on areas identified for development during your initial teacher training/education.

You can carry out your induction period in state schools (except those in special measures). You can also undertake induction in independent schools, free schools and academies, although they don't have to offer it. It's also possible to carry out your induction period through supply teaching. For more information, see the National Education Union - Your guide to induction.

In Scotland, most NQTs join the Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS), a guaranteed one-year probationary teaching post with a Scottish local authority school. There is also a flexible route available. The majority of teachers then apply to advertised vacancies or work in supply posts.

For information on the induction period in Northern Ireland, see the Education Authority.

In-service training is available and teachers are encouraged to pursue continuing professional development (CPD) relevant to their own responsibilities and the development needs of the school. Training takes place in-house on teacher training days or at regional training centres run by local authorities.

Topics often covered include:

  • curriculum issues
  • target setting and assessment
  • special needs
  • subject leadership
  • pastoral care
  • new initiatives
  • technology.

Some teachers may study on a part-time basis for higher qualifications related to their specialist subject, or take a Masters degree in business administration (MBA) or a Masters in education, depending on their career aims.

Professional qualifications for school managers are also available.

Career prospects

Career progression may be through a specialist curriculum or pastoral role, or by moving into management. Geographical mobility can improve prospects. Teachers may become coordinators of their specialist subject (e.g. literacy, languages, science or numeracy) or a cross-curricular area, such as special needs.

Classroom expertise is recognised by the status of Leading Practitioner (LP) in England and Wales. You'll still work in the classroom but will have extra responsibilities. LPs share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues to model and lead the improvement of teaching skills.

Organisations such as the Ambition Institute and Education Scotland run training programmes for aspiring leaders. Leadership can include roles ranging from responsibility for a year group or key stage to deputy or head teacher positions.

As a head teacher, you'll have a great deal of influence and responsibility for areas such as pupils and staff, financial management, the school's systems and processes, standards and ensuring continuous improvement.

Some teachers move out of schools and into further or higher education or other related jobs, such as:

  • education officer - often employed at museums, art galleries and zoos
  • examination board administration
  • local education authority work
  • Ofsted inspection
  • teacher training.

Many of the skills gained as a teacher are also valued by employers outside education. Some teachers retrain for other careers, such as social work, guidance work or management roles within the public or private sector, where they continue to use the skills acquired in teaching.

There are some opportunities for self-employment. These include:

  • private tutoring, including franchise opportunities
  • writing educational materials
  • running out-of-school clubs in art, dance, music, sport or a foreign language
  • running a small private school.

Find out how Toby became a primary school teacher at BBC Bitesize.

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