Teaching in Schools

If you already have a teaching qualification or are currently completing a teacher training course you will find some of the information helpful, but should also look at the information on applying for teaching jobs provided by TARGETjobs. For careers in education beyond the classroom see Education Alternatives.

Teaching has been a popular destination for Oxford graduates, and demand for well-qualified, effective teachers remains high, particularly in the secondary sector. 

Teacher shortages in a number of secondary school subjects have been widely reported for the last few years. Recruitment targets were missed in maths, geography, modern foreign languages, computing and physics. There is not a shortage of primary school teachers and competition for primary teacher training courses is strong. Starting salaries for teachers will rise to £30k in 2023.

Much of the information that follows can be applied across the UK, but there are significant differences between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are hoping to teach internationally then be aware that required teaching qualifications vary greatly between countries and are not always transferable (more on this below). Similarly, if you are an international student aiming to teach in the UK much of the government funding is aimed at UK and EU students. Some routes into teaching are only open to international graduates who already have the right to work in the UK (eg Teach First). For these reasons you need to think carefully about your teacher training route in the UK, and, ideally, be sure the qualification/experience is transferable to your home country or other countries of interest to you.

Types of School (UK)

Schools in the UK fall into two main categories: the government-funded, state-maintained sector (‘state’ or ‘maintained’ schools) and the independent sector, funded by fees and sometimes charitable foundations (known as ‘public’ or ‘private’ schools). Over 90% of UK children are educated in state schools. Most state-maintained schools are all-ability comprehensive schools, but a few are grammar schools. Grammar schools select pupils according to ability and entry is dependent on performance in the 11+ exam. Regions of the UK with grammar school systems include Kent, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

Most schools in England are academies. These are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. Although the day-to-day running of the school remains with the head teacher, they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts and may be part of an academy chain. They have more freedom than other state schools over their finances and curriculum, and do not need to follow national pay and conditions for teachers (though many do).

Compulsory education in the UK runs from age four or five (depending on the region) to age 16. Most young people remain in education, apprenticeships or training until the age of 18. Though a few independent schools and academies accept pupils between ages four to 18, most children attend a primary school until age 11 and then a secondary school from 11-16 or 18. In some parts of the country nine to 13 year-olds attend middle schools, a pattern echoed in the independent sector where preparatory or prep schools typically take pupils to age 13.

Some schools specialise in working with children with specific special educational needs or disability, for example autistic spectrum neurodiversity or visual impairment.

Pupil Referral Units cater for pupils who are excluded and/or unable to attend a mainstream or special school.

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Secondary school teachers

Secondary school teachers of national curriculum subjects, i.e. English, mathematics, science, technology, geography, music, art, modern languages and religious education, are in greatest demand in both state-maintained and independent secondary schools. There are many opportunities to progress into positions of responsibility, e.g. head of department or head of year, for which you would receive an increase in salary.

Primary school teachers

Primary school teachers usually take responsibility for teaching all areas of the curriculum to the same class for an academic year. Most become specialists with a specific age group – either early years foundation stage (3-5 year olds), key stage one (years 1 and 2, 5-7 year olds) or key stage two (years 3-6, 7-11 year olds). It is also possible to become a subject specialist within a primary school. This may mean co-ordinating the provision of a subject throughout the school (e.g. science or modern foreign languages) or in some cases teaching a particular subject across all age groups, most common for music, drama and PE.

Sixth form and FE teachers

Sixth form colleges and further education (FE) colleges deliver academic and vocational courses to students aged 16-19 (and also adult learners). Teachers (or lecturers in FE) are subject specialists. Within the education sector, FE is the most de-regulated area with the largest variety of ages served and range of qualifications.  All regulation has been removed and it’s up to individual college heads which qualifications they look for. Colleges will prefer people that are qualified when recruiting for a teaching role and there is usually a reasonable expectation that you either have a teaching qualification when you apply or that you’re prepared to train. Some colleges run their own training. FE Advice gives a helpful overview of the training routes and qualifications relevant for this sector.

SEND teachers

Many teachers have specific responsibilities for working with pupils with special educational needs & disabilities (SEND). These range from gifted and talented pupils, to those with learning difficulties, or with physical or mental impairment. Many of these pupils are accommodated with additional support in mainstream schools, but special schools also exist. Most SEN teachers gain classroom experience and then specialise. See Prospects: SEN for further information.

Other roles

This briefing focuses on teaching in schools, but there are teaching opportunities in a wide range of settings. For example – hospitals, prisons and young offenders’ institutions, adult education, private tuition and so on. See AGCAS's guide to Education Alternatives for an overview of the options.

