How to get the work experience you need to teach in a primary or secondary school

Jill Valentine from Sheffield Hallam University discusses the expectations of teacher training providers when it comes to getting primary and secondary school experience, in light of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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This article has been written in partnership with AGCAS.

Training providers want to know that you have the skills and motivation to teach, and you'll usually be required to show you have work experience with children of the relevant age – preferably in a primary or secondary school environment.

What teaching work experience in schools do I need?

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, training providers may have changed their requirements about the amount and type of school experience you’re expected to have. It is vital therefore, that you speak to your chosen training provider(s) individually to get an up-to-date understanding of what is needed. You can also check for the latest updates at Get into Teaching .

Many training providers stipulate that this experience should have been for a minimum of two weeks and prefer it to have been done in a state school – but check this with individual providers given the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic. Getting classroom experience will also help to confirm that teaching is the right career for you.

If you're not able to complete the experience quickly, don't delay sending your application , but state in the application that you have experience arranged in the near future.

How do I approach primary and secondary schools to get work experience?

The following information details the usual recommended routes and schemes available to help you gain school experience and an insight into teaching. It is worth noting that some may not be operating as normal during the Covid-19 situation. You should check regularly to see what is available, as the situation may change.

Use your contacts through family and friends. You can also contact schools directly to ask for work experience or to observe classes or shadow teachers. You can check details of schools across the UK using Schools Web Directory .

What are other ways to get the work experience I need to teach?

Work experience in schools is popular and it may take time to arrange a placement so try to plan in advance. Although you can approach schools speculatively (eg by writing a letter to a local school asking for work experience), there are also a number of formal schemes which can help:

  • Get School Experience service (England only) : This is a programme for final year students and graduates interested in gaining experience in the classroom. School placements of one to ten days are available in all subjects, at secondary and primary levels, to those planning to apply for teacher training courses in the current cycle.
  • Paid internship programme (England only) : For STEM students in the penultimate year of their degree and interested in teaching maths or physics. The programme offers a four-week internship paying £300 per week in June/July. Apply directly to participating schools.
  • National tutoring programmes : Some schools offer student tutoring programmes through which you go into schools to help with classes.
  • Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme (UAS) : If you are a mathematics, science, technology or engineering undergraduate, your department may offer a classroom-based module. This would involve spending around 40 hours working in schools. There are currently participating universities in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • STEM ambassadors : It may also be possible for students of mathematics, science, technology or engineering to become STEM ambassadors, which involves enthusing school students about these subjects and the careers they open up.
  • Taster courses and open days : These are organised by schools, universities and others (such as Teach First) to provide an insight into teaching and teacher training. Taster courses tend to be targeted at shortage subjects or candidates from under-represented groups.
  • Paid work : You may be able to obtain paid work in schools as a cover supervisor, teaching assistant, laboratory technician or learning mentor, for example. These posts are usually advertised on local authority websites or through recruitment agencies. Some schools offer graduate assistantship schemes either as individual schools or through programmes such as Try Teaching.
  • Voluntary work : Most local authorities run schemes for voluntary mentors to work with pupils on a one-to-one basis. Contact your local authority for more information. Many universities work closely with local schools to encourage pupils to consider higher education.

Tips for work experience in primary and secondary schools

  • Keep a diary of any work experience you do. This will be invaluable when it comes to writing your applications or preparing for interviews. Record the key skills you have gained doing your work experience, such as communication, leadership, presenting and organisational skills.
  • Write notes about anything that you experience. For example, if a lesson did not work, think about how you would do it differently.
  • Think about classroom control, different teaching styles and effective uses of technology.

This article was last updated August 2021.

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