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What is it like to teach in a primary setting?

Gain an overview of teaching in a primary setting
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

Primary or secondary? How do you know which phase will suit you? While they may look similar on paper, these two phases involve different experiences and skill sets. Over the next few steps, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between primary and secondary teaching, as well as some other school settings, to help you decide where you’d like to teach.

Let’s start with the primary setting. Details of primary education will vary by country and the text below is focused on teaching in primary schools in England. Feel free to talk about how this differs in your country in the comments.

In England, children attend primary school the year they turn five (reception year), up to the age of 11 (Year 6). The pupils are split into two key stages, for which there are different focuses in the curriculum and their assessment. Key Stage 1 covers ages 4-7/8 and Key Stage 2 ages 8-11. Primary school teaching aims to develop children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills and introduce them to subjects such as art, drama, music, design technology, history, geography, religious education and physical education.

What does a typical day look like?

As a primary teacher, you’ll typically be with one class all day. Your day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Planning lessons and preparing teaching materials
  • Organising the classroom and creating a positive and engaging learning environment
  • Assessing and recording progress and preparing pupils for national tests
  • Discussing children’s progress with parents and carers

Every day a primary teacher will teach English and maths and the rest of the subjects will be divided up across the rest of the week. There may also be reading time, taking part and organising assemblies with different classes, as well as talking to parents at the school gates and meetings with parents if required.

At the end of the school day, primary teachers will often be involved in extracurricular activities with pupils or attending staff meetings. As we explored in the ‘common myths about teaching’ step, the working day doesn’t finish as soon as the school bell rings.

Who will I work with?

In some classes you will have a teaching assistant or learning support assistant working with you to work with pupils who have barriers to learning.

How are pupil’s assessed?

All children in Year 1 (aged 5/6) in England will take a phonics screening check. It is designed to understand how a child is progressing in phonics and helps to identify whether they need additional support in this vital early reading skill.

At the end of Year 2, pupils take Key Stage 1 SATs tests in maths and reading with optional tests in English grammar, punctuation and spelling. These are administered in an informal classroom setting.

In Year 4, children take a ‘multiplication tables check’ – a short online test to make sure their times tables knowledge is at the expected level.

Finally, in Year 6, pupils take their Key Stage 2 SATs tests in English and maths. These are set in exam conditions (ie timed and in silence) and are externally marked.

Regardless of whether you teach in the UK or elsewhere, you will be asked to assess your pupils and this could include external assessment, for example SATs or phonics test. Other ways teachers assess pupils include quizzes, questioning in lessons, marking work and providing feedback and just talking to pupils about what they understand and what they are not sure about or are struggling with.

How will this relate to my PGCE course?

You will have the opportunity to gain experience of all of these assessment elements during your PGCE course.

As part of the NSET PGCE course, you will not only learn about how to assess pupils within the different primary subjects, this will be supported through your online learning to understand the theories behind effective assessments. We want our trainees to enable children of all abilities and needs to learn and progress effectively and champion the opportunities which a good education can give to a child.

What do you think?

What key skills do you think a primary school teacher needs?

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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