What does a primary school teacher do?

A primary school teacher is someone who teaches children in the earliest phases of their education, from Reception until Year 6. This covers the vital ages between 4 and 11, where a child is expected to learn to read and write, and to develop effective numeracy. The education they receive during this period forms the foundation of all later learning, and is arguably the most important period of their education.

The role of the primary school teacher is to enable the children under their care to learn what they need to academically, but also to learn to socialise and work effectively with others at a vital stage in their mental development. The role is often challenging due to the pressures placed on the teacher, but will be highly rewarding as you are enabling these children to have a more successful future.

I’m really proud of my job, I’m really proud of what I do every day, and I’m really glad that I made that decision [to qualify as a teacher].

Rachel Arthur, Assistant Headteacher

How do you start teaching?

The best way to start teaching is to research what types of education you want to become involved with. The best way to do this is to look online, then have a think about whether you want to work with younger or older pupils, to teach a specific subject, or whether instead you wish to be more of a generalist. If you want to become a primary school teacher, then you should want to teach more generally, and to be focussed on pupils between 4 and 11 years old.

It is also a good idea to get some practical experience, either by volunteering with teaching assistance programmes (these can be found in many communities, especially in towns or cities with universities), or alternatively by working as a teaching assistant. This will allow you to find out if you actually enjoy teaching before investing significant time and effort into training as a teacher.

It is then possible to apply to do an education degree, to do teacher training in the form of a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), or to join a specialist teacher training graduate scheme such as TeachFirst, who aim to train the best applicants as teachers by deploying them to schools in deprived areas. Whichever route you choose, expect a steep learning curve, but one accompanied by a highly rewarding career.

What skills do primary school teachers need?

As a teacher, your key role may be to impart knowledge, but your role encompasses so much more. This means you need many skills, including:

  • Empathy – you aren’t just the teacher of your pupils, but also a surrogate parent who likely sees a child for more hours in a day than their actual parents. As a primary school teacher, you are also overseeing a major developmental stage, when the children themselves begin to develop effective empathy and will require good examples, but also your understanding.
  • Enthusiasm – it’s all but impossible to communicate knowledge to someone else if you aren’t enthusiastic about doing so. As such, being enthusiastic about the subjects you teach is very important. Children are also inquisitive, so by keeping up on the subjects in your own time due to your own enthusiasm, you’ll be able to give your pupils something extra. 
  • Depth of knowledge – you are providing the foundations of the education of a child by teaching at the primary school level. You will need a depth of knowledge to ensure you do not leave any gaps in their education.
  • Excellent communication skills – to educate, you must communicate, be that with the pupils you teach, your colleagues who assist you, or the parents of your pupils. Being able to effectively communicate in writing or aloud is vital.
  • Confidence – even when under pressure, tired out and stressed, you need to be able to be confident in your ability to teach and be the role model your pupils need.
  • Great organisational skills – you will be balancing many demands on your time, from pupil needs to lesson preparation, assessments, and managing discipline. You will likely also find yourself taking work home, so being organised to ensure you still have free time is essential.
  • Resilience – the work is stressful, and there will be a lot of pressure. You will be expected to constantly adapt and improve your approach, so being able to accept areas of weakness to build on them will be highly important.
  • Mediator – being able to remain calm in stressful situations to resolve disputes will be highly important as a teacher, be they disputes between pupils or disagreements with parents.
  • Integrity – your pupils, their parents/carers, and colleagues will all need to be able to trust your ability as a teacher for you to be able to succeed.
  • A good sense of humour – finally, you will need to be able to laugh at the inevitable hijinks and chaos that teaching a primary school class entails, and look for the amusement where others might become frustrated.

What qualifications do you need to be a primary school teacher?

In order to become a primary school teacher, you need to be correctly qualified. You are required to have either:

  • Undergraduate degree – the subject of the degree does not matter, but it is recommended that you hold at minimum a 2:2 in order to gain a place on a teaching qualification course.
  • Teaching qualification – this could be a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). Either of these will afford you with Qualified Teacher Status when completed. However, the PGCE is used in England to qualify you to teach any subject, whereas the PGDE qualifies you to teach a single subject in Scottish schools. Each of these qualifications can be specialised for Primary, Secondary, or Further/Adult Education.

