How to Become a Teacher
Updated 10 December 2020
In recent years, routes into teaching have rapidly diversified and demand for teachers remains high.
Teaching is a sturdy option for those seeking impactful work, a challenging alternative to an office-based job and opportunities for quick career progression.
Although graduate pay for teachers is lower than the private sector, other benefits, including tax-free training bursaries, pensions, holidays, leadership opportunities and broader employability are worth weighing up. Most schools will offer opportunities to take on extra Teaching and Learning Responsibilities (TLRs) within the first years of your career that top up a basic salary, and some local authorities also pay retainer fees.
If teaching is not a profession you see yourself in for life, the soft-skills developed on the job will not go unrecognised by employers in other sectors.
For those with ambitions for an international career, with the exception of a few countries, a British teaching qualification will allow you to work in schools almost anywhere in the world.
English teaching qualifications are not recognised in Scotland. If you move to Scotland, you will not be able to work without undergoing a further year-long conversion training on the job.
Graduate Routes into Teaching
Initial Teacher Training courses include salaried and unsalaried work-based training, undergraduate degrees, vocational training, as well as postgraduate certificates and diplomas. They last for a year, after which you can work as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). During this year, you will receive further training delivered by your employer.
Note that not all training routes, even those with accredited degrees, will provide you with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) – the certificate that guarantees teacher pay scale salary and allows transfers across primary and secondary schools or between different subjects in secondary teaching.
Double-check the specifics of each course you apply to before you commit.
PGCE or PGDE
A Post Graduate Certificate (PGCE) or Diploma (PGDE) in Education is a one-year postgraduate degree based at a university that includes at least 24 weeks of work in at least two different schools. These courses are mostly full time, but some part-time options are available.
You will teach with the support of a mentor in your school and another at university, as well as a cohort of other students working toward the same course.
In a secondary PGCE, you will specialise in a subject, usually that of your undergraduate degree and previous work experience, although it’s possible to take a subject knowledge enhancement course if you wish to teach in a different area.
Most courses are split into three areas:
- Professional studies – University-based general teaching practice research
- Two school experience modules – Placements in schools reviewed through continual self-assessment, evidenced with plans and resources
- Subject-specific research – In secondary, related to your subject; in primary, related to an area of interest
Some providers offer additional master’s-level courses that allow you to upgrade your PGCE to a PGDE, which can usually count toward a complete master’s degree in the future.
Some primary courses offer subject specialisms but these are few, as specialising is no longer a requirement.
With a subject-specific secondary PGCE in music, languages, PE or art, it is possible to transfer to primary as a specialist teacher with Qualified Teacher Status.
The experience of working in two very different schools remains one of the main benefits of PGCEs over Schools Direct or Teach First courses, even though some of these options include a salary. Your training provider should make it their aim to give you experience in two contrasting environments.
Things to Consider
- The location of your PGCE provider is important:
Consider where and how you will be able to travel whilst studying. School placements can be up to an hour and a half by car or public transport from your training provider’s location (not the location of your home) and you will not have discretion over where you are placed. Each provider will clarify their policy so write to them in advance. Factor this into your budget for the year.
It is likely you will be offered work by schools you have trained in or by schools who are familiar with your training provider, so if moving to a new city is something you are looking to do, consider making the move before your training, not after.
After your PGCE year, it is up to you to find work as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). You must work as an NQT for one year in total, so if you go into part-time work for 0.6 of the week, it will take you five teaching terms to complete your NQT year. Most jobs will specify if they are accepting applications from newly qualified teachers.
PGCE and PGDE courses have payable fees. More information on fees and funding is available in our article: PGCE Funding Options.
SCITT Course – Schools Centered Initial Teacher Training
Schools Centered Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) consortiums are groups of schools which collaborate to offer Initial Teacher Training in association with a university or training provider.
A SCITT course is similar to a PGCE, but training is led by the experienced teachers within the consortium group schools. You may also be supported by a university and have overlap with PGCE students. You will still have some research and academic work to complete, but this will vary with each placement.
You will work in placements in at least two schools within your chosen consortium. Although advertised through UCAS, your application goes directly to a SCITT consortium, so, unlike a PGCE, you will be able to do some research into the schools in advance. Generally, they lie within a small geographical area.
Not all SCITT courses will gain you a graduate degree certificate, so it is worth checking with your provider before you apply.
As SCITT courses focus on training to teach in a local area, your resulting experience will reflect your understanding of the specifics of that local community – so, for candidates with home ties, this can be a great option.
After your SCITT course, it will fall to you to find employment for your NQT year.
Teach First delivers high calibre graduates straight into some of the most challenging classrooms in the country, whilst also providing them with leadership training and access to internships with other organisations in the third sector.
It is a competitive route for ambitious and high achieving graduates.
Unlike PGCE courses and SCITT training, you will be employed by one school and work there for two years, after an initial five-week residential summer training course.
