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 and by your organisation of learning resources and the classroom learning environment.

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 will 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 seven 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 seven to 11).

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 eight 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 nine 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 School Boards (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, Wales and Northern Ireland start on the main salary scale, which rises incrementally from £22,467 to £33,160. Enhanced pay scales apply for teachers working in or near London.
  • In Scotland, the new entrants' starting salary is £22,416, plus any payments made through the Preference Waiver Scheme, rising incrementally to £35,763.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, particularly skilled classroom teachers in England and Wales can, where the opportunities exist, apply to go on to become a leading practitioner. Schools now have the freedom to create higher-salary posts for teachers whose primary purpose is modelling and leading improvement of teaching skills. Salaries in this bracket start at £38,984, potentially rising to over £100,000.

Academies and free schools set their own pay and working conditions. In some, this may be very similar to local authority schools, while in others it may vary considerably.

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 National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Most teachers work long hours during term time, usually over 50 hours a week. They are in school before the school day starts and stay after the pupils have gone home. Marking and preparation are usually done at home.

Teachers have up to 13 weeks' holiday per year, but most do work on marking, planning, preparation and any classroom organisation during this time. Parents' evenings, school concerts, clubs, after-school activities and preparation for school inspections all take up extra hours.

Part-time and temporary work is available. Career breaks are possible, after which, support and refresher courses are available.

What to expect

  • Primary teachers are usually based in their own classrooms, although they may teach elsewhere in the school to cover for 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.
  • A very high proportion of primary school teachers are women and increasing numbers of women now hold senior posts. The Teaching Agency is encouraging more men, people from ethnic minorities and people with disabilities into teaching.
  • There may be occasional trips with pupils, or staff development opportunities, which involve staying away from home and/or overseas travel.

Qualifications

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, to have achieved the Standard for Provisional Registration (SPR) or be a fully-registered teacher in order to teach in the maintained/local authority sector.

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

QTS 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 and Wales 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 while teaching at your school.

To find out whether your qualifications are equivalent to a UK degree contact the UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom). If you qualified as a teacher in Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the USA, you do not need to undertake any further training, but must apply to the National College for Teaching and Leadership in order for your qualifications to be verified prior to being awarded QTS status.

If you trained in a country outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), you can work in England as a supply teacher for up to four years without QTS. However, you will need to obtain QTS if you wish to take up a permanent teaching post in a maintained school. Find out more about the status of overseas trained teachers at eteach.

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

To teach in Scotland, Wales 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 teacher training.

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

Skills

You will 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 through the Disclosure and Barring Service.

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

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

Work experience

Experience in a classroom 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. For more information see volunteering in schools.

A post as a teaching assistant could also 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;
  • Rainbows, Brownies, Beavers, Cubs;
  • Sunday schools;
  • supplementary and mother-tongue schools.

Employers

Primary school teachers usually work in maintained/local authority (LA) schools, although some work in academies.

Qualified teacher status (QTS) is not strictly required to teach in independent schools in England, although it is well regarded and gives you the flexibility to teach elsewhere. In Scottish independent schools, all teachers must hold a teaching qualification and be registered with the GTCS. It is possible to complete the induction period satisfactorily in an independent school although they are not obliged to put teachers through an induction so this must be agreed in advance.

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 will 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.

While it is theoretically possible to complete your induction year as a supply teacher, supply work may be hard for a newly qualified teacher (NQT) and it may be difficult to get suitable placements or adequate support to complete the induction period. An appointment lasting for a term or more will count towards the induction period. If you are an NQT considering completing your induction through a supply post, you would be advised to ensure the head teacher will agree that you can begin induction in that post.

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. A lot of 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:

Many local authorities (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 whereby potential candidates' details are forwarded to schools wishing to recruit NQTs.

Many LAs send recruitment leaflets to universities and most have dedicated teacher recruitment websites and run open days. Although vacancies can occur at any time of the year, many schools advertise vacancies specifically targeting NQTs in May. In Scotland, most NQTs join the one-year Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS) to start their teaching careers. The majority of teachers then apply to advertised vacancies or work in supply posts.

There are a growing number of specialist recruitment agencies and websites for teaching positions, including supply work and some full-time posts, such as:

Agencies advertise in the TES and in the local press.

Professional development

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) throughout the UK must serve an induction or probationary period, normally of one year. They are monitored and supported, have a reduced timetable and a designated induction tutor and work on areas identified for development during their initial teacher training (ITT).

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 in training 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 education or business administration (MBA), 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 or a cross-curricular area, such as special needs.

Classroom expertise is recognised by the status of Leading Practitioner (LP) in England and Wales. LPs share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues to model and lead the improvement of teaching skills.

The Future Leaders Trust and National College for School Leadership run training programmes for aspiring leaders.

It is possible to reach deputy head/head level within ten years and, possibly, even more quickly for those in designated accelerated positions.

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

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

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 e.g. art, dance, music, sport or a foreign language;
  • running a small private school.