While teaching is a rewarding job it is also very demanding so it is important to do your research and understand what's involved before you enter this valuable profession

Age groups

The UK education system is broadly divided into primary and secondary schools, with a few authorities running a three-tier system. The key stages include:

  • Early years foundation stage (EYFS): 0-5 year olds; nursery and reception
  • Key Stage 1: 5-7 year olds; school years 1-2
  • Key Stage 2: 7-11 year olds; school years 3-6
  • Key Stage 3: 11-14 year olds; school years 7-9
  • Key Stage 4: 14-16 year olds; school years 10-11

Try to gain experience with different age ranges to help you decide which group is right for you. Teacher training covers two key stages and, once qualified, teachers gain experience of teaching across key stages but tend to stay within the age range they trained to teach.

Legally, qualified teacher status (QTS) means that you're qualified to teach any age range at a maintained school in England and Wales. You would need supporting evidence to demonstrate that you have the experience to do that effectively for example secondary teachers would need to show they can teach a broader curriculum for primary.

Subjects to teach

Primary schools cover KS1 and KS2 and teaching content is broad, covering the whole range of national curriculum subjects:

  • English;
  • maths;
  • science;
  • art and design;
  • computing;
  • design and technology;
  • geography;
  • history;
  • languages (at KS2);
  • music;
  • physical education (PE), including swimming.

Primary schools are also required to teach religious education (RE). Some primary initial teacher training (ITT) courses include a specialism such as maths.

Secondary schools cover KS3 and KS4, and sometimes post-16. The core subjects are maths, English and science. The foundation subjects are citizenship, computing and physical education. Schools must also offer at least one subject from each of these areas: humanities; modern foreign languages; arts; and design and technology.

Pupils work towards national qualifications, usually GCSEs during KS4. Additional subjects offered include, drama, dance, and media studies. Schools are also required to offer RE, careers guidance and sex and relationship education (SRE).

Shortage subjects receive the most funding for teacher training, which in 2016/17 is between £3,000 and £30,000. You can improve your knowledge of subjects such as geography, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, design and technology, computing or a language with a subject knowledge enhancement course.

Types of schools

The UK has broadly two sectors of school education; state maintained and independent. The type of school can affect how its run, the admissions criteria, who staff are employed by and what's in their contracts. The different types include:

  • Academies and free schools, including City Technical Colleges and Studio Schools, don't have to follow the national curriculum. They may focus on a specialism such as business and enterprise, technology, science or art and will participate in the KS3 and GCSE exams, which effectively means they teach a curriculum very similar to maintained schools.
  • Maintained must follow the national curriculum and, as long as these requirements are still met, can focus on specific subjects such as RE in faith schools.
  • Independent sector, including Montessori and Steiner Waldorf Schools, are exempt from following the national curriculum, focusing instead on the child's individual creative, moral and personal development. They expect teaching applicants to have their own specialist teacher training qualifications. There are also City Technology Colleges that focus on practical and technological skills. These are non-fee paying and are funded by central government and companies, not the local council.

You should carry out some volunteering in schools to see which is the best match for you.

Becoming a qualified teacher

To teach in England and Wales you need to gain QTS. You will obtain this on an ITT programme which could be school or university-based and takes approximately one year to complete. Once you have finished the course, assuming that you meet the standards, you will be awarded QTS and become a newly qualified teacher (NQT) ready to undertake your induction year.

Scottish teachers are required to complete Initial Teacher Education and a probationary year. A Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Primary), a Professional Master of Education or PGCE is required to become a teacher in Ireland.

Applications for most teacher training programmes in England and Wales are made through UCAS Teacher Training, in the autumn prior to starting training. To find out more, see routes into teaching. Financial support is available including bursaries for some subjects depending on degree grade.

Entry requirements for teacher training

To train as a teacher in England, you need:

  • School-based work experience of a minimum of two weeks in the age range you want to teach, see volunteering in schools.
  • A UK degree (or equivalent) of a 2:2 or above. If you want to teach at secondary or post-compulsory level, your degree should be in, or relevant to, the subject you want to teach. If it's not, contact a training provider as you may be able to take a subject knowledge enhancement course.
  • At least a GCSE grade C or equivalent in English and maths, or a B or above in Wales. If you want to teach primary or early years you will also need a GCSE grade C or equivalent in science. Some training providers may accept equivalency tests but you'll need to check with the individual provider.
  • To pass the professional skills tests for numeracy and literacy. These must be passed during the application process for your teacher training course.
  • To have declared any previous convictions and undergone the criminal records check through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Skills and qualities for teaching

To become a good teacher you need:

  • Proven ability to relate to pupils and their parents/carers, this could be from working in a school or in other contexts such as guides and scouts or coaching a sports team. This will develop your awareness of how to inspire and motivate your pupils and promote good working relationships with their parents/carers.
  • Enthusiasm for the subjects you teach at secondary or FE level in particular. Show that you read up on this subject in your own time and are interested in the related current educational issues.
  • A depth of knowledge in the subject/age range and relevant curriculum. This will enable you to build good foundations for learning and set developmental expectations for your pupils.
  • The ability to convey your knowledge to the students in an engaging and understandable way. Inspirational teachers develop excellent communication skills through their work with young people, they can also teach the curriculum in a variety of ways to students who have diverse learning styles.
  • Confidence in your ability to teach and the capacity to be a good role model even when tired and under pressure.
  • Great organisational skills as teachers are often balancing many demands including pupils needs, lesson preparation, assessments and discipline matters.
  • Dedication, commitment and resilience, excellent teachers reflect on their experiences and adapt their approach, constantly learning and improving.
  • The ability to deal with conflict and be patient and calm in sometimes stressful situations.
  • Integrity which enables pupils, colleagues and parents/carers to be able to trust you as a teacher
  • A good sense of humour.

Induction year for newly qualified teachers

Once you've passed ITT in England and Wales you will be awarded QTS. You will then be required to complete an induction year to become a fully qualified teacher. During this time you must demonstrate that you meet the Teachers' Standards (England) or Practising Teacher Standards (Wales).

You will be provided with an induction tutor/mentor, a reduced teaching load and a tailored induction programme.

The probationary year in Scotland is known as the Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS), a guaranteed one-year probationary teaching post with a Scottish local authority school. To be eligible, you must be a newly qualified teacher who has graduated from a Scottish university and have been assessed as a home student for fees.

Salaries and pay scales

Starting salaries in the UK are revised annually, for 2015/16 they are:

  • England and Wales (excluding London and fringes) - £22,244
  • Inner London - £27,819
  • Outer London - £25,880
  • London fringe - £23,313

Schools now have greater freedom to develop their own pay policies and decide how their teachers are rewarded. Teacher's pay progression will be linked to performance and schools are also able to award discretionary points for other relevant experience.

Find out more about teaching salaries in England.

The starting annual salary for a probationer teacher in Scotland is £22,194. After the probationary year, your salary increases to £26,628 and could increase annually up to £35,409. Discover what salaries in Scotland you can expect.