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What qualifications do I need to be a teacher – and can I be self-employed?

6-minute read

Sam Bromley

2 March 2022

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Deciding to become a teacher is about much more than just choosing your next job. Despite the obvious challenges, the rewards can be huge if you make the decision to work in education.

Read our guide on how to become a teacher to find out whether it's the right career move for you, plus we have tips on setting up on your own if you want to become a self-employed teacher.

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Why become a teacher?

It’s not unusual to find the idea of teaching daunting, even if you're completely set on the idea. Despite the fact that it’s a tough gig with an even tougher crowd, the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages for many who make the leap.

For starters, there aren't many jobs where you get to feel like you're really making a positive impact on other people’s lives and where no two working days are the same.

What's more, our data showed that the number of teaching businesses grew 21 per cent year-on-year in 2021, perhaps because more children were being educated at home. This means it could be a good time to set up your own self-employed teaching business.

But how to get into teaching in the first place? Here are some of the steps you’ll need to take.

1. What qualifications do you need to be a teacher?

If you want to teach in schools in England you’ll need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). A range of undergraduate teacher training courses is available to get you to QTS.

If you already have a degree, you can do a postgraduate teacher training course in the form of a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) or PGDE (Postgraduate Diploma in Education and Leadership).

You’ll also need GCSEs at grade four (C) in English and maths (or equivalent qualifications).

The education system in Scotland is different, however, which means the qualifications you’ll need to teach north of the border are different. Read more about training to teach in Scotland.

2. Should I teach primary or secondary?

How to become a primary school teacher

On top of QTS and other GCSEs, primary school teachers need a grade four (C) in GCSE science. It’s worth thinking about which age you’d ideally like to teach, as qualifications are usually aligned with one of the following ranges:

  • 3 to 7 year olds
  • 5 to 11 year olds
  • 7 to 11 year olds
  • 7 to 14 year olds

Some primary school teachers specialise in certain subjects, like maths, languages or PE. If you train to teach middle school (7 to 14 year olds), you’ll learn the primary national curriculum and specialise in a secondary subject.

How to become a secondary school teacher

The subject you teach at secondary level will usually reflect what you studied at A level or university. It’s worth checking what your qualifications allow you to teach as you may have more options than you think, depending on your qualifications.

If you discover that you don’t have the required qualifications for the secondary school subject you want to teach, you can always take a subject knowledge enhancement course (SKE). These fully funded top-up courses help you increase your existing knowledge (or add to a related qualification) to get you to the level required to teach a particular subject.

3. Is funding available for teacher training?

Trainee teachers have access to three types of funding. You may be eligible for all three, depending on your circumstances.

  • tax-free bursary or scholarship of up to £26,000 – available depending on your subject
  • non-graduate bursaries of £9,000 – for certain subjects (including maths, physics and computing)
  • tuition fee loan and maintenance loan – available regardless of your qualifications or subject
  • extra financial support if you have a disability or dependants (children or adults) – available regardless of your subject

It’s also possible to earn a salary while you’re training to become a teacher and there are five ways to do this:

Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship

Earn a salary while you teach in the classroom, with 20 per cent of your time set aside for practical learning leading to QTS.

You’ll take an end-point assessment (EPA) to make sure you’re ready to become a newly qualified teacher (NQT).

School Direct (salaried)

Another way to earn while you learn, School Direct (salaried) positions come up with schools directly. As the school recruits you and employs you as a trainee, this may be a route to a job at the end of your training.

The programme gives you QTS, and some may also give you PGCE or Masters level credits. School Direct trainee salaries will vary between schools so it’s worth checking you can afford to live on the pay the school is offering before you apply.

Start applying by visiting gov.uk’s find postgraduate teacher training courses page, where you can search for ‘only courses that come with a salary’.

Teach First

To be eligible to apply for Teach First you’ll need a 2:1 or above at undergraduate level. This challenging but highly rewarding route to teaching involves achieving QTS in your first year, followed by your teaching placement in year two.