An in-at-the-deep-end approach, once you are working in a school, you will not always be supported by a mentor whilst in the classroom.
You will be paid as an unqualified teacher in your first year, and as a qualified teacher in your second. Once you have completed the initial training, the school you work for is your employer. You will work for one school for the duration of the two years, provided they retain you.
You can apply to Teach First primary or secondary courses, and placements are available in most secondary subjects.
University courses will take place during evenings and weekends throughout your two years of training. The provider depends on the location in which you are placed.
After your first year, you can opt to complete a full master’s degree whilst working in the same school. Therefore, it is an intense process with high academic expectations on top of full-time professional responsibilities.
The programme also offers a summer internship with another organisation, extending your employability in other areas.
On application, you will rank the areas of the country you can work in according to order of preference; however, placement in your first, second or even third choice is not guaranteed, so be prepared to move to anywhere at short notice.
You apply to Teach First directly, so you can apply for this in addition to the three applications you are allowed through UCAS.
Schools Direct is the government's echo of the Teach First programme, previously known as the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP).
Candidates are employed by one school that covers all training costs and will spend a year working and training whilst employed. Working with a SCITT consortium, you will be mentored by one experienced teacher whilst working full time.
This route is for candidates with transferable work history and some existing professional skills, and you’ll need to provide work references to your prospective school when applying.
There are two types of placement:
- Salaried – You will be paid an unqualified teacher’s salary by the school which trains you, moving to a salaried position if you are retained.
- Unsalaried – You will not be paid whilst training
Whilst training costs are covered in both types of placement, some may require you to pay for your Qualified Teacher Status upon completing your first year – check this on applying. Not all placements guarantee a PGCE of PGDE certificate.
Sometimes, but rarely, part-time positions are available. You need to consult with a school directly to arrange this.
If you wish to transfer to teaching a subject which you do not hold a degree in, this is possible after completing a Subject Knowledge Enhancement Course.
Unlike degrees and SCITT courses, placements are only listed when they become available and don’t stay open for long.
Schools Direct placements emerge on UCAS throughout the year. Salaried opportunities are rarer and are snapped up quickly.
It is worth visiting schools you would like to work with to find out if they will be offering placements, when they are likely to advertise and to increase your chance of finding a placement. Keep checking back for placements in your area on UCAS as the year goes on.
Most schools which offer Schools Direct placements work in partnership with others, so you may not be working at the school you apply directly to. Check this at interview, or when visiting the school.
Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship
Similar to Schools Direct, you’ll be employed by the school, learn on the job and gain a qualification at the end of the course, potentially with more recognition and status at the end of the programme than for candidates with SCITT or SD training.
These positions are new (and rare) so keep a lookout for them. These positions must be applied for through UCAS.
Postgraduate Researchers in Schools
A three-year programme for those who have either completed or are in the last year of their PhD, this route allows high calibre graduates to continue to contribute to research whilst also training as a teacher.
Funding and salaries are available for the training year after which you are employed by the school you are working with.
Unlike most other teacher training programmes, you apply directly to the school provider. More information can be found on the programme website.
Undergraduate Routes and Options for those Without Degrees
Undergraduate Degrees in Education
A number of undergraduate degrees in primary education and some secondary subjects are available in the UK.
Most will equip you with a B(Ed) or BA degree as well as Qualified Teacher Status and, after three years, you will be able to apply for work in schools.
As with any undergraduate degree, applications are through UCAS and fees are payable.
Troops to Teachers
The government announced bursaries of up to £40,000 for eligible veterans to undertake undergraduate degrees in secondary subject teaching, depending on subject area.
The length of courses will vary between providers. More information can be found on the Troops to Teachers website.
Future Teaching Scholars
Exceptional A-Level students wishing to study maths or physics at university are eligible for this six-year route into teaching.
This includes a £15,000 bursary for undergraduate study, with up to £32,000 available for the three-year Initial Teacher Training course that will follow their undergraduate degree.
More information can be found on the Future Teaching Scholars website.
Once employed as an unqualified teacher or as a teaching assistant, you can apply for an ‘assessment only’ Qualified Teacher Status.
You can only apply for this once you are working within a school and can demonstrate substantial experience.
There is no guarantee that you will be able to apply for this route once employed as an unqualified teacher as a school may not have the resources, so discuss this with your employer at interview.
The TES Institute is one of a few recognised providers.
More information can be found on the UCAS website.
Early Years Initial Teacher Training
Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) is a new addition to the list of recognised teaching qualifications.
Those wishing to work with children under the age of five can now train through all the same routes as primary and secondary practitioners: Options are available in early years specific PGCEs, SCITT Schools Direct, undergraduate and apprenticeship routes.
Early Years Teacher Status is not Qualified Teacher Status and is not transferable to primary or secondary teaching, so be sure that working with early years is your goal in the long term.
EYTS Initial Teacher Training courses can be found and applied for through the UCAS website.
