Maybe you help out at your local youth club, or help look after a younger brother or sister. Or perhaps you're just fascinated by the way children's minds work.
If you want to make a difference during children's formative years, a career in primary teaching could be for you. Read on to find out how to become a primary school teacher.
'Want to change children's lives? Find out how to become a primary school teacher'
What do primary school teachers do?
Primary school teachers are responsible for the educational, social and emotional development of children aged between 5 and 11. This period includes Key Stages 1 and 2 of the education system, which takes pupils from Years 1 to 6. Some primary school teachers work with younger children in reception class.
Primary school teachers usually teach a particular year group, taking a single class for the entire year. This means they’re responsible for teaching all primary subjects, including maths, English, science, geography, history, art, music, and sometimes even a language.
But primary school teachers do far more than just teach lessons. They also:
- Manage pupils’ behaviour.
- Plan and prepare lessons.
- Mark students’ work.
- Create displays.
- Organise events and activities.
- Talk to parents and meet them at parents’ evening.
- Work with non-teaching colleagues such as psychologists and special needs specialists to make sure their pupils’ needs are being met.
What’s it like to be a primary school teacher?
With all that work to do, many primary school teachers end up working more than the standard 37 hours per week. You may have to work at home to ensure your planning and marking is done. Preparation tends to get easier as you become more experienced because you’ll have lesson plans at the ready.
That said, teachers work fewer days than the typical 260 full-time working days per year. Instead, they work 195 days per year, taking off the long summer holiday, breaks at Christmas and Easter and half term. Some of this time will be spent preparing for the coming term.
The best way to find out what it’s like to be a primary school teacher is to hear from one. Check out this video from Teach North Lincs:
What skills does a primary school teacher need?
Good communication skills are fundamental to teaching. At primary school, your pupils will be encountering ideas for the first time. Some of these will be quite complicated and abstract, so the ability to make these concrete and easily comprehendible to a young mind is absolutely vital.
As a primary school teacher, you’ll have to speak to parents and carers. This probably won’t be confined to parents’ evening. You may have to deal with anxious (or even angry) mums and dads on occasions, and the ability to handle difficult situations in a sensitive, non-confrontational way with great people skills will certainly come in handy.
Primary school teachers have a lot of plates to spin. Good organisational skills will help you stay on top of your preparation, which is crucial to successful teaching – as well as your marking and various admin tasks.
One of the toughest skills any primary school teacher must develop is the ability to control a large group of children in a firm and fair way. For most people, this is a skill that comes with time spent in the classroom. A bit of natural flair will help. However, it is a skill which can be learned, and there are techniques to help you master it, many of which you will work on during your training.
What qualifications do I need?
To become a primary school teacher, you need:
- GCSEs: A*-C (or the new level 4 and up) in maths, English and science.
- Experience working in a school.
- A check by the Disclosure and Barring Service commonly known as a “DBS check”. That’s to make sure you don’t have a criminal record which could stop you being allowed to work with children.
Although there are a few exceptions, you’ll almost always need a degree to teach:
- All state schools (that’s government-run schools like comprehensives) require a degree, except academies and free schools, although most will probably want one.
- Independent (or “private”) schools don’t require a degree, but again, most will want one.
- To teach at primary level, it doesn’t generally matter what subject your degree is in.
How can I get my qualifications?
There are two main routes to become a primary school teacher and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which qualifies you to teach in any school in the UK:
- Schools-led route.
- University-led route.
Many independent schools will take on graduates without QTS, but we recommend getting it even if you plan to teach in the independent sector. Having QTS means you’ll gain high-quality training, as well as giving you the flexibility to teach anywhere you like.
This means you’ll spend most of your time teaching in a school, with the equivalent of roughly a day per week learning the theory in university or college.
The two main schemes on the schools-led route are School Direct and Teach First. You’ll need a degree to enter either of these schemes. In both cases, you’ll earn a salary – that means you’ll be paid by the school where you’re employed.
Training typically lasts a year. If you’re successful, you’ll gain Qualified Teacher Status or “QTS”, and become a Newly Qualified Teacher (QTS). You may also gain some additional qualifications, such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
You’ll spend a year as an NQT, and if you pass the year, you’ll become a fully qualified teacher.
You’ll spend most of your time at university or college as you work towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Since this is a “postgraduate” course, you’ll need a degree to qualify for the programme.
During your course, which usually lasts one year, you’ll teach in two schools. On completing the year, you’ll gain your QTS, as with the schools-led route, and then become an NQT for a further year.
You won’t be employed by a school, which means you won’t get paid as an employee. Instead, you can apply for a grant of up to £25,000, which you’ll be entitled to provided you gained a 2.ii or higher in your degree. You won’t have to pay tax to the government on this grant – which means you get to keep it all to fund your training.
How much do primary school teachers earn?
Most primary school teachers start on about £22,500 once they have gained their QTS. This can go up to about £33,000 without you needing to take on extra responsibilities or gain further qualifications.
If you’re really good at your job, you can apply for the “upper scale” later on. If successful, this takes your pay above the £33,000 limit.
If you take on extra responsibilities, such as teaching students with special educational needs (SEN), you could top up your salary with extra payments.
The absolute top limit for headteachers at primary school is around £115,582 (in inner London).
All the salary bands are higher in London because it costs more to live there.
As we said, you don’t have to stop once you’ve got your QTS. You could:
- Take on extra responsibilities, such as working with pupils with special educational needs (SEN) like autism or dyslexia.
- Take on management responsibility, by becoming head of year, for example.
- Offer extra tuition in a particular subject area, such as music, languages or sports.
Now you know how to become a primary school teacher, find out more about careers in teaching by checking our our Education & Teaching career zone.
All images by Freepik