There are many other roles beyond the classroom to progress towards, e.g. in teacher training, research, advisory and inspection roles and local or Civil Service administration. Also see our information on Academia & Higher Education, and Government & Public Administration in Sectors and Occupations.

Skills needed

There are few jobs that call on as wide a range of skills as teaching, for example:

  • Specialist knowledge
  • Communication skills
  • Persuasiveness
  • Motivation and interpersonal skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Stamina, energy and empathy
  • Above all you must enjoy working with children!

Getting experience

It is important to sample life as a teacher before committing yourself. Most teacher training providers expect you to have spent some time observing your prospective subject(s) being taught in a state school, before they will interview you for a course place. For example ‘5 days classroom observation experience and popular subjects will require more than this’ is typical.

Given the pandemic, there is obviously more flexibility regarding the requirement for classroom experience. The Oxford PGCE office, for example, recommends that 'Before interview, it is expected that applicants have completed at least one day of observation in a UK secondary comprehensive school...however, an application can be made without completing any classroom experience, especially given the current global situation. In addition to classroom experience applicants may wish to arrange online discussions with UK teachers, review GCSE and A-level pupil revision textbooks, or read reports (charity or government) discussing specific elements of education. Applicants who are permanently based outside of the UK could instead gain experience within a school local to them which follows the UK education system: observations of International GCSE lessons or time spent within an International School will be seen as highly relevant. 

Ideally you will also have a track record of interest in work with young people, perhaps through university societies or schemes, such as Target Schools or the UNIQ Summer School at Oxford or online tutoring.

Insight Into Teaching

The Careers Service partners with schools in Oxfordshire to provide the opportunity for Oxford students to gain classroom observation in a variety of subjects and insights into working in a range of schools. The programme usually runs in Hilary and Trinity Terms each year. In Hilary and Trinity 2022 we ran a modified programme due to restrictions on school visits. See Insight Into Teaching for details of upcoming opportunities and to apply.

Schools Plus

Schools Plus is a volunteering initiative run by Oxford Hub to allow Oxford students to volunteer in local under-performing schools to help struggling pupils to improve their grades, provide educational activities that go beyond the curriculum and act as positive role models and mentors. Oxford Hub also run a Blackbird Leys Summer School and various other local initiatives with young people to get involved with. 

The School Experience Programme

The School Experience Programme usually offers placements in schools across England. Register on the government School Experience website to see what is available in your area.

University societies & volunteering

  • Jacari – A home teaching scheme for ethnic minority children.
  • KEEN – A registered charity providing sporting and recreational facilities for children and young adults with special needs in the Oxfordshire area.
  • Oxford Splash – Oxford Splash is a one-day event in Hilary Term, which invites local school students to Oxford University to take classes in a broad range of subjects taught by Oxford University students. You can volunteer to teach a one-off lesson on a subject you are passionate about and, thus,  inspire students to learn beyond their traditional school curriculum.
  • Oxford University Widening Access and Participation – run and coordinate a wide range of programmes and activities aimed at encouraging students from under-represented backgrounds to enter higher education in general and Oxford University in particular, and often need student volunteers.
  • UNIQ Summer Schools – a programme of free summer schools offering a taster of university life for year 12 students.

Graduate internships

There are occasionally opportunities to work for up to a year as a graduate assistant or intern in a school. You may be supporting the work of a department, or extra-curricular activity, or coaching small groups of pupils. Most common in the independent sector (see advertisements locally and in the TES), there are also some educational charities who offer 1-2 term internships in the state sector too.

Opportunities for researchers

There may be opportunities for DPhil and postdoctoral researchers to gain some experience teaching undergraduate students either in tutorials, seminars or labs. Talk to the Director of Studies in your department or college to explore possibilities and find out how it works for your subject. The Centre for Teaching and Learning runs a range of programmes for those teaching within the University including the popular Preparation for Teaching and Learning course.

Arrange your own experience

You may well be able to arrange one or more days observing in a classroom by contacting a local school directly. Write to the Head in the first instance or the Head of Faculty/Subject in larger secondary schools and academies. A full listing, with contact details, for Oxford’s state schools is produced by Oxford County Council.

College outreach activities

Each Oxford College is linked with one or more regions across the UK for schools liaison and outreach. Alongside the Oxford Student Recruitment team, the colleges engage with schools via a number of different activities such as Year 12 school visits, teachers’ conferences, college tours, subject taster days and so on. Speak to the Tutor for Admissions or Access Officer at your college to find out more.

