A career as a secondary school teacher offers you the chance to teach a subject you love and to engage pupils in learning for their future

Secondary school teachers support, observe and record the progress of pupils aged 11 to 18. Teaching the national curriculum, you'll plan lessons in line with national objectives, with the aim of ensuring a healthy culture of learning.

Teachers must keep up to date with developments in their subject area, new resources, methods and national objectives. The role involves liaising and networking with other professionals, parents and carers, both informally and formally.

Responsibilities

As a secondary school teacher, you'll need to:

  • prepare and deliver lessons to a range of classes of different ages and abilities
  • mark work, give appropriate feedback and maintain records of pupils' progress and development
  • research new topic areas, maintaining up-to-date subject knowledge, and devise and write new curriculum materials
  • select and use a range of different learning resources and equipment, including podcasts and interactive whiteboards
  • prepare pupils for qualifications and external examinations
  • manage pupil behaviour in the classroom and on school premises, and apply appropriate and effective measures in cases of misbehaviour
  • undertake pastoral duties, such as taking on the role of form tutor, and supporting pupils on an individual basis through academic or personal difficulties
  • communicate with parents and carers over pupils' progress and participate in departmental meetings, parents' evenings and whole school training events
  • liaise with other professionals, such as learning mentors, careers advisers, educational psychologists and education welfare officers
  • supervise and support the work of teaching assistants, trainee teachers and newly qualified teachers (NQTs)
  • participate in and organise extracurricular activities, such as outings, social activities and sporting events
  • undergo regular observations and participate in regular in-service training (INSET) as part of continuing professional development (CPD).

Salary

  • NQTs in England and Wales start on the main pay range, which rises incrementally from £22,467 to £33,160 (£28,098 to £33,160 for inner London).
  • Salaries on the main scale in Northern Ireland range from £22,243 to £32,509.
  • In Scotland, salaries range from £22,194 to £35,409. In addition, in some parts of Scotland it may be possible to obtain a Distant Islands Allowance or Remote Schools Allowance. NQTs will receive an additional payment of £8,000 under the Preference Waiver Scheme if they agree to work anywhere in Scotland for their induction year.

Academies and free schools set their own pay and working conditions. These may be very similar to local authority schools or they may vary considerably.

Teachers may move into key stage or year leaders, mentoring and management roles. Management roles in particular attract considerable salary increases.

Teachers may be able to supplement their income through private tuition, national exam marking, teaching evening classes or writing textbooks.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Thirty-nine weeks of the year are allocated for teaching but teachers often use time within the 13 weeks’ holiday for marking, planning and preparing. Hours vary between schools but are usually from 8.30am until 3.30 or 4pm. Most teachers are in school before the school day starts and remain after school is finished. Marking and preparation are usually done at home. They often teach five periods a day, with lunchtimes sometimes being taken up with extracurricular or pastoral duties.

Part-time work and career break opportunities are possible. Supply teaching is an attractive and flexible option for some.

What to expect

  • Parents' evenings, preparation for Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspections, breakfast and after-school clubs, and sport, drama and field trips may all take up extra hours.
  • Geographical mobility can improve prospects, but jobs are available in most areas, especially in towns and cities, throughout the country. Staff turnover is greatest in inner-city schools.
  • Although there are similar numbers of male and female secondary teachers, proportionally more head teachers are male. The gender balance varies across subject areas, e.g. more women teach English and modern languages and more men teach mathematics and science.
  • Secondary school teachers do not necessarily have a base classroom and may have to carry books and equipment from room-to-room between lessons. The physical condition of school buildings varies enormously, as does the availability and quality of resources.
  • Trips with pupils or staff development opportunities may occasionally involve staying away from home and/or overseas travel.

Qualifications

Teacher training providers set their own entry requirements, the minimum requirements are at least a GCSE grade C/grade 4 (grade B in Wales) in English and mathematics and a degree. If you do not have these qualifications, approach institutions before submitting an application, as some offer special tests for such applicants. Additionally, you will need to satisfactorily pass checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service.

If you are yet to complete a degree, you could complete a Bachelor of Education (BEd) or a BA/BSc - with qualified teacher status (QTS) for England and Wales, or teaching qualification (TQ) in Scotland. If you already have a degree, you will need to complete a postgraduate teacher training course, which will lead to a QTS in England and Wales or TQ in Scotland.

Independent schools, free schools and academies may employ teachers without QTS although, in practice, this is uncommon. Briefly, the options for postgraduate teacher training are:

University-led training - A Postgraduate Certificate in Secondary Education (PGCE) or Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) in Scotland - courses are available at many universities and colleges. You'll spend a minimum of 24 weeks in at least two schools with the remainder spent at a higher education institution (HEI).

School-led training (England and Wales only)

  • School Direct - a school-based training route. The expectation is 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) - schools devise their own training programme usually in partnership with an HEI. Most courses will also offer a PGCE.
  • Teach First - gives the opportunity to teach for two years in challenging schools and complete a PGCE, after which you can either stay in teaching or move on to roles in the public sector or business. Applications are made directly through the Teach First website. Applications for most courses in England and Wales are made throughout the year, with applications opening in the autumn through UCAS Teacher Training and in Scotland through UCAS. Northern Irish universities recruit directly. For full details, see applying for teacher training.

