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Teaching & Education careers

Teaching: Primary

Why is primary teaching so important?

If you’ve seen the popular 90s film, Jack, you might think that primary school teachers are all divas like Jennifer Lopez, who teach ten-year-olds with bizarre ageing conditions that make them look like Robin Williams. Well to be honest, that’s almost never the case! So what’s primary school teaching really all about?

A child’s education really gets going when they go to primary school. This marks the beginning of compulsory education and is a big jump that every child has to take. The National Curriculum is introduced, along with standardised testing, and so teaching methods change, core subjects are introduced, and children’s eyes are opened to all kinds of new information.

If a child has great teachers between the ages of five and 11, it can set them up for the rest of their lives in education.

What do I need to be a primary teacher?

The big thing about teaching at a primary level is that you will essentially need to be a jack of all trades! Primary school teachers don’t specialise in teaching one particular subject, but teach their pupils every subject in the national curriculum.

These are broken down into core subjects (English, maths, and science) and non-core foundation subjects (design and technology, information and communication technology, history, geography, modern foreign languages, art and design, music, and physical education). Consequently, to work in this area you will need to be able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of all the subjects in the curriculum. 

Your career as a primary school teacher will vary depending on what kind of school you teach at. For instance, some schools cater for just infants (i.e. ages 5-7), some are just for juniors (i.e. ages 7-11), and some are for the whole caboodle (ages 5-11).

Some schools even employ people to teach reception classes (i.e. before compulsory education), but for more information on this, please check out the Pre-school & Early Years subsector!

Most primary teachers will teach one class, all day, every day. The children in each class will either all be in the same year (i.e. year four), or the same group of years (i.e. years five and six).

Whatever age group you teach in a primary school, you will need to be ready for a varied, fun, challenging and eventful day. One moment you might be teaching children about the solar system, and later on, you might be helping to decide which child is going to play Mary in this year’s nativity play.

A child’s learning and development accelerates in their primary school years, and thus it can be extremely rewarding to witness your pupils’ rapid advances, personal changes and staggering acquisition and retention of knowledge.

To be a great primary school teacher you will need to be friendly, patient, assertive, inspiring, creative, imaginative, versatile, confident and caring. Phew! You will need to have a broad range of knowledge and skills, and sometimes even have the ability to apply them all at once. A great primary school teacher is a real pro at multitasking! Most of all, you must be genuinely passionate about teaching children between the ages of five and 11.

How does primary teaching work?

In England and Wales, primary education can be broken down into two stages: key stage one (infants, i.e. ages 5-7) and key stage two (juniors, i.e. ages 7-11).

In Scotland, the equivalent of key stage one is broken down into three different sections (i.e. primary one, two, and three) and the equivalent of key stage two is broken down into four different sections (primary four, five, six, and seven). Both of these education stages are incredibly important and feature standardised curriculums and examinations.

Whatever the age level, it is the primary school teacher’s responsibility to create a colourful and stimulating environment for their pupils. Additionally, these guys need to use imaginative, varied and creative teaching methods, which grab their pupils’ attention and excite them, whilst getting the appropriate information across.

To do this, they might use props, games and multimedia resources. After all, they must have the ability to adapt their methods for different subject matters, whilst constantly keeping the children interested and informed.

However, teaching at a primary level is not all about fun and games. The serious administrative side of teaching permeates this level too, and primary school teachers will have to do extensive marking and lesson planning in line with the National Curriculum, and coordinate testing and official examinations at both key stages.

As we mentioned above, primary school teachers teach all the different subjects in the curriculum and don’t specialise. However, a recent development in educational policy means that all pupils at key stage two level are now entitled to study a foreign language. Therefore, it is possible for people to train as a teacher who specialises in teaching foreign languages.

As in all school teaching jobs, you will need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to work in a primary school. Many primary school teachers take the bachelor of education route (BEd), do a postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE), or get involved with the graduate teacher programme (GTP).You can also become a primary school teacher as part of the Teach First programme.

So, if you fancy teaching, but don’t want to deal with hormonal teenagers (understandable, really), then this can be an incredibly fun and rewarding field to work in. If you’ve got the energy, the enthusiasm and the knowledge, this could be the perfect area for you to go for!