Independent Schools

Opportunities for new graduates to teach for a term or more occasionally arise and can provide useful experience; these may be advertised on CareerConnect or in the TES.  A full list of independent schools, with contact details, can be found on the Independent School Council website. The Oxford Careers Service usually advertises at least one local independent school information and advice evening a year in conjunction with Magdalen College School. This is in addition to the experience available via our Insight into Teaching programme which provides experience in a range of school types and subjects.

Private tutoring

Offering to tutor pupils in your subject area can be a great way to gain familiarity with the national curriculum and exam syllabuses. Be clear about the range and level of subjects and syllabuses you can offer. You can expect to earn £15-£25 per hour. By signing up with a few tutoring agencies you can begin to grow your client base. Identify tutoring agencies on CareerConnect by reviewing current  vacancies and searching LinkedIn. Do your research when looking for agencies and check that they're members of The Tutors' Association.

In order to qualify to teach in a state school in England and Wales, you must have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Some training routes lead only to QTS, others lead to QTS and an academic qualification such as a PGCE, PGDE and Masters credits. If you are considering teaching outside England or Wales ultimately, then you may find that QTS alone is not sufficient – in Scotland for example you will also need to have a PGCE (or PGDE) or equivalent (e.g. 60 credits at Masters level).

Eligibility requirements

Government regulations state that applicants must have a degree and passes at Grade C / 4 or above in GCSE Maths and English (or equivalent). For early years and primary courses applicants must also have a science GCSE at Grade C / 4 or above. Beyond that, each initial teacher training provider is responsible for its recruitment and admissions policy, so it may be possible for somebody who has studied Development to teach Geography, or a Classicist to teach English. You should contact training providers directly with queries about the suitability of your degree course for the subject you wish to teach. Subject knowledge booster and subject enhancement courses also exist in some shortage subjects for graduates needing to develop their subject knowledge prior to a course of teacher training.

Degree Subject

Legislation does not specify that teachers must have a degree in a particular discipline in order to teach that subject in secondary schools. Similarly, there is no statutory requirement for primary trainee teachers to have a degree in a national curriculum subject. In order to acheive QTS trainees do need to meet standards that relate to subject and curriculum knowledge by the end of their training. This means that it is possible to train to teach a subject other than your degree subject as long as you can demonstrate sufficient subject knowledge to meet the requirements of QTS. In practice most teacher training providers expect the majority share of your degree to be in a relevant subject, but it is possible to make a case for teaching say mathematics from a science or engineering degree, or history from a law degree if you have a strong A level or equivalent in the subject you wish to teach.

Routes into Teaching

Get into teaching provides a clear overview of the various teacher training routes in England. Similar advice also exists for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

PGCE courses led by universities

Many graduates training to teach do so by taking a one-year, full-time PGCE at a university or other higher education provider. Some two-year, flexible, part-time courses are also available. In addition to substantial classroom experience in two, or more, different schools, the PGCE offers time in university focusing on topics such as the national curriculum, principles and practice of teaching your subject, the professional role of the teacher and aspects of teaching which are relevant to the whole school. Some courses include Masters-level modules, and all lead to the same QTS. QTS is awarded on successful completion of the first year in post in a school as a Newly-Qualified Teacher (NQT). Search for courses and apply via the government portal.

SCITTs

Similar to the university-based PGCE, School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) is delivered by a local consortium of colleges or schools rather than a university, and applications follow the same route as that for PGCE. Search for courses and apply via the government portal.

School Direct

School Direct places are offered by a school or group of schools in partnership with an accredited teacher training institution, often the local university or SCITT. This allows schools to train graduates as teachers in the subjects and age ranges they need and in the way they want them trained. In return for this the schools will be expected (though not guaranteed) to find a job for the trainee once they finish training. School Direct leads to qualified teacher status (QTS) and many, though not all, will also award a PGCE or even PGDE. Funding for School Direct attracts the same level of tuition fees and the same bursaries as PGCE and, in common with university-led courses. Search for courses and apply via the government portal.

School Direct (salaried)

The salaried version of School Direct is open to graduates with three or more years’ career experience, though this is becoming challenging for some providers since The Department for Education ended grants for school direct salaried trainees in primary, English, geography, history, music, RE and design and technology from 2021-22. It is worth talking to providers about your own circumstances and attending open days to find out more about this route. On this scheme trainees will be employed initially as an unqualified teacher while they train in school. Despite the focus on training as you teach, many ‘school direct (salaried)’ courses give you a PGCE or PGDE (an academic qualification) in addition to QTSSearch for courses and apply via the government portal.

