Primary education: teaching specialism

AGCAS editors explore the experience of primary school teachers and explain your options when it comes to teaching across the range of subjects or training to specialise.


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This article has been written in partnership with AGCAS.

Primary schools provide initial compulsory education and include infant schools for children aged 5–7, junior schools for children aged 7–11, or combined junior and infant schools for all under 11s. In addition, many primary schools run a foundation class for pupils in the year before they begin compulsory education. Some parts of England operate a slightly different system in which 5–8 year olds attend a first school then progress to a middle school (age ranges vary but fall between 8 and 14) before attending an upper school.

Teachers are responsible for the delivery of all subjects within the framework of the national curriculum, with particular emphasis on the core subjects of literacy, numeracy and science. Teachers are also accountable for testing that takes place at the end of key stages 1 and 2. Class sizes can vary enormously (from 20 to 40 depending on the size and structure of the school, and age of the children). If a class is relatively large, it may be split into a number of separate groups for different subjects so that the whole class is rarely taught together.

The role of support staff in primary education

Work/life balance for teachers has been improved by increasing the number of support staff in schools, which has reduced the number of administrative tasks a teacher has to do. A minimum of 10% of the working week is planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, to ease teachers’ workloads.

Specialist training in primary education

Classroom teachers need broad subject knowledge and many primary teachers take Bachelor of Education (BEd) courses lasting 3 or 4 years, which give them the skills to prepare for the classroom. Alternatively, graduates can follow the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), Teach First or School Direct training programmes.

The government wants more primary schools to be able to employ teachers who can work as specialist subject teachers in the sciences, maths, languages or other subjects. As a result of this, primary initial teacher training courses are available in a range of subjects.

Multitaskers wanted

The ability to multitask is vital for being an effective primary school teacher. Even if you're speaking to one child, you still need to be aware of what's going on in the rest of the classroom to anticipate and avoid potential problems. A good sense of humour can also be a bonus.

It's extremely rewarding to see how far a child has developed in the year you've been teaching them and it's great to be able to help individuals achieve things they didn't know they could.

This article was last updated August 2021.

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