Detailed information about routes into teacher training can be found on the following websites:

If you are an overseas student wishing to come and teach in the UK you can find up-to-date information on the Get Into Teaching website.

It is possible to gain Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status as an equivalent to QTS. This professional status can be achieved by successfully completing professional formation, a process that enables you to demonstrate the effective use of skills and knowledge in your professional practice. You can find details about QTLS on the Society for Education and Training website.

Although training is open to all graduates, a degree related to a national curriculum subject increases your chances of obtaining a place. Your pre-university education may also be taken into account. Many institutions offer subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) courses for priority subjects, if your degree isn't related to the subject you want to teach.

Current priority subjects include:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • computing
  • geography
  • languages
  • mathematics
  • physics.

In England, trainee teachers must pass national skills tests in numeracy and literacy before starting their teacher training. You will be required to take these tests as part of the teacher training application process and must pass the tests before starting your course.

Full details of postgraduate teacher training bursaries and funding in England is available on the Get Into Teaching website. For Scotland refer to the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) and Wales on the Teacher Training & Education in Wales.

You can also find student finance information on the government Teacher training funding pages. In Northern Ireland, PGCE students are eligible for awards from their LEA and library board.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a respect and fondness for children
  • excellent communication skills for working with children, other teachers and parents
  • good listening skills
  • the capacity to learn quickly
  • strong organisational skills
  • the ability to inspire and enthuse children
  • energy, resourcefulness, responsibility and patience
  • a caring nature and an understanding of the needs and feelings of children
  • the ability to work independently, as well as being able to work in a team
  • a sense of humour and the ability to keep things in perspective
  • an ability to be creative
  • a good knowledge of the subject in which you are going to teach.

To find out more about desirable skills see essential skills for secondary school teachers.

Work experience

You will need to have classroom experience, gained as an observer or classroom assistant, for example through the School Experience Programme (SEP). Many secondary schools are also happy to accept volunteer work experience placements. Find out more about volunteering in schools.

If you have other experience with children outside of the classroom, e.g. through sports, play schemes, summer camps, youth clubs, tutoring or mentoring, this may strengthen your application, as it will show you have a genuine interest in working with children.

You will need to be familiar with the national curriculum for your subject and be able to demonstrate enthusiasm, motivation, commitment and strong communication skills.

Employers

Most secondary school teachers work in maintained or local education authority (LEA) schools. QTS is usually required to teach in independent schools and it is now possible to complete the induction period satisfactorily in an independent school.

Some secondary teachers take on supply work through an agency or arrange supply work directly with schools. Supply work offers flexibility, which suits some people, although it is less stable than a permanent contract.

Once you are trained and have gained some experience you could look for positions overseas. Many countries expect a teacher to have qualifications gained in that country, but it is sometimes possible to negotiate terms. Opportunities are available through international schools and in schools for the families of the armed forces.

Some teachers go on exchange programmes to other parts of the world, and some do voluntary work in developing countries through organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist teaching recruitment agencies include:

Agencies also advertise in the TES and the local press. Many LAs send recruitment leaflets to universities and most have useful recruitment websites. Vacancies may occur at any time, but most are advertised in May, when teachers not returning in September hand in their notice.

Professional development

Initial teacher training (ITT) combines theoretical learning with at least 24 weeks teaching practice in schools and can be undertaken in a variety of ways.

NQTs serve a three-term induction or probationary period of assessment, usually completed in a single school year upon successful completion of qualified teacher status (QTS) being confirmed.

This is a period of rapid, supported development and additional assistance, consolidating what has been learned in teacher training. It is comprised of two main aspects:

  • an individual programme of professional development and monitoring
  • an assessment against the national induction standards.

During the induction period, NQTs are monitored and supported, have a reduced timetable, and work on areas identified for development during their teacher training.

In-service training is available to all teachers, both in-house and at local education authority (LEA) training centres. Training topics include:

  • curriculum issues
  • special needs
  • subject leadership
  • pastoral care
  • new initiatives
  • technology - including child protection and online exploitation training.

Some teachers pursue higher qualifications, such as an MEd or MBA, on a part-time basis, 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. You may become a head of department, head of year or coordinator of a cross-curricular area, such as special needs or careers education, as well as subject or professional mentors for trainee teachers on placement.

You could take on additional responsibility as a leading practitioner, in which you would share excellent classroom practice, knowledge and expertise with colleagues in their own schools and other schools in the locality. You would receive additional pay and increased non-contact time for this.

Accelerated leadership development programmes, including the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) for teachers who are aiming to become head teachers or principals are provided by the National College for School Leadership.

Moving out of schools and into other related jobs is also an option, such as further education lecturing, school inspection with Ofsted, advisory or consultancy roles, initial teacher training, or administration in LEAs or examination boards. You could also consider a move into education work in museums, art galleries and zoos.

There are some opportunities for self-employment, which include private tutoring, writing educational materials or running a small private school.