Teach First

Teach First is a two-year programme combining training, qualifying and working as a teacher, with opportunities to develop leadership and management skills, and a wide range of networking and summer project options.

The aim of Teach First is to address educational disadvantage by placing high-calibre graduates to teach in challenging secondary and primary schools, while acquiring QTS and a PGDE.  Many Teach First participants have remained in teaching at the end of their two years and all become ambassadors for Teach First with continued support to address educational disadvantage.

Teach First applications are open year-round. You are advised to apply early (during the preceding summer or autumn) particularly for non-shortage subjects such as history, also for primary places. A-levels at grade B or above in maths, science or English can qualify you to teach that subject with Teach First regardless of your degree subject.

Teacher Training in the post-compulsory sector (FE)

Many enter the FE sector with no teaching qualification and work towards relevant qualifications part time while in post. Alternatively it is possible to do a full-time PGCE specialising in the FE sector. The average FE college has thousands of students covering a wide spectrum of vocational and academic courses. There are some 300+ colleges employing 100,000+ teaching staff, many of whom work part time. Work-based learning, Adult & Community Learning and Offender Learning all fall under the umbrella of FE teaching. FE Advice provide comprehensive information about training in the FE sector, and operate a very helpful information line (0300 303 1877) for queries.

Early Years Teacher Training (EYTT)

Early years refers to children up to the age of compulsory schooling (age 5). Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) has recently been introduced, and now has equivalent standing to QTS. Four training routes are available that focus on Early Years, including School Direct and employment-based options. This route is usually separate to the application routes for PGCE and School Direct so you will need to contact the training provider directly. In some instances the training providers will expect you to already be working in an early years setting (such as a nursery or pre-school) but there are also routes available full time for those not in these settings already. Find out more on the Get into Teaching website. 

Independent School Sector

You are not obliged to have QTS in order to teach in independent schools. But in practice, even within the independent sector, many head teachers or principals prefer applicants who are qualified. Some offer schemes similar to the salaried School Direct route to promising candidates. In some instances independent schools will sponsor visas but this is on a case by case basis. Other options include:

  • Teaching vacancies for those without a teaching qualification are occasionally advertised on CareerConnect, and in the TES. For example, Magdalen College School in Oxford often look for graduates to join their Waynflete Certificate of Teacher Training.
  • Also consider writing speculatively to schools to enquire whether opportunities are available. Read our tips for making speculative applications for more information. The Independent Schools Council keeps a database of independent schools.
  • Graduate assistantships are offered by some independent schools, where you may have a pastoral role, or assist with music, drama or sporting activities, in return for board, lodging and a stipend for an academic year. These are most common in boarding schools.

Academies

Academies are publicly-funded schools which have freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days. Some academies recruit graduates to train as teachers, and many offer the School Direct programme or work alongside universities by offering teaching placements for PGCE students.

Alternative classroom roles

There are several roles that can immerse you in a classroom environment, perhaps to help you to decide whether teaching is for you. These include Teaching Assistant, Cover Supervisor, Learning Mentor and Learning Support Assistant. These roles can provide you with invaluable experience which may be particularly helpful when applying for popular teaching subjects such as history. Vacancies are usually advertised locally, in particular on local authority websites. The Local Government careers website has a useful overview of the various roles. A number of Teaching Assistants, for example, go on to undertake the School Direct programme in the school they have been working in as they gain a good understanding of the nature and structure of the school. In addition, the department training them may feel more confident about offering them a full time job upon completion of the course.

Applying for school- and university-led courses 

Search for courses and apply via the government portal.

  • Applications open in October every year.
  • Candidates can apply to three different training providers – these can be a mix of PGCE and School Direct providers. There is no order of preference, applications are sent out to all three choices simultaneously.
  • Institutions have 20 working days to review applications, interview candidates and make an offer or reject them.
  • Once candidates have received decisions from all of the training providers they have applied to, they will have 10 working days to reply to their offers.
  • From January each year unsuccessful applicants can apply for any course that still has vacancies (one at a time).

Choosing courses

  • Course quality
    Ofsted inspects initial teacher training courses and publishes reports. The Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) also produces annual ‘league tables’ (including SCITTs) based on a combination of Ofsted inspection results, entry qualifications and how many trainees enter the teaching profession. This is published as the Good Teacher Training Guide.
  • Other factors
    As well as the quality of the individual course you should also consider: geographic proximity to where you would like to teach afterwards, nature of school’s intake (e.g. rural/urban) in the light of future preferences, proximity of partner schools to the training provider, and your likely accommodation.

