What should I study at university if I want to be a teacher?
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You need a degree to qualify as a teacher, but is it best to study education or to choose a subject that you love – or one that might attract a bursary for your teacher training course? If you’re considering a career as a teacher when you graduate, there’s plenty to think about as you set about choosing your degree course. We’ve compiled some FAQs to help you make the best decision for your future.
There are undergraduate degree courses across the UK that lead to qualified teacher status. These are the options in England:
- Bachelor of Education (BEd): this is an honours degree course in education. All BEd graduates gain qualified teacher status (QTS) along with their degrees. This is a popular choice for those who want to teach primary school children as the course content tends to be broad, though there are also some programmes for secondary teaching.
- Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) with QTS. This is a degree course that also incorporates teacher training, so you can study for an honours degree and do your teacher training at the same time. This is a popular choice for those hoping to become secondary teachers.
Some degree courses now offer 'opt-in QTS', which means that you can experience classroom teaching before you apply to incorporate it into your degree. Your course length remains the same whether you incorporate teacher training into the course or not, as the school placements are incorporated into the overall length of the course. A number of universities currently offer opt-in QTS in specific subjects, with a range of courses available in languages and science.
If you would like to qualify as a teacher through your undergraduate degree studies, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right course for your future career if you have already decided whether you are interested in teaching at primary school or secondary school. Although most primary teacher training is generalist, the government wants more primary schools to employ teachers who can work as specialists in the sciences, maths, languages and other subjects, and some training courses are designed to support this.
The undergraduate routes to qualifying as a teacher take three to four years full-time or four to six years part-time, so this is not always quicker than studying for an undergraduate degree that does not include teacher training and then taking a one-year teacher training course such as the Professional Graduate or Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE).
If you are keen to keep your options relatively open it makes sense to choose to study a subject that you love and are good at. Committing to teaching after you’ve done your degree won’t do any harm to your long-term career prospects as long as you can show you have the qualifications and attributes that training providers are looking for.
If you train to teach your degree subject, you’ll be a much more effective teacher if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about it. Also, if you choose a subject you enjoy, you’re more likely to do well at it, and a better degree result could improve your chances of getting onto the teacher training course you want; competition for places can be tough, so this is an advantage worth having.
Depending on what you study, a good degree result could also make a dramatic difference to the size of the bursary you are eligible for to fund your training.
Under the Future Teaching Scholars initiative, if you commit to teaching for three years after you finish your degree and are planning to study maths or physics at university, you could receive £15,000 towards the cost of living while you study. This scheme will be open to candidates with good maths and science A level grades. Students who take advantage of this scheme will also be able to go on to apply for the same bursaries and subject scholarships that are open to all other candidates for postgraduate teacher training.
You have to pay tuition fees for postgraduate teacher training courses. However, there are non-repayable scholarships and bursaries available to help cover your costs, depending on your degree result and choice of subject.
The eligible subjects and the sums of money involved change on an annual basis. In recent years, the most generous funding has consistently been available to train to teach maths and sciences in secondary schools, as these are areas where there is a particular shortage of teachers who have studied their subject at degree level. In some cases, if you are applying to train to teach a shortage subject, you don’t need to have studied it at degree level in order to be eligible for funding, as long as your degree subject is considered relevant.
To give you some idea what to expect, these were the scholarships and bursaries available for teacher training courses starting in autumn 2018. Unless otherwise stated, in each case the scholarship or bursary is only available for trainee teachers who have degrees in the subjects they are training to teach.
Scholarships for teacher training
Graduates with a 2.1 or above who are training to teach physics, computing, chemistry, geography or languages (French, German or Spanish) can apply for subject scholarships of £28,000. For maths, the subject scholarship is worth £22,000, and maths trainees may also be eligible for an early career payment of £10,000. This is a special scheme administered by the relevant subject institutions: the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in collaboration with other mathematical societies and associations; the Institute of Physics; the Royal Society of Chemistry; BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT; the Royal Geographical Society and the British Council.
Graduates who do not have a 2.1 or above may still be considered if they have additional experience and qualifications that can be taken into account. Students who apply successfully for subject scholarship funding are not eligible for a bursary, but students who are unsuccessful can apply for a bursary instead.
Bursaries for teacher training
Bursaries are available for a range of subjects where there is a shortage of teachers.
- Trainees in physics, chemistry, biology, languages, Classics, geography and computing can access bursaries of £26,000. The bursary award is the same for candidates with a first, PhD, 2.1, masters or 2.2. Language bursaries are available for trainees in French, German and Spanish and for other modern, community or ancient languages.
- Maths trainees can access a bursary of £20,000 and may also be eligible for an early career payment of £10,000.
- Design and technology (D&T) trainees can get £12,000 for a first or PhD and £9,000 for a 2.1 or masters.
- English trainees can get £15,000. The bursary award is the same for candidates with a first, PhD, 2.1, masters or 2.2.
- History, music and RE trainees can get £9,000 for a first or PhD, and £4,000 for a 2.1 or masters.
- Trainees on either primary maths specialist courses or primary general (with mathematics) courses are eligible for a bursary of £6,000 as long as they have at least grade B at maths A level or equivalent.
If you have set your sights on becoming a primary school teacher but want to do your teacher training after you graduate, bear in mind that some teacher training providers prefer you to have a degree in a national curriculum subject. You’ll also need to be confident teaching the broad range of national curriculum subjects to be an effective primary school teacher.
At the primary stage, the national curriculum subjects are: English, maths, science, design and technology, computing, history, geography, art and design, music and physical education. Language teaching is part of the national curriculum for 7 to 11-year-olds, and primary schools must also teach religious education.
If you are interested in teaching in a secondary school, your degree subject should be directly relevant to the subject you wish to teach. If it isn’t, when the time comes for you to apply for teacher training you should contact your preferred training provider for advice, and they may suggest you top up your subject knowledge with a subject knowledge enhancement course. The national curriculum subjects for secondary schools are broadly the same as for primary schools, and you can check the latest updates on the Department of Education website.