Further Education (Teaching Post-16)
If teaching older students is your goal, specialist training exists but the application route is different.
To apply for the Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training you must already be able to evidence 100 hours of teaching, although unlike applying for ITT, these hours can include mentoring and working one-on-one with students. You must already be in employment.
This diploma doesn’t qualify you to work in a primary or secondary school or access the qualified teacher pay scale salary.
It is a vocational qualification so fees vary. Apply to the providers directly.
Another route into further education is to first train as a secondary teacher in your subject. During an NQT year, apply to work specifically at schools with A-Level students, making it clear that teaching post-16 is what you are most interested in doing.
These opportunities aren’t easy to come by, but assert yourself during your PGCE course and you will get the experience you need to steer your career in this direction.
How to Get Work Experience
Most routes into teaching require evidence of school-based experience, usually of two weeks or more, even if you have been tutoring or mentoring privately.
This is relatively easy to come by:
If you are not employed or studying, write to a local school and ask for two weeks’ work experience, explaining you intend to train as a teacher.
If you are looking for paid work already, use the TES jobs website to look for teaching assistant jobs.
Alternatively, contact a teaching agency who will be able to place you in a school quickly, regardless of your graduate status. There is always demand.
Use WikiJob's search tool to find teaching jobs.
Teaching assistant roles are less common in secondary schools and are not attached to particular subjects.
Regardless of the age range you gain your experience in, any work as a teaching assistant will be considered when applying for primary and secondary Initial Teacher Training programmes.
The Level Five Vocational Certificate in Education, for further education (ages 11-16), has different requirements; you can only apply if you already have 100 days of teaching work experience under your belt, but in this case, it can include tutoring one-on-one.
How to Apply for Teacher Training
You need to search for your chosen training provider through the government website if applying for training in England.
Most teacher training applications will need to be made through UCAS. There are a few different stages for your application:
Register and fill in your details – You will need to register for an account on the UCAS website and fill in some personal details, including your educational history and past qualifications.
Work experience – You will need to add details of your work history within schools including placements and observations. You are allowed to add in experiences that weren’t related to teaching if you can demonstrate the transferable skills that will help you within the classroom.
Personal statement – This is an important part of your application. You will only write one personal statement, which is used to apply for all of your preferred choices. See our dedicated article for more on PGCE personal statements and how to write one that will impress.
References – You will not be allowed to submit your application without adding the contact details of two referees. They will be given two weeks to submit your reference so make sure you let them know that you have added them as references.
Fees – You will need to pay your application fee to UCAS before you submit your application. The fee will be approximately £25.75 but this is updated every year so do check before you apply.
Interviews – You will be invited to interview with your chosen training provider before they offer you a place. The interview process will vary depending on provider but you should ensure you have prepared answers to these key PGCE interview questions before attending.
Apply 1 and Apply 2
UCAS applications are split into two phases:
- Apply 1
- Apply 2
In the Apply 1 phase, you can only apply for up to three ITT courses of any kind; however, you must apply for all of them at the same time. You cannot amend or add to these choices once your application is submitted.
Once you have submitted your application, your chosen training providers have 40 working days to invite you to interview or send a rejection. In some cases, they may not respond at all.
Once you have received all three offers or rejections, you have 10 working days to respond. If you have been offered a place you chose to accept, your process ends here.
Apply 2 opens when you decline any offers made in Apply 1, withdraw applications or are unsuccessful in securing an offer post-interview.
You can only begin the Apply 2 phase in November, at the earliest.
In this phase, you can apply for unlimited places (but only one at a time) until you accept an offer or the cycles of applications end, whichever is sooner.
The same time frames apply as with Apply 1 – your chosen providers have 40 days to respond and you will have 10 working days to accept or decline an offer.
You can withdraw an application and replace it with another at any time during Apply 2. For example, if your ideal Schools Direct placement becomes available and you wish to withdraw from a pending application to a PGCE, you may do so.
The same personal statement will be used with your Apply 2 applications.
Contact your chosen training provider ahead of time to check they are still recruiting, and to find out if you can submit extra information to them directly to strengthen your application.
Key Tips for Making a Teacher Training Application
You can only apply for three ITT courses in total through UCAS. The courses you choose don’t all have to be the same type, you can apply for one SCITT, one Schools Direct and one PGCE if they are courses which appeal, but you cannot apply for three of each route.
Places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Give yourself as much time as possible to get into the place you want. Places on the most popular, reputable courses go quickly. Whilst applications might remain open until august, research the popularity, quality and reputation of the courses before you apply and move quickly.
Some courses and training providers will open offers later in the year. Each training placement will remain open for a minimum of 14 days.
Remember, you can apply for a Teach First placement in addition to your UCAS application. Apply directly through the Teach First website.
Also Look At
The TES forums offer up to date information and are the best place to discuss your experiences with other prospective and current trainee teachers and to ask for advice from those already in the profession.