Not only will you gain valuable skills and an idea of the area you'd like to teach in by volunteering in schools, you'll demonstrate your commitment to - and enthusiasm for - entering the teaching profession

Completing voluntary placements in schools will work to your advantage - particularly when applying for school-led positions. If you're already working in a school, you could be at the top of the priority list if any training opportunities arise.

School experience for trainee teachers

It may not be a mandatory requirement, but by gaining some school experience you'll develop a valuable insight into teaching. Having this experience will also strengthen your application and prepare you for potential interviews. Volunteering at a school will provide:

  • the opportunity to observe and learn from experienced teachers
  • knowledge of the national curriculum/education system of the region you're applying to work in
  • evidence of your commitment
  • practical classroom-based examples that you can use at interview, such as small group leading and lesson planning.

Before you start your school experience, you might be asked to complete a current Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Look for experience in a range of settings to gain a much broader perspective on education. For example, if you went to a village school, do your research into what it's like to work at an inner city school before throwing yourself in at the deep end.

How to get teaching experience

It may take time to find classroom work experience, so start early in your degree. To begin your search:

  • Try contacting schools, nurseries and colleges directly and ask if you can visit, shadow or observe the teachers. Visit GOV.UK's Get information about schools for contact details.
  • Check with family and friends as you may find someone has good links with schools.
  • Many university courses have a period of work experience as part of the course. If you have a dissertation, you may choose to base that around work in a school. Visit the volunteering department at your university and ask about school placements.
  • The Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme (UAS) includes a module working in local schools for maths, science, technology or engineering undergraduates.
  • Some universities run student tutoring programmes where you tutor other students or go into schools to help with classes. Check with your university careers service or students' union for more details.
  • If you're thinking of teaching in England, Get Into Teaching's School Experience Programme (SEP) can help you find a local school. Look out for taster courses, school visits and open days to give you an insight into teaching and teacher training.
  • Most local authorities and teaching agencies advertise vacancies on their websites including learning mentor, teaching assistant, and laboratory technician or cover supervisor.
  • Charities or local authorities in your area may run schemes for voluntary mentors to work with pupils, often on a one-to-one basis.

Applying for the School Experience Programme (SEP)

The SEP provides opportunities for final year students and graduates to visit a school and gain experience in the classroom. You'll be able to observe teaching and pastoral work across a range of age groups and subjects and gain an insight into the day-to-day life of a teacher by talking to the staff you're observing.

To apply, you'll need to register with Get Into Teaching and book a slot through its online portal. You can only book one day's experience at a time - discuss securing further placements with the school once you're there. 

6 tips to make your classroom experience a success

  • Behave in a professional manner as you may be approaching this school for a job in the future.
  • Use your time in school wisely. Offer to help wherever you can, take responsibility, consider running a club or find something that you can contribute to the school.
  • Talk to the teachers about how they got into teaching.
  • Actively observe different teaching styles, thinking about which you prefer and why.
  • Keep a log of your work experiences, positive and negative, reflect on them and think about how you might do it differently.
  • Aim to become a regular volunteer. This way, both you and the school will benefit more from the experience.

Alternative ideas for work experience

The volunteering you do doesn't have to all be classroom based, as any work experience with children shows commitment, dedication and reliability. You could get involved in:

  • afterschool clubs
  • coaching a sports team
  • mentoring
  • scouts/guides
  • summer camps
  • youth clubs.

While these will equip you with useful additional knowledge, they should not replace classroom experience.

For more ideas of what you could do, search volunteering opportunities.

Find out more