While earning a salary you’ll work towards a high level of teaching and leadership skills, gaining a PGDE. This qualification is worth double the Masters credits of a PGCE.

Researchers in Schools

You may be eligible for this salaried route if you have a PhD and experience of working with young people.

4. How do I find teacher training courses?

Gov.uk has a find postgraduate teacher training courses tool that allows you to search for teacher training courses by provider, location and subject.

5. How do I apply for teacher training?

You can apply for postgraduate teacher training programmes through the UCAS Teacher Training portal.

If you want to study an undergraduate degree to become a teacher, you can apply through the UCAS undergraduate portal.

Deciding which route is right for you can be tough to do on your own, so the Department for Education’s personal adviser service is there to help. They’ll give you advice on applying, getting experience in a school and attending teaching events as well as general hints and tips by email.

How do I become a self-employed tutor?

By going self-employed, you can set your own hours. This means you could become a self-employed tutor as a side hustle alongside your main teaching job, or work in education centres outside of the school system.

You don’t need to be a fully qualified teacher to become a self-employed tutor, either. Some tutors may have teaching experience in schools and other education settings, but others might have experience from elsewhere.

This is what you might need to demonstrate to get work as a private tutor:

  • specialist knowledge of your subject area (for example, a degree or postgraduate qualification, or a PhD)
  • relevant experience in either an education or business setting
  • an ability to tutor effectively (perhaps through testimonials)

Private tutors usually charge hourly rates. According to Prospects, hourly rates can vary between £30-£50, depending on experience.

Here’s what else you need to know about going self-employed:

Pay your taxes

Register for Self Assessment with HMRC to make sure you pay the tax and NICs you owe. If you fail to register, file your return, or pay your bill by the deadlines, you could get a hefty fine.

This also applies if you’re employed as a teacher in a school and do part-time tutoring on the side. Read our article on registering for Self Assessment to make sure you stay on top of your tax bill.

You can also read our guide to second job tax if you're tutoring as a side hustle.

Health and safety

If you set up as a tutor in your own home you’ll need to carry out simple health and safety risk assessments regularly.

They don’t need to be written down if you’re working by yourself, but you will need to think about what could potentially cause harm to your students and make sure you’re taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm.

Read more about how to do a health and safety risk assessment.

Whether it’s through social media, websites, emails or printed flyers and posters, most tutors will advertise their business in some way.

It’s important to make sure any advert you display through any medium is honest. If you make false claims about the exam success of your students – for example, that they all get A* when they don’t – you may be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Student and parent testimonials are a good way to show new customers how existing customers rate your services.

Get DBS checked

Getting an enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate proves there’s no known reason why you may not work with children.

It’s not a legal requirement for tutoring, although many tutors prefer to have a DBS certificate to give parents or carers peace of mind.

Enhance your skills

Joining a professional association like The Tutors’ Association, which organises Continuing Professional Development (CPD), is a good way to keep your tutoring skills and knowledge up to scratch.

And if you’re just starting out, there are charities like Action Tutoring that will train you to volunteer as a tutor with underprivileged children.

It might also be worth joining an organisation relevant to the subject you teach, such as the Association of Teachers of Mathematics.

Protect yourself

Private tuition insurance can protect you if a client sues you. It usually includes public liability insurance (which can protect you if a customer suffers an injury or financial loss and blames your business) and professional indemnity insurance (which can protect you if you make a mistake in your work or the advice you give).

Insurance is also a mark of professionalism in the eyes of your customers.

You should also consider your personal safety, online safety and protecting yourself financially by using a tuition contract with terms and conditions. The following resources are a good place to start to make sure you're aware of potential issues:

Are you planning on training as a teacher or setting up as a self-employed tutor? Let us know how it’s going in the comments below.

Insurance for private tutors

You can build a tailored private tuition insurance policy. Start with public liability insurance and add other covers if you need them. Why not run a quick quote to get started?

Start your quote

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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