Primary school teachers develop schemes of work and lesson plans in line with curriculum objectives. They facilitate learning by establishing a relationship with pupils, and by their organisation of learning resources and the classroom learning environment.
Primary school teachers develop and foster the appropriate skills and social abilities to enable the optimum development of children, according to age, ability and aptitude.
They assess and record progress and prepare pupils for examinations. They link pupils' knowledge to earlier learning and develop ways to encourage it further, and challenge and inspire pupils to help them deepen their knowledge and understanding.
Primary schools in England (following the National Curriculum) are usually divided into:
- Foundation Stage - nursery and reception (ages 3-5);
- Key Stage 1 - years 1 and 2 (ages 5-7);
- Key Stage 2 - years 3-6 (ages 7-11).
Primary schools in Wales (following the National Curriculum and Foundation Phase) are usually divided into:
- Foundation Phase (ages 3-7);
- Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11).
Primary schools in Northern Ireland (following the Northern Ireland Curriculum) are usually divided into:
- Foundation Stage - years 1 and 2 (ages 4-6);
- Key Stage 1 - years 3 and 4 (ages 6-8);
- Key Stage 2 - years 5 to 7 (ages 8-11).
Primary schools in Scotland (following the Curriculum for Excellence - CfE) are usually divided into:
- Nursery and P1 - primary (ages 4-5);
- P2-4 - primary (ages 6-8);
- P5-7 - primary (ages 9-11).
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 their 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.
- New entrants to the profession in England, Wales and Northern Ireland start on the main salary scale, which rises incrementally from £21,804 to £31,868.
- Enhanced pay scales apply for teachers working in or near London.
- In Scotland, the new entrants' starting salary is £21,867, plus any payments made through the Preference Waiver Scheme, rising incrementally to £34,887.
- 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 £37,836, 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.
Most teachers work long hours during term time, often over 50 hours a week. They are often 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 and preparation 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 freely 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 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.
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.
In July 2014 the non-executive board of the Institute for Learning (IfL) voted that the institute should close and its legacy and assets be passed to the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The transfer of which, will be complete in the autumn of 2014. New members will become part of the Foundation's professional membership.
Previously, within the framework of the Institute for Learning (IfL), Qualified Teaching Learning and Skills (QTLS) has been recognised as an equivalent to QTS. The qualification has allowed those holding it to teach within maintained schools in the same way as any other teacher. The IfL and the Foundation are discussing this issue with the government and will both keep members and employers informed as new information becomes available. Check their websites for up-to-date information on the status of this award.
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.
To teach in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you must be registered with the relevant teaching council:
- General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS)
- Education Workforce Council (Wales)
- 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 teacher training.
For teacher training in:
- Northern Ireland - Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI)
- Scotland - Teach in Scotland
- Wales - Teacher Training & Education in Wales
You will need:
- 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.
Also advantageous are extra skills, such as:
- community and modern languages.
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. 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:
- summer play schemes;
- summer camps;
- Sunday schools;
- supplementary and mother-tongue schools.
Primary school teachers usually work in maintained/local authority (LA) schools. Qualified teacher status (QTS) or, in Scotland, a teaching qualification (TQ) is not strictly required to teach in independent schools although it is well regarded and gives you the flexibility to teach elsewhere. 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 for themselves 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. NQTs considering completing their induction through a supply post would be advised to ensure the head teacher will agree that they 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:
- Times Educational Supplement (TES) - Fridays.
- Guardian Jobs
- Local authority websites.
- Local press.
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.
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;
Some teachers study on a part-time basis for higher qualifications related to their specialist subject or they take a Masters degree in education or business administration (MBA), depending on their career aims. Search for postgraduate courses.
Professional qualifications for school managers are also available.
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 Advanced Skills Teacher (AST) and the Excellent Teacher Scheme (ETS) in England and Wales. ASTs share their knowledge and expertise with colleagues in other schools in the local authority.
Excellent Teachers (ETs) are experienced teachers who are appointed to raise the quality of teaching within a school by helping other teachers to improve their skills and knowledge and by supporting other staff. They have a responsibility for improving pupil attainment across the school.
Accelerated leadership development programmes, designed to enhance the careers of especially talented teachers, offering early responsibility and higher salaries for qualified teachers, are offered by the National College for School Leadership.
It is possible to reach deputy head/head level within ten years and 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;
- writing educational materials;
- running a small private school.