Application process

The application consists of:

  • Application form
    Personal details, details of qualifications, a breakdown of the subject content of your degree (important if you want to teach a subject not directly related to your degree course), details of relevant work experience and a…
  • Personal statement
    The most important part of your application – you will submit one statement that will be sent out to all three of your chosen institutions. Explain why you want to be a teacher, reflect on the relevant experience you already have and your commitment to your chosen subject and age range. You might also like a Careers Adviser to give you feedback on your statement before you submit it. We also run a session on writing statements at the Careers Service during Michaelmas Term.
  • References
    You can’t submit the form until these are completed online by your referees so make sure you leave plenty of time for this.
  • Application fee (unknown in August 2021)

Funding for university-led courses & School Direct

There are significant differences between the levels of support for trainee teachers in England, Wales and Scotland and in the support available to UK, EU and overseas students. The following applies to home students undertaking full-time courses in England. EU and overseas students will need to check eligibility carefully.

Funding for training in Scotland is administered by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). There are no government-funded training bursaries for teacher training in Scotland, but you can apply to SAAS for a loan and supplementary grants which are dependent on your household income and individual circumstances.

In England and Wales, three main sources of funding are available:

  1. Training bursaries and scholarships (higher for priority subjects for secondary school trainees)
  2. Tuition fee and maintenance loans;
    • PGCE and (non-salaried) School Direct students will need to pay a tuition fee for their course. The amount varies between institutions. Eligible students can receive a tuition fee loan to cover this cost. Maintenance loans are also available to eligible students. The level of loan available depends on household income, but all qualify for at least the minimum loan regardless of household income.
  3. Extra financial support
    • Depending on household income, or special circumstances, you may be able to apply for grants or loans from the local authority or government, for example if you have a disability or have dependent children. Visit the UK Government: Student Finance website for details.

Detailed information on fees and funding is provided by the Department for Education.

Teaching in Scotland

The education system in Scotland is different from the system in the rest of the UK. Compulsory education begins in primary schools at the age of 5 and the move to secondary school takes place at age 12. Compulsory education ends at age 16, although most stay in education until the age of 18. The school year begins in August rather than September. Pupils take Standards and Highers rather than GCSEs and A-Levels.

The only postgraduate route into teaching is the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) which follows the same basic format as PGCE courses in the rest of the UK. Teach in Scotland provides information about the different routes into training to teach in Scotland.

Teaching in Northern Ireland

If you want to teach in Northern Ireland make use of the guidance provided by The General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland and the Prospects advice about how to train and qualify to teach in Northern Ireland

Teaching outside the UK

The opportunities for UK teachers abroad are hugely varied, ranging from small schools for the children of expatriate employees of a single company to English-medium schools for over 2,000 pupils, many of whom may be nationals of the country concerned. Each country will have its own requirements and many require 2 years experience post-qualification to be eligible to teach in an international school setting. These can be competitive teaching jobs so think strategically about building your international teaching profile and what you can bring to the role. Teaching English in China or teaching in Kuwait, for example, are less competitive generally than teaching jobs in international schools in Singapore or Hong Kong. Local schools will have different approaches and expectations to English-speaking international schools so do your research carefully and discuss with a Careers Adviser to make a plan. Read more on the Edvectus site about teaching abroad 

Occasional vacancies are posted on CareerConnect, others can be found in the TES. Note that required teaching qualifications vary enormously between countries and even between states within a single country. Please also read our information on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

The TES, published each Friday, carries advertisements for UK and some overseas school and college vacancies. Occasionally CareerConnect will advertise temporary appointments and graduate teaching positions. Vacancies are also advertised directly by local authorities, usually online. Some also produce regular vacancy bulletins, which can be useful if you are restricting your search to a particular geographic area. A myriad of teaching agencies also exist.

For more information and advice on securing your first and subsequent teaching posts see the information about education from TargetJobs.

It may be possible to secure a teaching post in the independent sector without a teaching qualification. Look out for vacancies using the TES and CareerConnect, and be prepared to make well-researched and targeted speculative applications to schools that interest you.

Some independent schools employ graduates on an annual basis to support the school. The terminology used to describe such posts varies, but such posts are often called “graduate assistants” and may be general or specialist roles to support music, drama or sport within the school.

General information

Funding

Schools

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