The Different Routes into Teaching
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The Different Routes into Teaching

Vincent Ralph December 21, 2021

We spoke to Rachel – a primary school teacher with seven years experience – about the different routes into teaching; one of university’s most popular courses.

Whenever we have career days in school, so many children I speak to say it is also their dream to become a teacher. That’s a great feeling. Because they see what I do and think That looks fun.

As a prospective student teacher, your decision to enter the world of education should involve much more time and consideration. The world needs teachers. Now more than ever. But you need to find the course and route into it that best suits you.

In the UK, there are currently four mainstream education teacher training options.

Primary/secondary BA

This is the classic route into teaching. It is often the simplest and quickest. Particularly if you step straight out of your A levels into university. The BA is usually a three-year course and is aimed at those students with a passion and love for teaching. You can have the same first-year university experience as that of your housemates – lectures, seminars, first-year-practice-assignments and of course, week-night partying. However, you have the added bonus that you are almost certainly guaranteed a job at the age of 21. 

That being said, there are some cons to spending three of your best years studying for a BA in education. The first red flag is that you need to be sure you want to teach. Don’t pick this course based on a rash decision you made when your head of sixth form was breathing down your neck to get your UCAS application in on time.

Another downside for some students would be the early starts. I don’t mean waking up 8:45 and stumbling into a lecture theatre. I mean setting your alarm for 5:45 so you can make the 6:30 bus to your placement school. Obviously, this won’t be the case for everyone. But this is a possibility based on the location of the university you choose, the number of students looking for a placement and the amount of schools in the catchment area. Remember to factor this in if you are not a morning person!

Post graduate certificate of Education (PGCE)

Everyone who embarks on a PGCE has already had a university experience. For some, the PGCE follows immediately after the first degree or a gap year. For others it comes years after graduation, when the job they’ve found has not quite hit the “make a difference” spot. But the majority of post-grad students apply for the course knowing that teaching, in some form, is the dream.

Potentially the biggest benefit of doing a PGCE is that you have already learnt how to “do” university. The idea is that you hit the ground running and become a qualified teacher in one year. Secondary teachers would usually specialise in their first degree subject. Primary teachers get a crash course in everything – with a focus on Maths, English and Science. Both primary and secondary student teachers would also learn the pedagogy and theories of teaching and learning, which would be assessed through university assignments.

Like the undergraduate course, the PGCE is made up of university time and school placements. However, the intensity of being a student teacher builds up quickly in comparison to the BA. Most will be teaching whole class lessons in the first couple of weeks of a placement.

For some of the year you will be juggling university assignments, lesson planning and marking simultaneously. So it can be incredibly stressful at times. If nothing else, time management is the most invaluable thing you will learn as a student teacher.

Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

School Direct (salaried or unsalaried)

This route is similar to the PGCE in that it is a post-graduate route and time is spent in both schools and university. The big difference is usually the ratio is much more in favour of school-based learning. A typical programme would be four days in school to one day of university per week.

The vast majority of institutions will only accept graduates. However some may look at relevant and substantial work experience as a contributing factor in accepting students for the school route. If the school leading the course has any pull-power, undergraduates known to them may be able to get on the course. For example, a Higher Level Teaching Assistant with exceptional teaching experience may bypass the traditional entry requirements. This is, however, an exception to the rule. You will need to do extensive research into the university and course with which your school partners if you do not have a first degree.

Salaried vs non-salaried? I’ll take the money please!

Well, not necessarily. If you are a recent graduate who has stepped straight from A levels to a degree and is now looking to pursue your teaching qualifications you will have no choice but to go for the unsalaried course. The salaried option is reserved for student teachers who graduated at least three years ago and have been working ever since. This is to support those who are looking for a career change, perhaps even later in life, who have financial commitments and would otherwise not be able to commit to full-time study.

The unsalaried course usually differs only in terms of financing, although some may have more time in university compared to the salaried students. You are not employed by the school and you will still need to pay tuition fees, usually by taking out another student loan. That means you are also eligible for maintenance loans along with grants and bursaries.

If you are salaried, the government will provide the school with a “contribution” towards your salary and tuition costs. These contributions range from £19000 to £23,900 for the year based on how close you live to London. The term “contributions” does imply that the amount given may or may not cover the total cost. Therefore your salary will be dependent on what the school offers you. It will almost certainly be less than the maximum of £23,000. So check this is viable for you before you commit. You are not going to have much time to top it up with a part-time job!

Teach First

This is teacher training’s less talked about, hardcore sibling. Teach First is an organisation that places student teachers in low income areas. This means the pupils you will be teaching will often be from disadvantaged backgrounds. It can be one of the most rewarding routes into teaching, but also, the most challenging. For those of you who love to dive in the deep end and learn on the job, this is the ideal route for you. It is pitched at “top graduates”. Typically those who have a 2:1 or above and pass the interview process.

Teach First is a gruelling experience, so expect the application process to be the same. If accepted, the course will take two years to complete. It begins with the “Summer Institute”, a five-week intensive crash course in the core skills of teaching.

From September through to July you will then be in the classroom teaching solo up to 80% of the time. By the end of this year you will have QTS and will be referred to as an ECT. That is early career teacher (or NQT in old money). During the second year you’ll be a full-time teacher, which means you will be paid on the first rung of the Main Teacher Pay Scale (at least £25,900).

You can leave the course after the first year and, with QTS, many student teachers take the opportunity to teach abroad. The second year provides you with a complete PGDE and enables you to work as a teacher anywhere in the world.

See also: What to expect from your first week in halls

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Vincent Ralph is Senior Managing Editor at GRV Media. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Greenwich and later completed his NCTJ in Newspaper and Magazine Journalism while studying in Cornwall. He was previously Head of Sixth Form at a secondary school in Kent, where he worked with hundreds of 16 to 19-year-olds over eight years. He joined GRV Media in 2014, working his way up from football writer to a senior member of staff. After two years as Managing Editor of Rousing The Kop and The Boot Room he became Senior Managing Editor of new student website Freshered. Vincent is a two-time New York Times bestselling author and his second novel is also a USA Today bestseller and the winner of the Southern Schools Book Award.