‘Everyone remembers a good teacher’

Lucy Jolin
Good signs: the financial rewards of pursuing a career in teaching are now considerable. Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

What is it like to be a teacher today? Challenging, yes – but incredibly rewarding. “We’ve had people come to teaching from many different routes, and that’s what they all say,” says Tim Body, headteacher at Westfield academy, Watford. “People who come to teaching from business tend to say that the bad days are bad, but the good days are really good – much more rewarding than they’ve experienced anywhere else.”

There are two main ways to gain a teaching qualification: from school-led training, such as School Direct, where you train in a specific school in partnership with a university; to university-led training, where you combine placements in schools with campus-based learning.

Although, a demand for teachers in Stem subjects – such as physics, chemistry and maths – has dominated the headlines, there are vacancies across teaching.

“We struggle to get science teachers from the traditional routes, such as advertising,” says Body. “It’s the same with English. The benefit of School Direct means we’re involved in a recruitment training programme – we not only have a better chance of getting a good teacher, but getting a teacher who fits our school.”

Trainees love it when a child who is struggling with a subject suddenly gets it

Body’s school recruits a number of School Direct students working towards their postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). Students start with a low teaching allocation, then build up. For one day a week, they train in general pedagogy and a stream of subject-specific knowledge at the University of Hertfordshire.

Stem subjects continue to be the main focus, says Jamie Stuart, director of graduate recruitment at charity Teach First, which trains, supports and develops teachers in schools in deprived areas. “But there is high demand for teachers in subjects such as modern foreign languages and geography.”

Paul Purser, course director for PGCE primary and early years education at Birmingham City University, says most of his students who start the year-long course in September are employed by the following July, often by schools where they’ve been on placement.

Students divide their time between blocks of study at university and teaching in school placements, but they are related, says Purser: “The placements are very much about putting theory into practice. We have a great partnership with our schools and trainees get the best of both worlds.”

The rewards are considerable. Teacher salaries are now linked to performance, starting at £22,467 or £28,098 in inner London, to over £100,000 as a headteacher. Innovations, such as academy groups, have led to new career pathways. “And there’s more development these days,” says Body. “Heads talk to teachers about their career paths much more.”

Teaching is all about making an impact. “Our trainees love the moment when a child who is struggling suddenly gets it,” says Purser. “And they’re really creative. One teacher used a balloon filled with glitter to teach the children about dispersal! Everyone remembers a good teacher.”