How do you become a teacher?
Jill Valentine from Sheffield Hallam University gives you the answers you need before you decide where to apply to train, including what QTS is and the subjects taught at primary and secondary level.
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This article has been written in partnership with AGCAS.
In England and Wales, to work as a teacher of children from age five to sixteen in state-maintained schools (excluding academies and free schools) you need to have professional qualified teacher status (QTS). To be awarded QTS by the Teaching Regulation Agency (England) or the Education Workforce Council (Wales) you must complete a period of training.
The training can be a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) or school-centred training, which recommends you for QTS. This is known as initial teacher training (ITT). For further information on teaching in other areas of the UK see our advice on training to teach in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Early career teachers (ECTs) then complete a period of induction, which is the first year of employment as a teacher in a school. ECTs 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 ECT 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?
Teachers in England with QTS are trained to teach within one of the following phases:
- Primary: typically across the 3–7, 5–11 or 7–11 age ranges
- Middle: typically across the 7–14 age range
- Secondary: typically across the 11–16, 11–18 or 14–19 age ranges, 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?
The national curriculum sets out the subjects taught in state-maintained schools in England. Primary schools cover key stage 1 (5–7 year olds) and key stage 2 (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:
- design and technology
- art and design
- physical education (PE), including swimming
- ancient and modern foreign languages (at key stage 2).
In addition to these national curriculum subjects, primary schools must also teach religious education. Primary ITT courses are available with specialisms in a range of subjects, most commonly maths, science or foreign languages.
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 key stage 3 (11–14 year olds) and key stage 4 (14–16 year olds), and sometimes post-16 education.
Compulsory national curriculum subjects in England are:
- history (at key stage 3)
- geography (at key stage 3)
- modern foreign languages (at key stage 3)
- design and technology (at key stage 3)
- music (at key stage 3)
- physical education
Schools must also provide religious education (RE), relationship and sex education (RSE).
Schools also offer subjects outside this core list, for example, art, 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. Many schools and colleges offer A levels and a range of vocational courses for 16–19 year olds.
This article was last updated August 2021.
© In partnership with AGCAS
This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by targetjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.