How do you become a teacher?

How do you become a teacher

To work as a teacher of children from age five to sixteen in state maintained schools (excluding academies and free schools) in England and Wales you need to have professional qualified teacher status (QTS). To be awarded QTS by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) you must complete a period of training, such as a one-year Professional or Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course or school-centred training, which recommends you for QTS. This is known as initial teacher training (ITT).

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) then complete a period of induction, which is the first year of employment as a teacher in a school. NQTs are encouraged to start their induction as soon as possible after gaining QTS but there's no set time limit for starting or completing the induction.

Teachers in independent schools aren't required to have QTS, but most do. Many independent schools don't offer an NQT induction year.

It is possible to teach within further education without a teaching qualification, but career prospects are improved with one. For further information on teaching in other areas of the UK see our advice on training to teach in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What age range do you want to teach?

All teachers with QTS are trained to teach within one of the following phases:

  • Primary: typically across 3–7, 5–11 or 7–11 age ranges
  • Middle: typically across 7–14 age range
  • Secondary: typically across 11–16, 11–18 or 14–19 age range depending on the subject(s) of training

Once you have achieved QTS, it's legal for you to teach any age range, although it's not easy to move from one to another. Most teachers stay within the age ranges they trained to teach. If you want to change once you're qualified, you'll need to build up a portfolio of evidence to persuade the head teacher you are able to teach a different age range.

If you would like to teach children aged 0–5, you can pursue a course of early years initial teacher training, leading to early years teacher status (EYTS). Teachers with EYTS specialise in early childhood development and may be employed in any early years setting including private, voluntary, maintained and independent establishments, as well as primary and nursery schools, free schools and academies in England that deliver the early years foundation stage.

What subjects can you teach at primary level?

Primary schools cover KS1 (5–7 year olds) and KS2 (7–11 year olds). In general, you'll need to feel confident about teaching the wide range of national curriculum subjects, which include the following compulsory subjects:

  • English
  • maths
  • science
  • design and technology
  • history
  • geography
  • art and design
  • music
  • physical education (PE), including swimming
  • computing
  • ancient and modern foreign languages (at key stage 2).

In addition to these national curriculum subjects, primary schools must also teach religious education. They may also cover citizenship and personal, social and health education (PSHE).

Primary ITT courses are available with specialisms in a range of subjects. Incentives are available for training to teach as a primary maths specialist, teaching maths across the primary age range as well as supporting other teachers.

What subjects can I teach at secondary level?

ITT in secondary teaching entails a specialist subject, but once you've gained QTS, you're legally qualified to teach any subject. It's common to find teachers in schools teaching subjects other than those they specialised in during their teacher training.

Secondary schools cover KS3 (11–14 year olds) and KS4 (14–16 year olds), and sometimes post-16.

Compulsory national curriculum subjects are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science
  • history
  • geography
  • modern foreign languages
  • design and technology
  • art and design
  • music
  • physical education
  • citizenship
  • computing.

Schools must also provide religious education (RE), sex and relationship education (SRE) and careers guidance. Some schools additionally offer personal, social and health education (PSHE).

Schools also offer subjects outside this core list, for example, drama, dance, and media studies, and ITT courses exist to accommodate them.

Technical Awards, in subjects such as child development and graphic design, can be taken alongside at least five GCSEs by 14–16 year olds. Tech Levels can also be taken by 16–19 year olds alongside or instead of A levels.

Written by Abigail Evans, University of Oxford