Career progression in education

Whether you are thinking abeut progressing your teaching career or changing focus to a non-teaching position in the education sector, the information below gives some tips on how to move through the career ladder. It gives perspectives on various career tracks and further education for both teaching and non-teaching positions that you might pursue.

Considering becoming a teacher?

Teaching makes up a large proportion of employment in the education sector. Is teaching for you, and what can you expect from this career? First and foremost, there are always jobs available across the UK in teaching, as the demand is always present. Being a teacher can be highly rewarding since you support students in achieving their goals in a subject area you are enthusiastic about. You also have the potential to make a real difference in their lives. Being a teacher means taking control of your own work, as lessons need to be planned and marking needs to be completed outside of work hours. However, these long work days are balanced by long holidays at other times of the year.

Becoming a teacher in the UK

Once you have a degree, there are a number of different paths to becoming a teacher depending on both the subject you wish to teach and your previous experience. Teacher-training courses involve studying outside of school and training in schools in order to achieve qualified teacher status (QTS).

School-led training

One type of teacher-training course is school-led training, which is hands-on training in at least two different schools. Everything you have learnt up to this point will be put into practise, plus you will be learning new skills every day. This course generally lasts a year, at the end of which you will be awarded with your QTS, usually including postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). To search for training programmes and to start your application, visit UCAS.

Alternatively, if you're a graduate or career changer with a 2:1 or above, you could study on the Teach First Programme, which is an employment-based teaching programme. You work towards achieving QTS whilst earning a salary. For more information visit the Teach First website

University-led training

For graduates, an alternative to school-led training is university-led training. This can be completed full-time over one year or part-time over two. Although some time (a minimum of 24 weeks) is spent in placement schools, time is also spent learning skills required for teaching, such as lesson planning. Like school-led training, these courses lead to QTS and a PGCE. Visit UCAS to start your application. 

Funding for training

To fund the course, you have access to a tuition fee and maintenance loan. Depending on your degree class and the subject, you may also be eligible for a bursary or scholarship. For information on funding please see Get into Teaching website.

Teacher training in other countries

The process for becoming a qualified teacher varies depending on where you trained previously. For example, if you completed your training in Wales, you will have been awarded QTS by the Education Workforce Council (EWC), which is automatically recognised in England. However, if you trained in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you must apply for QTS before teaching in England.

Progression in teaching

Perhaps the most literal form of career progression in teaching comes by moving to roles with increased leadership responsibilities. Moving from classroom teaching to positions like those below allow you to take charge and ensure continuous improvements for a greater population than just the students in your own classes. You would also have the opportunity to be a team leader for the staff as well as the students. Here are some examples of roles that you might progress through:

  • A head of department is in charge of making sure the department is adequately equipped in terms of staff, financial resources and materials. This position requires outstanding knowledge of your subject area as well as good leadership and management skills.
  • A head of year is expected to know and supervise certain aspects of all students in that particular year. This can include students' attendance and punctuality, arranging meetings with parents, addressing any policy or behavioural issues, and working with other heads of year.
  • Pastoral managers may come under the umbrella of head-of-year job titles. The job of a pastoral manager is to look after the welfare of the students, to manage difficult students and to work with those who have behavioural issues. This role requires someone who can build a good but appropriate relationship with students while being caring but firm.
  • Deputy and assistant head teacher positions are usually the second most senior positions in a school. Here you work alongside the head teacher in managing and leading the school, which is a great opportunity to develop your leadership skills.
  • The highest responsibility falls with the head teacher. Becoming a head teacher requires experience as a teacher, experience with the extra responsibilities of a position like head of year, and also senior management experience in a position like deputy head. As the head teacher of the school, all the students and staff look up to you, so you must be able to lead them to perform at their best. For more information about the requirements and career path of a head teacher, please visit the National Career Service.

These positions involve increasing amounts of extra responsibilities, but with extra responsibility comes an increased salary. For information on teacher salaries, please see Get into Teaching website.

Other opportunities in education

Teaching adults

When people think of teaching, they may immediately think of teaching children. However, there are many avenues of teaching adults also, such as adult and community education, higher education, teaching English as a foreign language and many more. Teaching adults can be a full or part-time career. It can involve teaching academic subjects, vocational qualifications or even new life skills. The qualifications you require depend on what is being taught: Sometimes you will need formal teaching qualifications; other times merely skills and experience in the area being taught is needed.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

This is teaching English to people who do not speak it as a first language. This can be done in your home city if there is a demand for it, but this is more frequently needed overseas. If you love both teaching and travelling, this could be a great option! It can be highly rewarding, as in some countries teaching people English gives them opportunities they would not have had before. Teaching abroad does require a qualification of some level: for example, a Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) or Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Cert. TESOL), a Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (DELTA) or a degree such as a TEFL degree. Teaching English as foreign language may be full or part-time, paid or voluntary work. It may involve teaching a full day of classes or just an evening or weekend class. You can find out more on the TEFFL website

Non-teaching roles

Although when you think of the education sector you may predominantly think of teaching, there are a number of different career opportunities to be found within and around education. These may include academic or school librarianship, careers guidance, education administration, educational psychology, educational publishing, education social work, school liaisons and museum education. Therefore, if you are a teacher looking for a change in career path but wish to use your prior experience, there are plenty of opportunities. You can find out more about these roles on the TES website. 

How we can help

  • Helping you
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That's why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Helping your staff
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone's wellbeing.

Written by: Workplace Options (March 2017)

Reference: Kerwick-Chrisp, G. & Schuette, B. (Ed.) (2017, February). Career progression in education.

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.