OR

  • Undergraduate education degree – an undergraduate initial teacher training degree, such as a Bachelors in Education, BA or BSc education degree all allow you to complete your degree and earn your Qualified Teacher Status simultaneously.

In all cases you will require:

  • DBS Checkanyone working with children should have a DBS check. This will result in a formal certificate declaring whether or not you are fit to work with children. It is often recommended to obtain an Enhanced DBS check, as this goes into more depth.
  • Police records check – this will be a check through police records, social work, barred teachers lists, and with the teaching council to ensure that you do not have any history of inappropriate behaviours which could make you unsuitable for teaching.

Can you be a primary school teacher without a degree?

While in theory you can teach without a degree, it will severely limit your available options. This is because in order to teach in most state schools you are required to hold Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) – this cannot be achieved without some form of degree. You can in theory obtain work as a teacher in private schools, free schools and academies as they are not required to hire individuals with QTS, but there is no guarantee of a job from this route. You will also likely receive a lower rate of pay.

What is an unqualified teacher?

An unqualified teacher is an individual who teaches but does not have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). This means they cannot teach in most state schools. They are also paid less than those who hold QTS.

Steps to becoming a primary school teacher

Step 1 – obtain a place at university

The first step in becoming a primary school teacher is to obtain a place at university to complete an undergraduate degree. Whether this is a degree in education, or in anything else, you will need to hold an undergraduate degree in order to become a teacher.

Step 2 – undertake work experience

It’s a good idea to undertake some work experience, as this will help you know if you actually enjoy the life of a teacher. This is often available at schools near to your university, with most universities having societies or schemes in place to allow you to gain some teaching practice.

Step 3 – choose your route to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)

Once you have obtained your undergraduate degree, you will need to decide how to obtain QTS. This can be either achieved by holding an undergraduate degree in education, or by completing a recognised teacher training qualification such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).

Step 4 – obtain your QTS

You will then need to undertake the training to earn your QTS. This will likely be a 12 month to 2 year process, which will culminate in you being able to qualify as a teacher. This will involve training based in schools as well as seminars, training sessions and lectures. You may also be able to obtain your QTS through schemes such as TeachFirst which offer paid teacher training in deprived schools in order to boost their performance while giving you on-the-job training.

Step 5 – start working as a teacher

Now you have achieved your QTS, you can apply to work as a primary school teacher. This may take some time, but if you feel you are struggling to find full-time jobs in your area you may want to consider undertaking supply teacher work as this can often lead to a full-time post if you prove to be a good teacher.

How much do primary school teachers get paid?

The pay of teachers varies over their careers, with an upward trend tied to experience. Current average wages are:

  • Newly qualified teacher – £24,300 to £30,400
  • Senior qualified teacher – £40,500 to £49,600
  • Senior management – £46,000 to £120,000

Do teachers with masters get paid more?

Having a masters degree or above won’t net you a higher salary as a teacher in the UK. You will also still be expected to obtain a postgraduate qualification in education before you can work as a teacher.

How many hours do teachers work?

It’s no secret that teachers, including primary school teachers, work long hours. A teacher’s work is not limited to what they do in the classroom – in fact, this is likely to be the minority of your actual workload. As a primary school teacher, you can expect to work approximately 19 hours per week in the classroom. Including time spent outside the classroom, however, expect this to become closer to 60 hours per week.

Is being a primary school teacher stressful?

Yes, being a primary school teacher is likely to be stressful. You are teaching a group of children at a vital stage in their lives, giving them the foundation for their futures. Your work will really matter, and you will be working long hours. However, you will also receive long holidays, have supportive colleagues, and be in a hugely rewarding job. While you can expect to have moments of frustration, seeing children succeed based on your hard work will make it worthwhile.

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